Orzo pasta is a type of pasta which is made in the shape of a grain of rice. It is often about rice-sized, as well. This pasta is very versatile, and it can be used in a range of recipes, with many people consuming orzo in soups.
The word orzo is Italian for “barley,” and a reference to the size and shape of the pasta. You can also see orzo called kritharaki, manestra, rosa marina, reiskornpasta, or pasta gallo pion. This pasta is very popular in Greece especially, although it is used in other Mediterranean and Middle Eastern nations, and in some parts of Germany as well. The small size can make orzo a very fun pasta to work and cook with.
The classic use of orzo is in soups. It can also be used in pilafs. The Greeks have a number of pilaf recipes which call specifically for orzo pasta, but it is also possible to use a rice pilaf recipe, substituting orzo for the rice. Orzo performs very well when baked in casseroles as well, and it can be used in things like stuffed peppers and stuffed squash. The pasta absorbs flavors very well and acts as a filler in these dishes.
You can also eat orzo plain with butter or a light sauce. The pasta takes well to soupy sauces, in which case it can be eaten with a spoon, and because it is so dense, it can also support some heavier sauces, like sauces with meatballs or chunks of sausage. One thing to watch out for, however, is that because orzo is compact, orzo dishes can become very heavy, since it lacks hollow spaces.
The best orzo comes from durum semolina wheat, an especially hard variety of wheat. When soft wheats are used to make orzo, the pasta tends to fall apart during the cooking process, and it can become very mushy and unpleasant. Durum orzo pasta, on the other hand, will retain resilience throughout the cooking process, ever after being baked or simmered in a stew, and it has a very pleasant clear flavor and chewy mouthfeel.
In addition to finding orzo pasta in plain varieties, it is also possible to find orzo which has been colored and flavored with vegetables. Spinach orzo is very common, but orzo can also be mixed with beets, carrots, and other vegetables. Many companies make rainbow orzo pasta, integrating several different vegetable orzos to create a particularly colorful pasta.