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Orzo Pilaf

I just realized that I don’t have many starchy side dishes on the blog.
*Also, I didn’t want to miss a chance to annoy the Atkins people.  If there are any left…

Orzo Pilaf is one of my Pantry Emergency favorites – what do I do when I didn’t actually plan out a starch for our side dish, and I need one right away?  This is it.  It’s quick and easy.  Twenty minutes, start  to finish, with minimal effort while it’s cooking, so you can concentrate on the rest of the meal.

The trick is to cook the orzo like you would cook rice.  You use just enough water that the pasta absorbs it all by the time it’s done cooking – 2 1/2 cups of water for 8 ounces of orzo.  That way, you don’t have to wait long for the water to come to a boil, and you don’t have to drain the orzo when you’re done.

Recipe: Orzo Pilaf

Cook time: 13 minutes


  • 2 1/2 cups water
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 8 oz Orzo (half of a box)
  • 1 tbsp butter (optional, but delicious)

1. Boil the Water: Bring the water and salt to a boil in a saucepan over high heat.

2. Cook the Orzo: Turn the heat to medium-high. Add the orzo to the saucepan and cook for 8 minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure the orzo doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan.  Turn off the heat, stir the orzo, add the butter, cover the pan, and let rest for 5 minutes. Stir the melted butter into the orzo, and serve.
*The orzo should still be a little damp when you turn off the heat; it will absorb the rest of the water by the end of the five minute rest.

*Parmesan Orzo Pilaf: Stir in an ounce of parmesan cheese after the resting period, or sprinkle it on top before serving.

*Lemon Orzo Pilaf: Stir in 1 tablespoon of lemon zest after the resting period.

*Herbed Orzo Pilaf: Stir in 1 teaspoon of chopped fresh herbs. The “song” herbs are my favorites with it; parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.
*Basil is good, but I can’t use the song joke with that one.

*Rich Orzo Pilaf: Substitute chicken or turkey stock for half (or more) of the water.

*This is another of my “two out of three kids will eat this” side dishes. It’s very kid friendly – a plain starch with a little butter.
*My oldest, Ben, still won’t eat pasta.  Not even spaghetti.  Although, he’s loosening up on the spaghetti.   I got him to try a noodle the last time I made it, and he said it “wasn’t bad.”  He turned down a second noodle, though.

*Orzo pilaf is not just for weeknights.  It makes a good side dish for stews, especially Italian style stews.  An Italian style pot roast with a side of of orzo pilaf to help soak up the juices is a wonderful pairing.

What do you think? Questions? Other ideas? Leave them in the comments section below.

Related Posts:
Basic White Rice
Quick Couscous

Inspired by:
Cuisine at Home magazine [cuisineathome.com]

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Hi! I’m Mike Vrobel. I’m a dad and an enthusiastic home cook; an indie cookbook author and food blogger with a day job, a patient spouse, and three kids who would rather have hamburgers for dinner.


  1. Susan says

    This method is foolproof. So simple that it frees one’s mind up as to how to dress it up. (or not)

    Perhaps, since you love to cook, you already have a pasta maker and could have a “make pasta from scratch” session with Ben and his siblings. I think making your own pasta is thrilling and eating it is even better..

    I like to designate Fridays to making & eating pasta day – and the creative possibilities are endless.

    Also, the flavored dried orzo for sale at some stores is enticing.. spinach; tomato; squid ink. How much ikky fun would that be for kids.

  2. Allison says

    I know this is quite old but I found this recipe a few years ago and I keep coming back to it. So simple and creamy. I always add better than bullion (chicken or veggie) to the water and always use parm. One of our family’s absolute favorites…the kids request it.

  3. Kay says

    Begin by sweating a small onion in a little
    water…when water evaporates, add a little olive oil. Add orzo and saute with onion…add chicken stock or boullion to taste, stir and cook the eight minutes. Turn heat off, stir and add the butter

  4. Jeremy says

    Made this for the first time the other night. Turned out perfect especially with some parmesan cheese. Definitely a keeper!

  5. Okay, I tried this recently and it is excellent! Just what I need – another pasta dish that I love. sigh…

  6. @Eileen:

    Good question! No, you don’t have to drain the orzo – 2.5 cups of water is just enough for 8 ounces of orzo to absorb by the time the cooking is done.

    Thanks for asking; I’m going to update the recipe to make this more clear.

  7. I lost 30 pounds in about 6 weeks on Atkins… went out to dinner, ate one piece of bread and gained 32 pounds in a week….

    I use up whatever open bottle of wine may be available when I cook orzo. adds a great additional flavor

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