Creamy Chicken Orzo with Butternut Squash and Spinach is a simple and cozy and well-balanced weeknight meal that has everything: protein, veggies, and carbs! Skinless boneless chicken thighs are pan-seared with smoked paprika and Italian seasoning. Butternut squash coated with fresh herbs is roasted in the oven. It's the perfect comfort food that will surely become one of your family's favorite dinners!
Why make it
- Well-balanced meal. Creamy Chicken Orzo with Butternut Squash and Spinach is packed with veggies and protein - a perfect and nutritious dinner to make on a busy weeknight. It has everything you need in a complete meal: protein (chicken), veggies and fiber (butternut squash and spinach), and pasta (orzo).
- Perfect for both weeknights and special occasions. What I love the best about this cozy meal is that with such a small amount of effort you get a beautiful dish that tastes and looks like an entree from a high-end restaurant! Simple enough to make on a busy weekday - fancy enough to serve company!
- Great combo of flavors! Chicken orzo is so comforting and flavorful. Roasted butternut squash and spinach add texture and so much flavor. The seasonings are spot on - smoked paprika, Italian seasoning, garlic, and fresh thyme.
- I hope you try this recipe - it might become your new favorite comfort food, especially during the colder months of Fall and Winter! For more orzo dinner inspiration, check out butternut squash and black bean orzo with sausage and spinach.
- Chicken - I used skinless boneless chicken thighs. They are super easy and forgiving to cook. You can also use skinless, boneless chicken breasts or chicken tenderloins.
- Orzo is an Italian pasta that is shaped and looks like long rice.
- Butternut squash is an excellent source of vitamins A, B6, C, and E, as well as several minerals, including magnesium, manganese, and potassium. Butternut squash is also rich in dietary fiber.
- Spinach is packed with nutrients and antioxidants. It’s high in fiber and a good source of many vitamins and minerals. Spinach is a great source of vitamins A and C, as well as folic acid, iron, and calcium. I use fresh spinach - you can also use frozen spinach - thawed and drained of any liquid. Or, use kale instead.
- Seasonings used to make this chicken orzo with butternut squash and spinach flavorful include smoked paprika, Italian seasoning, minced garlic, salt, pepper, and fresh thyme.
- Cream. I used only ½ cup of heavy cream to add a touch of creaminess.
How to make creamy chicken orzo (the overview)
Here is the recipe in a nutshell. For more details, scroll down to the recipe card below.
1) Roast butternut squash (peeled, cubed, and tossed with olive oil, freshly thyme, salt, and pepper) on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet in the preheated oven at 400 F for about 20 or 30 minutes. Proceed with the rest of the recipe while the squash is in the oven.
2) Cook chicken thighs seasoned with salt, pepper, smoked paprika, and Italian seasoning in olive oil in a large high-sided skillet. Remove cooked chicken from the skillet to a plate.
3) Cook orzo with minced garlic and chicken stock in the same skillet in a 1:2 ratio (1 cup of orzo with 2 cups of chicken stock).
4) Add spinach to the skillet and cook until it wilts.
5) Assemble the dish by adding roasted butternut squash and cooked chicken to the creamy orzo skillet. Season with salt and pepper. Top with fresh thyme.
- Use a high-sided, heavy-bottomed skillet such as a cast-iron skillet or a good-quality stainless steel pan. This will help avoid the burn spots and will ensure even cooking without food getting stuck to the bottom of the pan.
- Make this recipe gluten-free by using long rice instead of orzo.
- Reduce calories by using chopped cauliflower or cauliflower rice instead of orzo.
- Toppings. When serving, you can add grated Parmesan cheese, red pepper flakes, fresh herbs, or cracked black pepper to the creamy chicken orzo.
- Make ahead tip. Roast butternut squash cubes up to 2 days ahead. Keep them refrigerated in an airtight container until ready to use.
- Fridge. Store the leftover creamy chicken orzo in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
- Freezer. Freeze the leftovers in an airtight container for up to 2 months.
- Reheat in the microwave oven. Reheat the refrigerated leftovers in a microwave oven for about 1 minute. Taste and reheat for 30 extra seconds or more, if needed.
- Reheat on the stovetop. Reheat it with a small amount of olive oil in a large, high-sided skillet on the stovetop on low-medium heat.
What sides to serve with this meal?
- Store-bought or homemade bread. Serve chicken orzo with a slice of warm Italian bread, garlic bread, or olive bread loaf. Baguette or sourdough bread will also be delicious.
- Simple salad. Make a simple salad, such as basic spinach or arugula salad, sprinkled with toasted nuts (pecans or pine nuts), a small amount of shredded Parmesan, and dressed simply with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
- Salad recommendations. If you're looking for specific salad recommendations, try this simple spinach salad with pine nuts and Parmesan or cranberry spinach salad with cashews and goat cheese. Or, pair the chicken orzo and butternut squash with the colorful and easy-to-make arugula salad with apples, cranberries, and pecans or Fall-themed arugula salad with pears, apples, cashews, and homemade balsamic vinaigrette.
Creamy Chicken Orzo with Butternut Squash and Spinach
Roasted butternut squash
- 12 oz butternut squash peeled, seeded, and cubed
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- salt and pepper
- 2 tablespoons fresh thyme
- 1.5 lb chicken thighs skinless, boneless
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
- salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 cup orzo uncooked
- 5 cloves garlic minced
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 cups chicken stock
- 5 oz spinach fresh
- ½ cup heavy cream
- salt and pepper
- fresh thyme
Roast Butternut Squash
- Preheat the oven to 400 F.
- In a large bowl, toss cubed butternut squash with olive oil, salt, pepper, and fresh thyme.
- Spread the squash on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet in one layer, without overcrowding.
- Roast in the preheated oven on the middle rack at 400 F for 20 or 30 minutes. Remove from oven.
- Proceed with the rest of the recipe while you roast the squash.
Sear chicken thighs
- Generously season the chicken thighs with salt, freshly ground black pepper, smoked paprika, Italian seasoning, and fresh thyme.
- Heat a large skillet over medium heat for 3 minutes. This allows the skillet to heat through. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add chicken thighs. Cook the chicken on medium heat for 5 minutes, without moving it. This allows the chicken to sear.
- Flip the chicken thighs over, reduce heat to low-medium, and cook for about 5 more minutes or longer until it's cooked through. The meat thermometer should register 165°F (74°C) in the thickest part of the chicken. Remove chicken to a plate.
- To the same, now empty, skillet, add 1 cup of uncooked orzo, 5 cloves of minced garlic, and 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Cook the orzo on medium heat, stirring, for about 3 minutes until browned.
- Add 2 cups of chicken stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for about 5 or 10 minutes, occasionally stirring to prevent the orzo from sticking to the bottom of the pan, until the orzo is cooked through.
- Add spinach, and stir it in until it wilts on low-medium heat.
- Add ½ cup of heavy cream, stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper.
- Add roasted butternut squash and cooked chicken thighs to the cooked orzo. Top with fresh thyme.
The nutritional information on this website is only an estimate and is provided for convenience and as a courtesy only. The accuracy of the nutritional information for any recipe on this site is not guaranteed. It should not be used as a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.