Zucchini Lemon Orzo

I stumbled into making this easy orzo recipe when I had half a box of orzo in the pantry. It ended up being one of my favorite meals of the summer!

Zucchini Lemon Orzo Recipe

You know those days when you feel like there’s nothing in the fridge, but then suddenly you’re able to rally enough ingredients to pull together a great meal? You feel accomplished, creative, and oh-so resourceful. The best feeling! Well, this orzo pasta isn’t that recipe. This is the recipe that I came up with the night after.

Normally when the fridge is empty and I haven’t gone shopping, we would go out to eat. But it was late – I didn’t want to go out and I definitely wasn’t up for a trip to the grocery store, so I started poking around in the pantry and found a lot more than I expected. And what came out of it may be my favorite dinner from the whole summer.

Zucchini Lemon Orzo Recipe

There was a half box of orzo, pine nuts, some bread crumbs, and my favorite dried herbs of the moment – herbs de Provence. In the lonely vegetable drawer there was a shallot, a lemon, garlic, some feta cheese, and waaay back there was a giant eggplant (yay! a vegetable!). My mom’s basil and mint plants were blooming away outside, so I added handfuls of each to freshen up this pantry-based meal.

What is Orzo?

The results were delicious, but before I get carried away, I know some of you must be asking, what is orzo? It may look like rice, but orzo is actually a short-cut, rice-shaped pasta. Most orzo is made with white flour, but if you’re lucky, you may be able to find a box of whole wheat orzo at your grocery store. Either would be excellent in this recipe.

Orzo Pasta Recipe ingredients

Why I Love This Orzo Recipe

When summer rolls around, I want to eat ALL the veggies, especially living in Chicago, where we don’t have access to fresh local produce all year round. Luckily, the grilled zucchini and eggplant are surprisingly substantial in this vegetarian pasta. They’re so substantial, that there’s only a small amount of pasta in the recipe. The lemon and feta really highlight them, making the dish rich and tangy. The pine nuts and bread crumbs add a nice crunch in contrast to the soft textures in the rest of the dish.

Orzo Recipe Variations

The first night I made this, I flaked some salmon into the pasta (it’s what I had on hand), but for the final dish that’s pictured here (after a trip to the store), I used zucchini instead (if you’re not vegetarian, you could even try grilled chicken). There are a number of other variations worth making. Here are just a few ideas:

  • Use grated Parmesan cheese in place of the feta.
  • Substitute toasted walnuts for the pine nuts.
  • Toss the orzo with a bit of pesto.
  • Add other veggies – roasted red peppers or cherry tomatoes would be excellent.
  • Skip the cheese to make it vegan, and add roasted chickpeas or a few capers.

Let me know what variations you try in the comments. My family really loved this recipe, and I hope yours does to!

Lemon Orzo Pasta

Looking for more orzo recipes?

Try this salad or this rainbow chard bowl!


5.0 from 11 reviews

Zucchini Lemon Orzo

 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
This easy orzo pasta recipe is a healthy summer dinner. Lemon & lots of herbs fill it with fresh flavor!
Author:
Recipe type: Main dish
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • ½ cup dry uncooked orzo
  • ½ cup finely diced scallions or 1 small shallot (1/4 cup)
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • ½ tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, more for drizzling
  • 1 teaspoon sherry vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon herbs de Provence
  • Juice and zest of 1 lemon, plus 4 small wedges for serving
  • 2 medium Italian eggplants, sliced into ½-inch rounds
  • 2 small zucchini, sliced in half lengthwise
  • ½ cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 2 cups loose-packed fresh herbs - basil & mint, torn if leaves are big
  • ¼ cup pine nuts, toasted
  • 2 tablespoons panko bread crumbs
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt, divided, plus more to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper
Instructions
  1. In the bottom of a large bowl, combine the scallions, garlic, olive oil, sherry vinegar, herbs de Provence and ¼ teaspoon of salt.
  2. Bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil. Prepare the pasta according to the instructions on the package, cooking until al dente. Drain and immediately add the hot orzo to the bowl. Stir in the lemon zest and set aside.
  3. Preheat a grill to high heat.
  4. Drizzle the eggplant and zucchini with olive oil on all sides, and sprinkle with ¼ teaspoon of salt and a few grinds of pepper.
  5. Grill the eggplant for 4 to 5 minutes per side, or until tender and charred, and the zucchini for 4 minutes per side, or until nice char marks form. Let cool slightly, then chop and add to the large bowl. Add the lemon juice and toss. Stir in the feta, herbs, and pine nuts, reserving a bit of each for garnish. Taste and adjust seasonings.
  6. Portion into 4 serving bowls and top with the breadcrumbs and remaining feta, herbs and pine nuts. Serve with lemon wedges on the side.

