Pesto Orzo is a quick and easy meatless dinner that doubles as a side dish that can be served along with your favorite grilled meats and seafood. This colorful summertime recipe takes only 30 minutes and requires one pan - perfect for busy family weeknights. Make basil pesto from scratch or use a store-bought kind. This crowd-pleasing pasta dish is great for sharing at picnics, potlucks, and barbecue parties.
Pesto orzo - meatless dinner or side dish
This recipe is a quick and easy mix of orzo pasta, cherry tomatoes, Mozzarella cheese, pine nuts, fresh basil, and of course, basil pesto. You can make basil pesto from scratch or use a store-bought kind. Pesto orzo is packed with flavor and can be made last minute - it's that easy! It's versatile and easily adaptable to whatever ingredients you have available. A variety of veggies and cheeses can be used here. You can even add your favorite protein, such as cooked rotisserie chicken, pan-seared shrimp, baked salmon, or your favorite grilled meats.
Why you'll love it
- 30-minute, one-pan weeknight pasta dish. Pesto orzo is my go-to recipe for a quick dinner. It requires simple ingredients, takes under 30 minutes to make, and you need only one pan! The cleanup is minimal. Store-bought basil pesto works great here!
- Great for leftovers. This pasta dish reheats well and makes a great lunch the next day!
- Versatile recipe. Use your favorite veggies. I love cherry tomatoes with pesto orzo, but you can also add roasted bell peppers, asparagus, spinach, mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, or artichokes.
- Crowd-pleasing side dish. Pesto orzo is a must-have in your summer recipe repertoire. It can be made in advance, it keeps well refrigerated and can be served at room temperature. Bring it to picnics, potlucks, barbecue parties, and other festivities. It became a staple for my family's summer gatherings!
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).
How to cook the orzo?
Usually, the orzo is cooked in 1:2 proportion to water, for example, 1 cup of orzo in 2 cups of water, or 1.5 cups of orzo in 3 cups of water. Cook according to package instructions, which usually means 10 minutes. You might have to add a small amount of liquid about 5 minutes into the cooking if the orzo is too dry, to make sure it doesn't stick to the bottom of the skillet. You can use water, chicken stock, beef stock, or vegetable broth to cook orzo.
Pesto Orzo (One-Pan, 30-Minute Meal)
- In a large, high-sided skillet, combine orzo and water. Bring to a brief boil, reduce to a visible simmer, and cook, covered, for about 10 minutes (according to package instructions). Check the orzo 5 minutes into the cooking, and stir it to prevent it from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Orzo is cooked when all the water is absorbed and the orzo has a nice soft texture of cooked pasta. You might have to add more water at the end if the orzo is undercooked or the water evaporates too fast.
- Remove cooked orzo to a large bowl.
- To the same, now empty, skillet add olive oil, minced garlic, half of the cherry tomatoes (saving the other half of tomatoes for later), red chili flakes, dried oregano, and salt and pepper to taste. Cook on medium heat, stirring, for 4 minutes, until the tomatoes release juices and garlic is softened.
- Add cooked orzo, juice squeezed from half a lemon, the remaining cherry tomatoes, and most of basil pesto. Stir everything well together.
- Coat Mozzarella "pearls" with the remaining basil pesto in a separate bowl (you can use the same bowl where you kept cooked orzo). Add them to the orzo, stirring some in, and placing others over the pasta.
- Season with salt and red pepper flakes.
- Top with pine nuts and fresh basil leaves.
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.
What goes well with pesto orzo?
Add your favorite protein to turn this pasta dish into a well-balanced, complete meal. Easy ideas are leftover cooked chicken, rotisserie chicken, grilled meats, shrimp, salmon, or scallops. Here are my favorite protein-based recipes that pair well with pesto orzo:
- Shrimp Scampi with Capers
- Garlic Parmesan Baked Salmon
- Pan-Seared Salmon with Spinach and Sun-Dried Tomatoes
- Greek Chicken
- Cajun Chicken
- Bacon Scallops with Lemon Butter Sauce
Other orzo recipes you might enjoy
- Creamy Shrimp Orzo with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Spinach
- Greek Orzo with Tomatoes and Feta
- Italian Sausage Orzo Soup with Spinach and Portobello Mushrooms
- Creamy Chicken Orzo with Cherry Tomatoes and Spinach
Substitutions, variations, and add-ins
- Pasta. You can make this recipe with any other kind of short-cut pasta, such as bow-tie (farfalle), spiral pasta (fusilli), penne, or rigatoni.
- Rice is a great (and gluten-free!) substitute for orzo. After all, orzo is shaped very similarly to rice!
- Basil pesto. I love making basil pesto from scratch, but the store-bought kind works just fine in this recipe! I prefer pesto sold in the refrigerated sections of grocery stores.
- Veggies. The beauty of pesto orzo is that it pairs well with most vegetables. Choose your favorites or whatever you have available! I recommend tomatoes, bell peppers, zucchini, mushrooms, broccoli, asparagus, sun-dried tomatoes, artichokes, spinach, and arugula.
- Cheese. I used Mozzarella "pearls" (small balls of fresh Mozzarella cheese). You can also use cubed or grated Parmesan, Asiago, or Feta.
- Nuts are optional but add so much to pesto orzo. My favorites are pine nuts and pistachios.
- Add protein. Leftover cooked chicken, rotisserie chicken, grilled meats, and seafood will add a boost of protein to this pasta dish.
- Add cream - it will add lusciousness and richness.
- Fridge. Keep pesto orzo refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 4 days!
- Freezer. You can freeze it for up to 2 months.
How to reheat
- Stove-top. Reheat over low-medium heat in any kind of appropriately sized cooking pan. Add a small amount of olive oil when reheating, and stir often. You can also add more basil pesto instead of olive oil when reheating.
- Microwave oven. Reheat pesto orzo in a deep, high-sided microwave-safe dish (bowl) for about 30 seconds. Remove from the microwave oven, stir everything well. Return to the oven and reheat for 30 more seconds or more, until heated through. Add a touch of fresh basil pesto for more flavor.