Orzo 101

Orzo 101

Keeping a few core ingredients on hand means we can go home at the end of a long day and put a meal together with little-to-no planning. Whether you call this pantry cooking or just being well organized, once you understand the way you want to cook and eat, a candid assessment of the recipes we make most often will reveal what these ingredients should be.

One of mine is orzo. Also called riso. Or risoni. This is small, rice-shaped pasta that is used most familiarly in Italian and Greek cuisines. As often happens in the global kitchen, these words have some other meanings, as how in Italian "orzo" actually means barley. Or elsewhere, both in Europe and the US, it's shorthand for a roasted barley coffee-like-but-no-caffeine hot beverage.

But when I say orzo I mean the little grains of pasta, made from durum wheat, like other dried pasta. It's cooked in salted boiling water or stock and can be either be drained and served at room temperature in a salad, added to other ingredients in a cooked dish, or switched out for rice or grain in any number of recipes.

Most of the commercial pasta producers make orzo, including Barilla and DeCecco, which calls its version "riso." Some lesser known pasta makers, such as Garofalo, also have orzo in their product line. I often find that our grocers tend to stock the same eight or ten pasta shapes -- spaghetti, capellini, linguine, rigatoni, shells, penne, elbows, farfalle, rotini, and maybe a couple of others -- and almost always, they're larger pieces or long strands. Looking for smaller pastas, whether it's orzo, ditalini, tubetti, or tiny pastina stars, can sometimes take a bit of a search, although orzo is the most commonly found of these "soup cuts" of pasta.

Besides its versatility, orzo can give us ways to enjoy pasta without it seeming to be a major carb commitment. Many I know are always watching how much pasta we eat and how often, but we still often want, as my mother always called it, a "starch." Using orzo in a salad or soup, or with vegetables, or as part of a baked casserole gives us the satisfaction of pasta without it being too much.

The Keys To Cooking Orzo

When a pasta shape is very small, as with orzo, cooking techniques make the difference between success and failure. Here are three that are key:


Cooking With Orzo

Orzo can be used in pilafs, added to soups, tossed with vegetables, used in pasta salads, and as the basis for side dishes in place of rice or grains. Its small size is a factor in how it's used and the kind of ingredients served with it. Here are examples of some of my favorite ways to cook with orzo:

Orzo is the kind of ingredient that you can make your own. Plus a little box goes a long way, just the kind of thing we like when managing our food budgets.

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