 

37 comments

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Rate this recipe (after making it):  

  1. Carolyn
    09.23.2021

    Wow, this dish really took me by surprise. I had fresh eggplant, zucchini, mint and basil in my garden. There’s a lot going on in this dish. The flavours were a perfect complement to each other. I’m making it again tomorrow and it will be on regular rotation. Thank you

  2. Hannah M
    08.25.2021

    Fantastic! Forgot to rate on my last comment, so leaving another.

  3. Hannah M
    08.25.2021

    What a lovely way to utilize eggplant. This has become my favorite summer dish. I plan to try it out with einkorn as a GF option for friends, but every time I go to make it, it’s hard to diverge! Since we don’t have a grill, I’ve roasted the eggplant and zucchini in the oven. The third time I did this has been the best way—chopping eggplant into 3/4in chunks, tossing in salt and olive oil, and roasting on a tray @ 425F for about 20ish minutes (honestly, I just checked every 5 min or so until they looked a bit charred on the edges and tasted soft). Zucchini I quartered lengthwise and did the same but needs much less time in the oven, chopping afterwards.

    I have also replaced pine nuts with toasted almond slivers which also gives a nice crunch to the dish. I’ve also used white wine vinegar and red wine vinegar as sherry vinegar replacements, both have worked beautifully.

    Easy to double the recipe for leftovers, but you do lose some of the al dente bite to the orzo, which may mean using a grain like farro or einkorn might be a good replacement for leftovers, as they’d keep the bite.

  4. Wimsey
    08.22.2021

    This is so delicious! I’ve honestly never liked eggplant before, but I got one in my CSA box this week and decided to make it so I could give my friend some tomorrow. Now I may be a bad friend and keep it all for myself!

    • Jeanine Donofrio
      08.22.2021

      Ha ha, I’m so glad you loved it and that you might be changing your mind about eggplant 🙂

  5. Liz
    08.09.2021

    Outstanding!! So delicious, that its hard not to just keep eating it out of the bowl before it even gets to the plate. I omitted the feta as we are wfpb, and added a can of chickpeas to make it more a meal. The flavour is just yum!

  6. Donna M
    12.15.2020

    This was so yummy!!!! We have a cast iron tray that held the eggplant. It charred nicely. Will make it again for sure!

  7. Rachel from rwilliamsphotogrpahy.net
    09.14.2020

    I made this and the hubs and I both loved it! Great recipe. Thank you for sharing. I forgot to put in the bread crumbs at the end and I replaced the herbs de Provence with an Italian seasoning mix. Wish I had remembered the Panko because I actually had the box out and everything! Also, I cubes and sautéed the eggplant and zucchini instead, and was able to get the eggplant charred but not so much with the zucchini.

A food blog with fresh, zesty recipes.
Photograph of Jeanine Donofrio and Jack Mathews in their kitchen

Hello, we're Jeanine and Jack.

We love to eat, travel, cook, and eat some more! We create & photograph vegetarian recipes from our home in Chicago, while our shiba pups eat the kale stems that fall on the kitchen floor.