Creamy chicken orzo is a quick and easy weeknight meal that takes just 30 minutes and you only need one pan. This comforting recipe features lots of veggies (cherry tomatoes and spinach) in a super-flavorful creamy sauce made with basil pesto. Make this simple restaurant-quality chicken dinner at home - and it might become a new family favorite for busy weekdays!
One-pan creamy chicken orzo
If you're looking to up your game with chicken dinners, this vibrant and colorful one-pot recipe is a must-try. Even though this tasty creamy chicken orzo takes only 30 minutes to make, it makes a beautiful presentation and tastes like something you would order at a fine-dining Italian restaurant. It's a winning combo of ingredients: skinless boneless chicken breasts, orzo pasta, cherry tomatoes, spinach, basil pesto, garlic, and cream. Juicy and tender chicken (seared with olive oil, smoked paprika, and Italian seasoning) is smothered in a luscious cream sauce made with basil pesto. If you love 30-minute one-pan chicken recipes such as this one, don't miss chicken gnocchi with spinach and mushrooms as well as this easy garlic butter chicken with zucchini and corn.
Why you'll love it
- Packed with veggies. This cozy and comforting chicken orzo is packed with veggies, such as cherry tomatoes and spinach. You can even double the amount of veggies and add any other veggies you love!
- Super-flavorful. Basil pesto combined with cream makes a delicious sauce for orzo. Homemade basil pesto is always the best, but the store-bought kind works, too.
- Minimal cleanup. Everything is cooked in one pan (use a high-sided, heavy-bottomed large skillet), even the orzo!
- Chicken. I used skinless boneless chicken breasts sliced into strips. You can also use skinless boneless chicken thighs.
- Orzo. Orzo is an Italian pasta that looks like long-grain rice.
- Spinach. I use fresh spinach and wilted it right in the skillet with orzo. You can also use frozen spinach - thawed and drained of any liquid. Or, use kale or arugula instead.
- Cherry tomatoes. Slice cherry tomatoes in half. You can also use regular tomatoes.
- Garlic. I used fresh minced garlic. It adds aroma and pungency.
- Heavy cream adds creaminess and richness to the chicken orzo. You can lighten it up by using half-and-half instead.
- Basil pesto - use store-bought kind or make basil pesto from scratch.
- Olive oil is used for searing the chicken.
- Chicken broth is added to cook the orzo. You can also use vegetable or beef broth (or stock). Or, simply use water.
- Seasonings include smoked paprika, Italian seasoning, red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper.
- It's a perfect recipe for using up leftover chicken! Throw leftover cooked chicken or shredded chicken together with the creamy orzo, heat it through, and serve! Rotisserie chicken is another "shortcut" ingredient.
- The sauce will thicken as this dish cools. In this case, add a splash of heavy cream, half-and-half, milk, or chicken broth to thin it out before serving.
- 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 orzo clearly labeled as "gluten-free".
What is orzo?
Orzo is a short-cut pasta resembling long-grain rice in shape. It is made from flour, like usual pasta. Often, orzo is made with semolina (durum wheat used for making pasta).
What type of orzo to use?
I prefer the kind of orzo that is larger in size. In this recipe, I used orzo by Delallo brand, Number 65 cut.
How to cook orzo?
Cook orzo in a 1:2 ratio (1 cup of orzo with 2 cups of chicken stock or water) for about 10 minutes on simmer. You might have to add a small amount of liquid at the end if the orzo is not cooked to your liking.
What kind of chicken to use?
- Skinless, boneless chicken breast. This is what I used in this recipe. Slice them into thinner strips.
- Skinless, boneless chicken thighs are really juicy and forgiving to cook. They will work great with creamy orzo.
- Chicken tenderloins or tenders. Chicken tenders are tender, and small, and will cook similarly to thinly sliced chicken breasts.
- Cooked rotisserie chicken is a great option, too.
Can you make it dairy-free?
- Use unsweetened coconut milk without making any changes to this recipe.
- Cashew milk is another great option as it has a thicker consistency.
- Oat milk or almond milk should work too - you will probably have to reduce the amount by half as these varieties of dairy-free milk have a thinner consistency, so gradually add them to the orzo in much smaller amounts than what the recipe calls for.
Variations, substitutions, and add-ins
- Use different proteins. You can easily add other proteins to this recipe, such as sausage, shrimp, scallops, or salmon. You can even use steak strips with this creamy orzo.
- Use more veggies. This includes sun-dried tomatoes, mushrooms, kale, arugula, asparagus, or bell peppers.
- Add cheese. Sprinkle freshly grated Parmesan, Asiago, Gruyere, or Pecorino Romano cheese on top of the creamy chicken orzo.
- Add pine nuts as a topping. Since basil pesto is usually made with pine nuts, it's only logical to use whole pine nuts as a topping for this chicken orzo! They will add a nutty flavor and a nice crunch! I like to toast pine nuts briefly (and carefully!) in the oven for an even richer flavor.
- Add other toppings, such as fresh herbs (basil, thyme, or oregano), chopped green onions, or chopped chives.
- Make it spicy. Red pepper flakes will add heat. Use these sparingly, to taste, so that they don't overwhelm the dish.
Storage and reheating tips
- Fridge. Store creamy chicken orzo in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. I do not recommend freezing this dish.
- Reheat in the microwave oven. Reheat the refrigerated leftovers in a microwave oven for about 1 minute. Taste and reheat for 30 seconds more, if needed.
- Reheat on the stovetop. Reheat this dish in a large, high-sided skillet on the stovetop on low-medium heat. When using this method, add a small amount of heavy cream, half-and-half, or milk to thin out the sauce when reheating.
What to serve with chicken orzo
- Bread. A slice of crusty Italian garlic bread (or olive bread) is a perfect sidekick to creamy chicken orzo.
- Recommended salad recipes. Here are my personal salad favorites: Tomato and Cucumber Salad with Avocado, Mozzarella, and Basil Pesto or this simple yet delicious Arugula Salad with Parmesan, Pine Nuts, Lemon, and Balsamic Dressing.
Other orzo recipes you might like
This delicious rice-shaped pasta works well for one-pan recipes because the orzo is so small that it can be easily cooked in the same pan as the rest of the ingredients. Orzo also pairs with any kind of protein, such as shrimp or chicken, and is a great ingredient for easy-to-make weeknight dinners. Here are some of my favorites:
- Creamy Chicken Orzo with Butternut Squash and Spinach
- Italian Sausage Orzo Soup with Spinach and Portobello Mushrooms
- Creamy Butternut Squash Orzo with Sausage
Chicken Orzo (30-Minutes, One-Pan)
- Slice chicken breasts into thinner strips. Generously season the chicken with smoked paprika, Italian seasoning, salt, and pepper.
- Heat a large, high-sided, heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add chicken. Cook the chicken on medium heat for about 3 minutes per side. 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 2 minutes until browned.
- Add 2 cups of chicken stock, half of the cherry tomatoes, and ¼ teaspoon of salt. 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 the remaining cherry tomatoes. Stir everything on low-medium heat until the spinach wilts.
- Add heavy cream and basil pesto to the skillet with orzo and veggies and stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper, if desired.
- Return the chicken to the skillet. Allow the chicken to simmer in the sauce to heat through and until the chicken is completely cooked through.
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.