This creamy orzo pasta is packed with veggies (roasted butternut squash, spinach, and garlic) and takes only 30 minutes. It's a perfect dinner for busy family weeknights when you're craving comfort food on a cold Fall or Winter night. Serve this cozy meal as a meatless main course or as a side dish alongside your favorite proteins (chicken, beef, pork, seafood).
What makes this 30-minute dinner different from your usual creamy pasta recipes is that it's packed with fresh veggies, such as roasted butternut squash and spinach, and there's only ½ cup of cream used. I used store-bought peeled and pre-cut butternut squash which saved me a ton of time and made the whole recipe a breeze! Perfect for a cozy family weeknight dinner but also appropriate for entertaining guests. Creamy orzo pasta also works great as a side dish to cooked or grilled meats (chicken, beef, steak, lamb, pork) or seafood (shrimp, salmon, scallops). You can make this year-round (not just during Fall and Winter) and use sweet potatoes instead of (more seasonal) butternut squash. For more orzo pasta inspiration, take a look at these 2 recipes: Creamy Butternut Squash and Sausage Soup with Orzo and Spinach and Creamy Chicken Orzo with Veggies.
Why you'll love it
- Easy 30-minute recipe. Roast the peeled and cubed butternut squash in the oven while you make creamy orzo pasta with spinach in the skillet on the stovetop. Everything comes together in just 30 minutes. This recipe is even quicker if your local store carries pre-cut peeled butternut squash.
- Flavorful meatless dinner. If you're looking for a meatless recipe that is filling, delicious, and not boring, this butternut squash and spinach orzo might become one of your new favorites! It's a Fall and Winter comfort food that you can make year-round (and use sweet potatoes instead of butternut squash when it's not in season).
- Nutritious comfort food. Even though this creamy orzo pasta is pure comfort food, it is also packed with veggies. You can even double the amount of veggies if you like to make it healthier!
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?
Some stores offer different sizes of orzo. I prefer the kind of orzo that is larger in size. In this recipe, I used orzo by Delallo brand, Number 65 cut. It was larger than other orzo sizes offered at my local store.
How to cook orzo
- Combine orzo and water in a deep saucepan or large high-sided skillet in a 1:2 ratio. For example, combine together 1 cup of orzo with 2 cups of chicken stock.
- Cook on a low simmer for about 5 or 10 minutes or longer until the orzo is completely cooked through. Stir occasionally, so that the orzo doesn't get stuck to the bottom of the pan.
- If the liquid absorbs too fast and the orzo is not cooked yet, add ¼ cup of liquid and continue simmering until the orzo is soft and all the liquid is absorbed. Add more liquid, if needed.
- Orzo is a staple food of Italian cuisine. This pasta resembles long-grain rice and is easy to cook!
- Spinach. I used fresh spinach and cooked it right in the same pan as the orzo pasta. You can also use frozen spinach - thawed and drained of any liquid.
- Butternut squash. I used store-bought peeled and pre-cut butternut squash which made this recipe really quick and easy to put together. If you have whole butternut squash, I recommend that you peel it and cube it in advance.
- Cream. I used only ½ cup of heavy cream to add a touch of creaminess.
- Seasonings used to make this creamy orzo pasta with butternut squash and spinach flavorful include smoked paprika, Italian seasoning, minced garlic, salt, pepper, and fresh thyme.
How to make creamy orzo pasta (the overview)
Here is the recipe in a nutshell. For a detailed list of ingredients and recipe instructions, 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 orzo with minced garlic, seasonings, and chicken stock in a large high-sided skillet in a 1:2 ratio (1.5 cups of orzo with 2.5 cups of chicken stock) for about 5 or 10 minutes until completely cooked through.
3) Add spinach to the skillet and cook until it wilts.
4) Assemble the dish by adding roasted butternut squash to the creamy orzo pasta 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 orzo pasta.
- Make ahead tip. Roast butternut squash cubes up to 2 days ahead. Keep them refrigerated in an airtight container until ready to use.
Variations and substitutions
- Pasta. If you can't find orzo, you can use any other kind of short-cut pasta, such as bow-tie (farfalle), fusilli, orecchiette, rotini, or rigatoni. If using this kind of pasta, you might have to cook it as you would normally cook pasta - in a large pot of boiling water - and only then add it to this recipe.
- Use other greens. Swiss chard, arugula, or kale will work great in this recipe besides spinach.
- A good substitute for butternut squash is sweet potatoes. This way you can make this recipe year-round by using sweet potatoes when the butternut squash is not in season.
- Add sausage or chicken. I recommend spicy Italian sausage, chicken sausage, or skinless boneless chicken thighs. You can also plant-based sausage such as Beyond sausage brand.
How to garnish orzo pasta
Garnish orzo pasta with freshly grated Parmesan cheese and freshly ground black pepper. Other great toppings are red pepper flakes, chopped chives, chopped fresh herbs (parsley, basil, thyme, cilantro), chopped green onions, chives, or toasted pine nuts.
- Fridge. Store the leftover creamy orzo pasta 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. You might have to add a small amount of milk or cream if the orzo is too thick.
- Reheat on the stovetop. Reheat it in a large, high-sided skillet on the stovetop on low-medium heat. Add a small amount of chicken stock, milk, cream, or simply water to thin out the sauce.
What to serve with it?
- Bread. Creamy orzo pasta pairs well with baguette, garlic bread, olive bread, or sourdough bread.
- My salad recommendations. Serve it with a simple spinach salad with pine nuts and Parmesan or cranberry spinach salad with cashews and goat cheese. Or, pair the pasta with the colorful and easy-to-make arugula salad with apples, cranberries, and pecans.
Other orzo pasta recipes you might like
- Creamy Butternut Squash Orzo with Sausage
- Italian Sausage Orzo Soup with Mushrooms
- Creamy Chicken Orzo with Butternut Squash and Spinach
- Butternut Squash and Black Bean Orzo with Sausage
- Creamy Butternut Squash and Sausage Soup with Orzo and Spinach
Creamy Orzo Pasta
Roasted butternut squash
- 12 oz butternut squash peeled, seeded, and cubed
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- salt and pepper
- 2 tablespoons fresh thyme (leaves only, no sprigs)
- 1.5 cup orzo uncooked
- 5 cloves garlic minced
- ¼ teaspoon smoked paprika
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2.5 cups chicken stock
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon Italian seasoning
- 5 oz spinach fresh
- ½ cup heavy cream
- salt and pepper
- fresh thyme
Roast Butternut Squash
- Preheat the oven to 400 F.
- Toss cubed butternut squash with olive oil, salt, pepper, and fresh thyme on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Spread it 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.
- To a large, high-sided skillet, add 1.5 cup of uncooked orzo, 5 cloves of minced garlic, ¼ teaspoon smoked paprika, and 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Cook the orzo on medium heat, stirring, for about 3 minutes until browned.
- Add 2.5 cups of chicken stock, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon Italian seasoning to the skillet with orzo. 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, and stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper, if needed.
- Add roasted butternut squash 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.