Creamy Lemon Orzo

Creamy Lemon Orzo
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creamy lemon orzo
Creamy! Lemony! Pasta!

This came about in a somewhat convoluted way. We were trying to think of a way to cook the radish pods we picked up last week. It’s not been easy, but we did decide on something. But, at the same time, we came up with the idea of a lemon orzo to compliment (hopefully) the radish pods. This soon evolved into a creamy lemon orzo, perhaps with a tiny amount of greens tossed in for color. It didn’t sound half bad. Now all we had to do was scratch it up.

We didn’t start with a recipe, but we did know how to make a creamy orzo: use the technique described in Thomas Keller’s Mac ‘n’ Cheese. With that in hand, the rest was easy, making this another 100% original Scratchin’ It recipe.

Creamy Lemon Orzo

Yield: 2 servings

Creamy Lemon Orzo


  • 1 Tbs olive oil
  • 1/2 cup (100g) orzo
  • Juice and zest of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 cup hot water
  • 1 Tbs chopped flat-leaved parsley
  • 1 Tbs unsalted butter

Abbreviated Instructions

Heat oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add orzo and stir until toasted, about 2 minutes.

Add the zest and juice, stirring until absorbed and the pasta just begins to stick.

Add salt and 1/2 cup hot water, stirring continuously until absorbed. Add an additional 1/2 cup water and stir until mostly absorbed. At this time you should have been stirring for about 8-9 minutes. Stir in parsley, cover, and remove from heat.

Let stand 5 minutes. Stir in butter and freshly ground black pepper to taste. If needed, let stand another 3-5 minutes to ensure pasta is done.

Serve immediately.

Ingredient discussion:

A lot of people think all commercial pasta is the same and buy the cheapest available. It’s not. Often the cheaper brands will break apart while cooking, and they just don’t have the same texture. For commercial pasta, we prefer the Barilla brand — not an endorsement — just what we like. If you don’t have orzo, this will work with spaghetti broken into small pieces. Everything here is simple, but make sure to use freshly-squeezed lemon juice. The stuff in bottles has a weird metallic taste. Avoid it. For the hot water, we simply heated water in a tea kettle before starting. It stayed plenty hot while we were working.

Procedure in detail:

If you’ve made risotto, this is made pretty much the same way, but using orzo in place of arborio rice, it takes less time. Also, we made half the amount listed here, because only one of us was around for this meal.

toasting pasta
Toasting the pasta to brown it add flavors as the starches cook. While you don’t have to do it, it does make this dish taste better.

Toast pasta. Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add orzo, stir to coat, and cook, stirring often, until the pasta is nice and toasty and turning golden brown, about 2 minutes..

adding lemon juice
You might think “orzo” is Italian for rice. It’s not! Look it up.

Add lemon juice. Stir in the lemon juice and zest — we just put them both in the same measuring cup or bowl when we zest and juice the lemon — and continue to stir until the liquid is absorbed or evaporated and the pasta starts to stick to the pan, about 2-3 minutes.

cooking creamy orzo
This is about how thick the liquid should be before adding more hot water.

Add hot water. Add the salt and 1/2 cup of hot water, and continue stirring. You’ll notice that you’re starting to get a broth that’s thick and creamy. That’s the starch from the pasta, and your stirring is releasing it into the liquid. That’s exactly what you want. After 4-5 minutes, the liquid will be absorbed and you’ll need to ….

Add hot water again. Add another 1/2 cup hot water and continue stirring. Don’t worry; you’re almost through with the stirring. In about 3-4 minutes, most of the liquid will be absorbed and about 8-9 minutes should have gone by since you added the lemon juice. Now is the time to ….

Cover and stand. Add the flat-leaved parsley and stir it in. Cover the pan, remove it from the heat, and let it stand for about 5 minutes to help the pasta finish cooking. Then ….

adding butter and freshly ground black pepper
A little butter and black pepper can’t go amiss.

Season. Add the butter and black pepper to taste and stir in. If the pasta isn’t quite done, you can re-cover the pan and let it stand a few more minutes so it’ll be done to perfection.

This orzo was nice and creamy with a bright lemon flavor. We didn’t eat it just as a side; we used it as a base for our radish pod dish (which we’ll cover tomorrow, if you’re interested). You could use it as a side — think something like Rice-A-Roni, only better — or with some quick fried vegetables, more as a part of a main. Four lemony stars!

Worth the trouble?

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