Orzo is a tiny rice-shaped Greek pasta, not to be confused with barley which in Italy is also called orzo. When you see Orzo called for in a recipe, you always have to think twice! Is it pasta or is it barley? Sometimes it is not very clear.
In this recipe orzo Pasta is simply cooked and then bathed in butter. It is a delicious way to serve it, either as an accompaniment to other dishes (perhaps a replacement for rice), or tossed with herbs and cheese as a snack. We also love it with some cream and breadcrumbs added as well.
Orzo is available from Greek groceries, and can be found in Italian groceries under the name of riso, risoni, orzo, and rosmarino. The difference is in size. Riso is very small and rosmarino is larger than orzo.
About Orzo Pasta
Orzo is from a sub-class of the grain-shaped pastina (small pasta) that comprises orzo (meaning barley), semi di melone (melon seeds), rosmarino (rosemary), riso (rice) and risoni (big rice). They are virtually indistinguishable from each other in form and function, all being small, and all being vaguely rice-shaped. Fatter in the middle than most pastina, they take longer to cook and are more substantial. The longer cooking time makes the difference between true durum wheat and soft wheat all the more important – low quality, low gluten brands become unpleasantly mushy when cooked.
The classic use of these pastas is in soups, but they are also excellent on their own, in salads and pilafs, and for stuffing vegetables as one might with rice. They are popular not only in Italy, but across Europe – especially in Greece and, surprisingly, Germany. The pasta absorbs flavours very well owing to the longer cooking time, but its smooth surface and small size means it can’t catch sauce. Because it is so dense, it can support heavier sauces and mop them up as rice might.
Thanks to The Geometry of Pasta for information on Orzo style pastas.
Beautiful Buttered Orzo Pasta
You will need orzo, salt and butter. Drop the orzo into a large saucepan of boiling, salted water and cook, uncovered, until tender. Drain and toss with butter, adding more salt if needed.
Beautiful Buttered Orzo with Cream, Parmesan and Breadcrumbs
For an amazing bowl of pasta, toss the buttered orzo (made as above) with chopped herbs and shaved Parmesan or Pecorino cheese. Drizzle with some pouring cream (a little) and sprinkle toasted breadcrumbs over the top. Gorgeous.
recipe notes and alternatives
Buttered orzo is also beautiful tossed with Persian feta and halved cherry tomatoes.
Use olive oil instead of butter, and toss with chilli and garlic.