What is Orzo and How is it Cooked?

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You may have wondered at some point what exactly orzo is because I certain have. Is is a rice? Is it a pasta? Well, after some interesting searches on the internet I have found the answer! Orzo is a rice-shaped pasta that can be cooked and served in much the same way you do rice. What orzo is not, is a type of rice or grain which means that it is made from wheat. So for those of you on a gluten-free diet, you will need to make sure that you pick up some gluten-free orzo wherever you do your shopping.

So, because it is pasta, you can cook it the traditional pasta way where you drain away the excess liquid after it is done.

Orzo is usually a basic pale yellow color, but does have a tricolor variety available that is people like to use in rotini. There are many ways to actually cook orzo making this pasta very versatile. Let’s take a look at some of these methods now:

Pasta method

Taking a look at the side of the package you will see the normal cooking method for all pasta — boil some salted water, add in the uncooked orzo, let it simmer for about 10 minutes or until it reaches al dente firmness, then drain, mix with butter or olive oil and serve.

Boiled rice method

Here you would cook the orzo pasta the same way as rice by combining the pasta with cold water in a saucepan. Bring that water to a boil, then cover it on a lower the heat and simmer until all the water is absorbed. Something to remember is that you can cook other kinds of pasta this way such as long pasta like spaghetti and linguine, but be sure to break it up into smaller fragments beforehand.

Risotto method

Risotto is made by sauteing the uncooked rice in oil, along with some onions and other ingredients. Next it would be cooked by adding a hot vegetable stock slowly, a ladleful at a time, while stirring continuously until each ladleful of stock is completely absorbed before adding the next. This is exactly how you would prepare orzo using the risotto method. This method coaxes out the starches in the orzo, making it creamy and velvety.

Pilaf method

By combining the boiled rice method and the risotto method you get this. First you saute the orzo in a bit of olive oil along with some chopped onion, then you add hot vegetable stock, cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid, put the whole thing in oven set to 350F, cook for about 20 minutes or until all the liquid is absorbed.

Baking method

If you are looking for some pasta to include in casseroles and other baked dishes, orzo is a great ingredient. This method is a combination of boiling the orzo (boiled rice method) and baking it in the oven for shorter periods of time than the package instructions, so that it will not overcook during baking. Some recipes like Greek beef stew with orzo call for uncooked orzo to be added because it cooks through in liquid with the other ingredients. Just be on the lookout if you are using any recipes that say to cook the orzo according to package instructions, and then later instruct you to bake it for 20 to 25 minutes. If you do that, the orzo will be overcooked. The recipe should always give a specific boiling time and baking time which will produce a properly cooked orzo.

If you are ready to dip your toes in the orzo pool then start off with our Orzo Pasta with Mushrooms  recipe.


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