Author Notes: I view this as more technique than recipe. I tasted toasted orzo a few years ago and it was a revelation to me. I’ve been making it this way ever since. When toasted, the orzo develops a subtle nuttiness, and by adding orange or lemon zest, the entire dish is permeated with citrus flavor. Olives and fresh herbs are natural accompaniments, and I often serve this as a side dish to halibut or chicken.
Don’t like olives? View this as a jumping off point and get creative – it’s infinitely adaptable. Some of my favorite variations include:
–finely diced, sauteed fennel bulb with nicoise olives
–cherry tomatoes with kalamata olives, fresh basil, and crumbled feta
–roasted butternut squash or sweet potatoes with arugula and toasted sliced almonds
–grilled zucchini and cherry tomatoes with kalamata olives, crumbled goat cheese, and walnuts
Also, a note on a valuable technique I picked up from Melissa Clark on preparing pasta and grains that are cooked in a covered pot to absorb the cooking liquid. If your toasted orzo is cooked but liquid remains in the pot, just drain it like you would any other pasta, and return it to the pan to dry over low heat for about 30 seconds. Works like a charm! —EmilyC
1 ¼ cups orzo
2 cups water or low-sodium broth (or combination of both)
2 tablespoons olive oil (plus additional to taste)
finely grated zest from 1 large lemon or orange (reserving juice)
Kosher salt + freshly ground black pepper
¼ to ½ cup of your favorite olives, pitted
large handful of coarsely chopped herbs (e.g., chives, flat-leaf parsley, and/or mint)
(See headnote for ideas on variations)
- In large saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat. Add orzo; stir to evenly coat all of the orzo with olive oil; cook, stirring frequently, until golden, 5 to 7 minutes. Add water and zest, season with salt and pepper, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, until orzo is al dente and liquid is absorbed, 10 to 15 minutes. If orzo is cooked but liquid remains, drain the orzo, return to pan, and cook about 30 seconds longer over low heat to dry the orzo.
- Stir in olives and chopped herbs, and add kosher salt, pepper, citrus juice and olive oil to taste. Enjoy!