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.
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.
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!
Looking for more orzo recipes?
- 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
- In the bottom of a large bowl, combine the scallions, garlic, olive oil, sherry vinegar, herbs de Provence and ¼ teaspoon of salt.
- 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.
- Preheat a grill to high heat.
- Drizzle the eggplant and zucchini with olive oil on all sides, and sprinkle with ¼ teaspoon of salt and a few grinds of pepper.
- 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.
- Portion into 4 serving bowls and top with the breadcrumbs and remaining feta, herbs and pine nuts. Serve with lemon wedges on the side.