This is NOT your average orzo soup! This recipe is loaded with flavor thanks to garlicky basil pesto, lemon juice, and a sprinkle of Parmesan! Ready in just 15 minutes, this lemon orzo soup recipe is a must-try!
Orzo pasta soup for the win!
Orzo soup is one of those quick comfort foods I always make for my family (and sometimes I'll throw in a protein like in my shrimp soup or chicken orzo soup). But today’s vegetarian orzo soup recipe is kicked up a few notches with the addition of two simple ingredients you probably already have on hand: basil pesto and lemon juice!
I love creamy pesto recipes, like my pesto ravioli. And in this orzo soup recipe, the combination of bold, garlicky basil pesto with the bright lemon juice and a just a little bit of whole milk created a creamy orzo soup that is balanced with brightness and loads of flavor! And I stirred in some cherry tomatoes and baby spinach for added nutrition.
I made this vegetable orzo soup with pesto for the first time on camera (see my video below), everyone loved it, and it has since become a regular on the dinner rotation!
Ingredients and notes: What you’ll need for the best orzo soup
Light and creamy orzo soup needs just a few simple ingredients. Here’s what you’ll need to make it:
- Extra virgin olive oil – Italian Nocellara EVOO is a great choice here, with its rich finish and slightly bitter, spicy flavor.
- Orzo pasta – You need 2 cups of uncooked orzo. If you can’t find orzo, another small pasta or pearl couscous will work. And just as I always do with orzo, to start, I toast it in the olive oil to give it color and a delicious nutty flavor.
- Broth – Both vegetable and chicken stock will work, but if you want to keep your orzo soup vegetarian, you may want to stick to vegetable broth.
- Cherry tomatoes – 1 cup of cherry tomatoes add bright color and a hint of sweetness. I like to cut the tomatoes in half, but you can leave them whole if you like.
- Baby spinach – While you need 2 packed cups, the spinach will wilt very quickly. It’s best to use fresh spinach and simply stir the leaves at the end.
- Fresh lemon juice – Depending on how lemony you want the soup, use the juice of 1 or 2 lemons. The acidity in lemon juice instantly brightens the soup.
- Whole milk – You only need ½ cup of milk here, stirred in at the end to add the creamy finish and to help mellow the sharpness of the lemon and basil. Set the milk out about 30 minutes before you start cooking to get it close to room temperature. You can substitute whole milk with a 1:1 ratio of 2% milk, half and half, or heavy cream.
- Pesto – Use either homemade pesto or quality store-bought pesto.
- Grated parmesan cheese, to finish – A little freshly grated parmesan cheese adds the perfect salty finish to the soup.
- Crushed red pepper flakes – While red pepper flakes are optional, I highly recommend them for a slight kick! If you are not into spicy foods, you could use Aleppo-style pepper instead, which is very mild.
How to make this orzo soup recipe
This easy pesto orzo soup is ready in 15 minutes or less, perfect for busy weeknights! Here’s how to make it:
- Toast the orzo. Heat 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil over medium heat in a large Dutch oven or heavy pot. Heat the oil until shimmering, but not smoking. Add 2 cups dry orzo and toss around until toasted to a nice golden brown (1 to 3 minutes).
- Make the vegetable orzo soup. Pour 6 cups of broth into the pot and bring to a boil (high heat). Season with kosher salt and black pepper. Once boiling, lower the heat and cook until the orzo is plump and al dente. This will take around 8 minutes. When the orzo is ready, add in 1 cup cherry tomatoes and 2 packed cups baby spinach.
- Stir in the pesto, lemon juice, and whole milk. Take the pot off the heat and stir in ½ cup pesto, the juice of 1 or 2 lemons, and ½ cup whole milk.
- Finish with grated Parmesan. Add about ¼ cup freshly grated parmesan (or to your liking), and a sprinkle of red pepper flakes. The red pepper flakes are optional, but add a nice heat to the pesto lemon orzo soup. Serve immediately while hot.
Make it a chicken orzo soup or try more veggies!
This soup is rich and satisfying enough without any meat, but you can certainly add some chicken for extra protein to make this a chicken lemon orzo soup!
Start with cooked, deboned chicken (leftover rotisserie is a good option) and simply shred the chicken or slice it up into bite sized pieces and add it to the pot right after you add the broth. This will give the chicken some time to heat up and absorb some flavor.
You can also make this soup more vegetable-heavy by adding chopped carrots and green beans. Toss them into the pot right after you add the broth. If you like, you can swap out the spinach for kale.
Can I make this pasta soup ahead?
Because orzo absorbs a lot of liquid and can become mushy when stored, this orzo soup is best cooked and eaten immediately. But, if you're using homemade pesto in this soup, that can totally be made ahead and you can save it in the fridge in a tight-lid jar (see my full tutorial on how to make basil pesto).
Serve it with
This orzo soup recipe is satisfying all on its own. But serving it alongside some crusty bread or warm garlic bread wouldn’t hurt!
Serve it with
Leftovers and storage
Like I mentioned earlier, this creamy orzo soup is best finished the day you make it. The pasta will continue to absorb liquid as it sits in the creamy broth, it will thicken and become more of a stew. But if you do end up with leftovers, you can certainly add more liquid and warm up the soup gently (the pasta will be on the well done side and can get mushy if you heat it too much).
Orzo soup FAQs
If you can't find orzo, another small pasta (like acini de pepe or ditalini) will work. Another easy substitute would be pearl couscous.
Simply use your favorite gluten-free pasta instead of orzo, or ditch the pasta altogether and use cooked white rice.
More orzo recipes
Pesto Lemon Orzo Soup
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 2 cups dry orzo
- 6 cups broth
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
- 2 cups packed baby spinach
- Juice of 1 to 2 lemons
- ½ cup whole milk
- ½ cup pesto, homemade or quality store-bought pesto
- Grated Parmesan cheese, to finish
- Crushed red pepper flakes, optional
- In a large Dutch oven or heavy pot, heat 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil until shimmering. Add the dry orzo and toss around until toasted to a nice golden brown (1 to 3 minutes)
- Pour in the broth and bring to a boil over high heat. Season with kosher salt and black pepper. Turn the heat down and let the orzo soup simmer for 8 minutes or until the orzo is cooked to al dente.
- Stir in the tomatoes and baby spinach.
- Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the lemon juice, milk, and pesto.
- To finish, add about ¼ cup grated parmesan (or to your liking), and a sprinkle of red pepper flakes, if you want some heat. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve hot.
- Substitutes for orzo: Another type of small pasta or pearl couscous will work if you can't find orzo.
- Gluten-free option: Replace orzo with your favorite tiny gluten-free pasta, or swap pasta for already cooked rice (just stir it into the boiling broth and add the rest).
- Serve it with: I like to start off with a big salad and some garlic bread. Try my Mediterranean bean salad, cucumber salad, Panzanella salad, or Shirazi salad.
- Leftovers and storage: Lemon orzo soup is best enjoyed on the day you make it. The pasta will continue to absorb liquid as it sits in the creamy lemony broth, and it will become thicker. You can always add a little more broth and heat the leftovers gently, but the pasta will be quite done at that point.
- Visit our shop to browse quality Mediterranean ingredients, including extra virgin olive oils (like our Nocellara Italian EVOO).