Spotlight Series: All About Orzo

Spotlight Series: All About Orzo

DeLallo Orzo pasta

At first glance, orzo may look like a plump grain of rice. Though the small pasta presents as a grain and comes from the word for "barley” in Italian, this specialty is actually a pasta made with gluten-rich durum wheat. Dubbed a pastina, or "little pasta," orzo is a versatile pasta cut and has become popular around the world.

Find this rice-shaped pasta in many creations: from pasta-forward dishes and soups to vegetable-heavy orzo salads and fluffy rice-pilaf-style side dishes. Orzo is easy to cook up and a pasta shape found in the dishes of many countries and cuisines beyond Italian. From Italy to Greece to Spain, you can find orzo pasta gracing tables and menus. It’s easy to fall in love with the small but mighty pastina known as orzo.

DeLallo Orzo: Fast Facts

  • Origin: Italy
  • Category: Pastina, or "little pasta"
  • Meaning: Translates to "barley"
  • Cook Time: 8 to 10 minutes
  • Main Ingredients: Durum wheat semolina flour
  • Alternative Names: Risoni in Italy, krithiraki in Greece and piñones in Spain.
  • Possible Substitutes: Arborio grain rice, broken spaghetti, fregola, ditalini, small elbow macaroni.

Shop DeLallo Orzo Pasta:

What is Orzo?

Orzo is a barley-shaped pastina, or "little pasta," the size of a large grain of rice. Orzo is made simply with specially milled durum wheat, or semolina flour. The versatile pasta was first developed in Italy, and though it is still popular there, orzo has been adopted by many other countries and their cuisines. Because of this, don't be surprised to see orzo starring in Spanish, Greek, American and Middle Eastern dishes.

Some of the most popular ways to use orzo pasta is in soups, hearty side dishes, pasta salads and in rice pilaf recipes to boost its texture. The prized pastina is an easy ingredient to cook. For a simple way to enjoy orzo, serve it up with butter and a generous sprinkling of Parmesan cheese.

A Brief History of Orzo

Originating in Italy, orzo pasta has long been a favorite ingredient to use in dishes from soups to salads to starchy sides. So popular, in fact, the rice-shaped pasta earned a following in Spain and Greece. In Spain orzo is called piñones, the Spanish translation for pine nut. But don’t get confused: the two foods may look similar but are nothing alike.

In Greece, orzo pasta goes by the name krithiraki and is used often with ingredients like lemon, chicken, feta, olives and fresh tomato. The Middle East also has a history of using orzo, or "bird tongue" pasta, as it is dubbed in that region. Egypt is particularly known for lesan el asfour, a dish featuring spiced ground beef and tomato, and for shorbet lesan el asfour, a traditional orzo-based soup of shredded chicken, onion and spices.

Though orzo pasta does not have a direct city in Italy as its place of origin, the ingredients prove prominent all over the country, where locals call it risoni. In fact, the word orzo means "barley," in Italian, and while the uncooked orzo looks like the grain, the two don't have much else in common. One of the most popular orzo pasta dishes in the United States is Italian Wedding Soup, which is also features greens, veggies and tasty mini meatballs.

How Orzo Is Made and What's In It

An authentic orzo pasta is made with just two ingredients: specially milled durum wheat and spring water. Other variations of orzo exist such as gluten-free and whole-wheat varieties. Some recipes for creating orzo fresh include eggs too; however, most dried pasta does not contain egg. DeLallo Orzo is an authentic Italian pasta made simply with wheat and water—no additives or enriched flours.

After the dough is mixed, it is time to cut the dough, whether you are making orzo to cook fresh or to dry. Home chefs can hand cut the dough into small oblong pieces or use a pasta extruder with the proper attachment and slice from there. Larger companies have industrial-sized pasta machines that knock out orzo extremely fast.. While the hands-off approach proves different than a home cook's journey, the dough used is the real star of the process.

Close-up of DeLallo Orzo

How to Cook Orzo

Boil – The Pasta Method. Ready in 8 minutes

In a large pot, bring 8 cups of water to a boil. Add ½ teaspoon salt (optional). Stir in 1 cup of orzo. Return to a boil. Cook uncovered for 8 minutes, or until desired tenderness. Drain and serve.

Skillet – The Risotto Method. Ready in 20 minutes.

In a skillet, melt 2 tablespoons butter. Add in 1 cup orzo and mix well to coat. Stirring continuously, cook for about 4 minutes, or until the pasta just begins to become golden brown. Add 2 cups of water or broth and ½ teaspoon of salt (optional). Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and continue to simmer until the liquid is absorbed, about 15 minutes. If pasta becomes dry before cooked, add a little more liquid.

The Best Orzo Pasta: The DeLallo Difference

While other brands offer orzo pasta, DeLallo boasts an authentic Italian pasta backed by generations of pasta making experience. DeLallo chooses only the finest quality durum wheat to specially mill into semolina flour for their prizes pasta. Only the best grains with the highest gluten index, gluten content and protein content make the cut. All DeLallo Pasta—be it Bucatini, Spaghetti or Farfalle—comes from the area where pasta was born, near Naples and the Amalfi Coast.

