If you are a foodie, or if you just like to try new local dishes or those from other cuisines, you have probably heard several people talking enthusiastically about their new culinary discovery—orzo. Would you like to know a little more about orzo? We will tell you the basics of what you need to know if you decide to try this versatile food.

What is orzo?

Because orzo looks like elongated grains, those who see them for the first time may believe that it is a new species of cereal, or perhaps a very exotic variety of barley, or even of the old rice we already know. In fact, orzo is a kind of pasta, and, of course, it is made of wheat. The best orzo is made from durum wheat semolina, such as the orzo you can find at https://riceselect.com/product/orzo.

Semolina reduced to small oval or spherical pieces is a typical foodstuff of the eastern half of the Mediterranean, but the versions of orzo best known in the western hemisphere, including America, are Italian. In fact, the name orzo is an Italian word—it means properly ‘barley’, because of its appearance—. In Italy, this pasta is also called risone—meaning ‘big rice’, also because of its appearance.

Is orzo the same as couscous?

Although both foods are made of wheat, they are not the same.

Orzo is always made from pure semolina. Couscous, on the other hand, can be made from semolina or other cereals such as millet or barley. There are even versions of couscous made from ground potato.

Obviously, couscous and orzo also differ in shape, especially when raw—orzo looks like elongated grains of rice, while couscous is shaped like granules or small balls.

When mixed with other foods, the taste of orzo and couscous are not easy to distinguish. However, the texture is different—couscous is softer and spongier, ideal for giving body to sauces and salads, while orzo is firmer and more “chewy”, i.e. more suitable as the base of a main course.

Is orzo suitable for vegans?

Unlike couscous, which is a food made only with vegetable ingredients, regular orzo is not suitable for vegans—like any kind of pasta, orzo is made with egg. However, there are vegan versions of orzo that can be purchased. These vegan versions can be flavored with vegetable juices, which give them a very special touch.

Italian Salad with OrzoHow is orzo eaten?

Orzo, as we have already said, is a kind of pasta, and it goes very well in any dish that could have pasta in it.

Thus, we can eat orzo with various sauces Bolognese, carbonara, pesto, marinara…—, the same ones you would use when eating the pasta you like best —spaghetti, linguini, rigatoni, farfalle… Orzo is even delicious simply al burro, that is, mixed with melted butter. If you like the classic macaroni and cheese, you will also like orzo with cheese. Just put some grated or melted cheese on top of a portion of cooked orzo.

Another option is to use orzo as a base for various fillings. Like couscous, orzo is great mixed with fish to stuff red tomatoes, and with vegetables and meat to stuff zucchini and eggplants.

Orzo can also be used to give body to a sauce or salad, especially a green salad, as is also done with couscous.

How is orzo cooked?

Remember once again: orzo is a kind of pasta, and like all pastas, it must be cooked in boiling water.

Normally, no more than half a cup of water is used for each cup of orzo, and it should be boiled for six to ten minutes. If you need more precise directions for cooking the brand of orzo you have purchased, you should read the instructions provided by the manufacturer.

Orzo, like any pasta, grows by absorbing water. Therefore, be sure to use a large enough saucepan.

With the minimum cooking time of six or seven minutes, orzo turns out quite firm, just soft enough to chew—Italians and chefs say al dente, i.e., ‘ suitable for the tooth’). If you like your orzo a little softer, you can use three quarters of a cup of water and cook to the maximum time of twelve minutes.

The rest of the preparation will only depend on your taste and your imagination.