You can make this nutty, Mediterranean-style Toasted Orzo Pasta Recipe with Garlic, Parmesan and Sun-dried Tomatoes in just 15 minute! It will steal the show next to your favorite protein, and you can even serve it as a quick and easy vegetarian meal on its own.
What is orzo?
While orzo may be shaped like rice, it is a tiny pasta. It is most often made from wheat semolina flour or white flour but whole wheat and gluten-free orzo options are now widely available. It cooks up quickly in just about 7 to 8 minutes, which makes it an ideal add-in for dishes as well as a quick and easy side dish.
I love using orzo to add a little bulk and texture to one pot meals and dishes like shrimp soup, Greek youvetsi (lamb and orzo stew), or creamy orzo with blistered tomatoes. It's also a great choice for pasta salads.
The majority of people will cook orzo plain and serve it as a side. While there's nothing wrong with plain orzo, that's not what we're making today: We're making one of my favorite combos: pasta and sundried tomatoes!
Prepare to make an orzo pasta recipe that is way more than a little side--I call it my "kicked up" toasted orzo! Prepared Mediterranean style, this nutty orzo with garlic, fresh herbs, parmesan and sun-dried tomatoes is a meal in its own right! But sure, you can serve it as a side next to your favorite protein like lamb, baked chicken, or lemony cod. So many ways to use it even as a simple vegetarian meal.
How to cook orzo?
You cook orzo pasta just as you would any other pasta - in boiling, salted water (for 1 ½ cups of orzo, you'll need about 7 cups of boiling water). But first, for best flavor, toast your orzo in a little bit of extra virgin olive oil before you cook it in boiling water! Just warm up the oil and add the orzo, then toss it around until it turns golden brown). This short step enhances the flavor and gives the orzo a delicious and subtly nutty flavor. Once toasted, add the orzo to a pot of boiling water, seasoned with a good amount of salt and cook for about 7 to 8 minutes, until the pasta is chewy but still slightly firm--to al dente as they say.
Before you drain your pasta, remember to keep a bit of the starchy water to use for your sauce.
What you'll need to make this orzo pasta recipe
This Mediterranean-style toasted orzo pasta is made with just a few ingredients with bold flavors. Here is what you'll need to make it:
- Extra virgin olive oil - Be sure to use a quality olive oil for toasting the orzo, as well as cooking the aromatics. For this recipe, I used our Italian Nocellara EVOO, which is a delicious, medium-intesity olive oil with aromas of freshly cooked tomatoes and vegetables.
- Orzo pasta - You can use regular, whole wheat, or even gluten-free orzo pasta for this recipe.
- Herbs and spices - Salt and pepper, fresh garlic, red pepper flakes (optional but add a nice heat!), fresh parsley and fresh dill add all of the flavor to this simple Mediterranean-style orzo dish.
- Lemon - Fresh lemon juice adds a pop of citrus flavor to the final product.
- Sun-dried tomatoes - You can use sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil or packaged dry, either way. They provide a slightly sweet and tangy flavor.
- Grated Parmesan - Freshly grated parm is great to stir in the orzo and to garnish at the end.
How to make Mediterranean-style toasted orzo
Here is how to make this kicked-up orzo for the perfect side or little vegetarian meal:
- Toast and cook the orzo. First, warm up some extra virgin olive oil in your cooking pot and add the orzo. Toss it around until toasted beautiful golden brown.
Then add about 7 cups boiling water. Salt the water very well, this is a great chance to season the tiny pasta as it cooks. Cook to al dente according to package instructions (mine took about 8 minutes).
Remember to save a cup or so of the starchy pasta water before draining, you'll be using this for the sauce.
- Work on the olive oil and garlic sauce. In another large pan, warm some more olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic, and season with salt and red pepper flakes and cook until just fragrant (just a few seconds). Add juice of one lemon and about ½ cup of the pasta water. Bring to a gentle boil. Stir in some fresh herbs (parsley and dill are great here).
- Combine the pasta with the sauce and finish. Drain the orzo and add it to the pan with garlic and herbs. Toss to combine and season with a good dash of kosher salt and pepper to taste. Stir in some chopped up sun-dried tomatoes (about ⅓ cup) and grated parmesan (about ½ cup). Toss around, and if needed add a little more pasta cooking water or more olive oil to help coat the pasta with all the delicious flavors.
To serve, sprinkle with additional parmesan and red pepper flakes, if you like.
Tips for success
If this is your first time cooking toasted orzo, here are a few things to keep in mind.
- Toast until the pasta is just golden brown. When toasting the orzo, be sure to keep stirring it to avoid burning or charring any of the pasta.
- Salt the water. When it's time to boil the pasta, don't be shy when it comes to adding salt to the water! It really does make a difference in the flavor.
- Don't overcook the pasta. Orzo cooks quickly, particularly in this recipe after being toasted. Keep an eye on it and be sure to remove from heat and drain as soon as it turns al dente!
Serve it with
As I mentioned above, while this toasted orzo pasta recipe was intended as a way to spruce up a plain side, you can easily turn it into a meal on its own! It would make a great vegetarian meal for sure.
But, I do typically serve it as a side dish. One thing I love about orzo is that it can take the place of rice as a side dish and it goes with basically everything. This toasted orzo can be served with everything from baked chicken thighs to shrimp, or even with my favorite vegetable skewers to keep it all vegetarian!
How to store leftovers
Leftover orzo can be stored in the fridge for up to 3 days. Reheat on the stovetop for best results (or the microwave in a pinch) and note that you may need to add a splash of water to prevent it from drying out.
More orzo recipes:
Mediterranean-Style Toasted Orzo with Parmesan and Sundried Tomatoes
- extra virgin olive oil (Our Italian Nocellara EVOO is a good choice here)
- 1 ½ cups orzo pasta
- Kosher salt
- 5 cloves garlic (minced)
- red pepper flakes (optional)
- ½ lemon (juice of)
- 1 cup parsley (chopped, packed)
- ½ cup dill (chopped)
- ⅓ cup sundried tomatoes in olive oil (chopped)
- black pepper
- ½ to ¾ cup grated parmesan (more to your liking)
- In a large saucepan, eat 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil over medium-high. Add the orzo and cook, tossing around, until toasted to a beautiful golden brown.
- Add at least 7 cups of boiling water to the saucepan and season well with kosher salt. Cook the pasta in boiling water to al dante according to the package instructions (about 7 to 8 minutes).
- Just before the pasta is fully cooked (about 5 minutes), take a cup of the starchy pasta water and save it aside for now.
- In a large pan, warm ½ cup extra virgin olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and season with a pinch of kosher salt and red pepper flakes, if using. Cook, tossing regularly, until just fragrant. Add the lemon juice and ½ cup of the pasta cooking water. Raise the heat if needed to bring to a boil. Add the parsley and dill.
- When the pasta is ready, drain and add it to the pan and toss to combine. Season with kosher salt and black pepper. Add the sundried tomatoes and a bit of the grated parmesan. Toss to combine. If needed, add a little more of the pasta cooking water. Finish with more Parmesan and red pepper flakes, if you like.
- This recipe will feed 4 people as a vegetarian main and about 6 or so as a side.
- Leftovers will keep in the fridge for 3 to 4 days in a tightly closed container. Warm over medium heat.
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