To DeLallo, pasta making is an art. Italian durum wheat is harvested in the hot summer months. Then, the wheat goes to the mill, where it is specially ground into semolina flour. Next, the flour is mixed with mineral-rich mountain spring water, and gently kneaded to create the dough. Once the dough has been perfected, the orzo gets cut into the familiar rice-shaped pastina. Finally, before getting packaged and sent to customers, the orzo is dried slowly at low temperatures. Not only does this mimic the traditional way Italians have been making pasta for centuries, but it allows the pasta to retain its fresh flavor and texture.

DeLallo Orzo

Orzo Recipes and Usage

Orzo pasta has long been a popular choice for soups, especially Italian Wedding Soup—an Italian-American favorite. While the base of this soup varies depending on who is making it, the idea is to marry savory meatballs with greens, vegetables and a rich chicken broth. Pastina is added near the end of cook time and is cooked in the broth.

On the Greek side of soup, a cup of Whole-Wheat Orzo goes perfect in a Lemon Chicken Soup. Or, try a Chicken Tomato Orzo Soup combining shredded chicken, sweet tomatoes and hearty orzo pasta with herbs and spices.

Don't shy away from adding orzo to a salad or side dish either. The tender, rice-shaped pasta works well with Greek ingredients such as feta, tomato, cucumber and tzatziki, as well as DeLallo Golden Sweet Balsamic-Style Vinegar, fresh parsley and oregano, lemon, chickpeas and DeLallo Pitted Seasoned Calamata Olives. A fluffy pilaf with orzo, rice, carrots, celery and cranberry is another popular way to serve the pastina. Use Gluten-Free Orzo to make any of these recipes gluten free.

Consider orzo pasta for quick weeknight meals. The pastina cooks in just 8 minutes, and can be made into crowd pleasers such as Baked Chicken Meatballs with Orzo and Parmesan Cream Sauce and a one-pot meal featuring broccoli or broccolini, sausage and orzo pasta. On the comfort food side, make a quick Creamy Parmesan Sauce to coat the tender pastina and serve with a leafy green salad. Or whip up a casserole featuring orzo, truffles, wild mushrooms and sweet peas with cheese. With all these different ways to use the rice-shaped pasta, orzo could easily be eaten every night.

Best Sauces For Orzo

Orzo is not usually served in a sauce like traditional pasta shapes would be. But if served with a sauce, we would recommend a smooth and creamy cheese sauce. Pair orzo up with classic Italian cheeses like Pecorino Romano, Granino, and Parmigiano-Reggiano. Add a little garlic and fresh parsley, then call it a perfect meal.

Orzo Substitutions

Though orzo is a pasta, one of the best substitutes for the ingredient is arborio rice, which has a similar texture and size. While using rice works well for appearance and texture, the flavor proves quite different. Similar-tasting pastas that can work as a substitute for orzo include broken spaghetti, stelline (or star pasta), ditalini, small elbow macaroni and fregula, which is a type of pasta from Sardinia that looks a lot like Israeli couscous.

DeLallo Orzo: FAQ

Is orzo rice or pasta?

Though orzo is shaped like rice, it is actually a pasta. Further confusing the two, sometimes orzo makes its way into rice-centric dishes such as rice pilaf and casseroles. But, even when it is gluten-free, orzo remains part of the pasta family.

Is orzo gluten free?

Traditional orzo is not gluten free. However, DeLallo makes a gluten-free version of orzo with a premium blend of corn and rice so that everyone can enjoy this unique pasta shape.

Is orzo vegan?

DeLallo Orzo is 100% vegan. While some fresh orzo is made with egg, all varieties of DeLallo Orzo are vegan-friendly.

Orzo vs. Risotto: What is the difference?

Yes, a cheesy plate of orzo looks a lot like a creamy bowl of risotto, but the two foods are not the same at all. To start with, orzo is a type of pasta made with durum wheat, and risotto is a meal made with arborio rice. Where orzo is a specific type of pasta and is used to make various salads, main courses and side dishes, risotto is a specific dish unto itself, and often is the star of the meal rather than a side.

Couscous vs. Orzo: What is the difference?

A lot of similarities exist between couscous and orzo, starting with semolina flour. Orzo and couscous both get made from this type of flour, though couscous can also be made with ground barley, pearl millet and farina, which is a flour milled from a potato or cassava. The shape too proves unique. Where orzo looks long and shaped like rice, couscous comes in round ball form, often very small. For a larger couscous that is closer in size to orzo, Israeli couscous is a good substitute.

Orzo vs. Arborio: What is the difference?

The biggest difference between orzo and arborio rice is that orzo is a pasta, where arborio rice is rice. Orzo traditionally is not gluten-free (though DeLallo has a gluten-free version), and arborio rice is naturally gluten-free. While the two ingredients do look the same and have a similar toothsome texture, the flavors remain unique. The cooking method is also different. To make couscous, you poor hot water over the rice and let sit for 5 to 10 minutes until soft.

Is orzo a pastina pasta?

Yes, orzo is a pastina pasta, which translates to "little pasta." Pastina pasta are typically thought of as pasta shapes for soups. Orzo, also called risoni, is one of the smaller pastas available, along with ditaloni, grattini, risi, midolline and corallini. Tough made with semolina flour, orzo often gets mistaken for rice because it looks like and runs about the same size as the starchy grain.