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Creamy Orzo Pasta with Spinach (15 Minutes in One Pot)

You’re going to want to try this creamy orzo pasta with spinach if you’re looking for a quick, family-friendly, easy dinner idea with good nutrition. Just 15 minutes in one pot.

Add some pesto and sun-dried tomatoes for an Italian twist. Or a protein or more veggies or fresh herbs or … you get the idea. It’s very versatile.

bowl of parmesan orzo with spinach

I love this cheesy pasta main dish because it’s an easy, versatile weeknight dinner or side. It’s also surprisingly, fairly low in calories.

The orzo pasta recipe caught my eye in a recipe by Cooktoria.com. I tweaked it to include pesto and sun dried tomatoes to amp up the flavors and a LOT more spinach to boost the nutrition level.

So, is orzo a pasta? Yes, it is. It looks like rice, but it’s a rice-shaped pasta made from flour. It doubles in size when cooked in liquid.

What to expect

Quick, easy, delish: The orzo in this recipe has a similar texture of risotto. And the entire dish has a similar creamy cheesiness of mac and cheese. But this orzo with its creamy sauce and spinach is easier and takes less time to make. It uses simple ingredients and cooks in just 15 minutes, making it perfect for a busy weeknight.

Meatless meal: The vegetarian creamy spinach orzo is a nice alternative to a meat meal. Check this out for more meatless Monday recipes.

One pot cooking method – the entire dish cooks in one pot which is a bonus.

Super versatile. Change up the pasta, the richness of the dish, the add-ins, the veggies or the garnishes.

Ingredients- tailored to your taste

orzo, parmesan, spinach, pesto, sundried tomatoes, salt pepper, broth

Pasta: The recipe calls for orzo, but any other type of pasta like baby bow ties will work too. You may have to adjust the cooking time a bit.

Creaminess factor:

  • I use 2% milk, but you can use any combination of milk from skim (0%) to half and half (10%) or even heavy cream depending on the richness you like. 
  • You can even substitute the milk with broth, but you will lose some creaminess.
  • Or try a lower fat Parmesan cheese to lower the calories.
  • If you prefer a creamier texture like I do, add extra broth or milk at the end until you reach the consistency you like.

Pesto and sun-dried tomatoes: Use one or the other (or both) for great flavors. Or leave them out. You can substitute the pesto with fresh basil or, instead, other herbs like fresh thyme, dill or cilantro. You can also add in a bit of dried Italian seasoning blend. If you like spicy, try a spicy cilantro pesto.

Variations to try

Veggie add-ins: If you want to add other vegetables like onions, garlic, peppers or mushrooms, sauté them first in a bit of butter or oil until tender. Then add the milk and broth and continue the recipe from there.

Garnish options: Try adding some crumbled feta cheese, chopped green onion, fresh lemon zest, or chopped cherry tomatoes.

For a non-vegetarian version and to make the dish more substantial, you can add chopped cooked chicken, fish or sausage when you add the spinach. You can also use chicken broth instead of vegetable broth. Here’s a delicious creamy salmon pasta that uses the same orzo-spinach base.

How to make Parmesan Orzo

milk and broth boiling in skillet
Bring milk and vegetable broth to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the dry orzo.
orzo, milk and broth cooking in skillet
Boil gently until al dente or as soft as you like it.
fresh spinach added to cooked orzo and parmesan sauce in pan
Once the orzo cooks, stir in parmesan, sundried tomatoes & pesto (if using) and spinach. Cook for a minute until spinach wilts.
orzo with spinach and parmesan in skillet
Taste and adjust seasonings.
orzo with spinach and parmesan in bowl

Tip

For a creamier, looser pasta, add more milk, cream or broth a little at a time until you get the texture you like.

FAQs

Should I rinse orzo pasta before cooking?

You should only rinse cooked orzo if you are baking with it or serving cool in a salad. Otherwise, you shouldn’t because rinsing removes the light coating of starch that helps slightly thicken sauces.

Can I freeze leftover creamy orzo pasta?

It’s best to freeze the orzo and sauce separately as the sauce can separate when frozen, but you can freeze it together. To reheat, thaw it first, then rewarm on the stove or the microwave, stirring well.

What are the health benefits of eating spinach?

According to Healthline, spinach has excellent health benefits. It’s low in calories, low in carbs and high in fiber, vitamin K and magnesium. It’s also a great source of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, iron and calcium.

What to serve with creamy spinach orzo

The orzo pasta with spinach is a perfect meal on its own or with a quick homemade tomato soup or side salad.

It also makes a great side dish with chicken, pork or fish. Here are a few options:

Straight out of the container from the fridge the next day is darn good too 🙂

Shortcuts

I use all of these.

  • Pre-washed baby spinach
  • Shredded or grated Parmesan cheese instead of grating it on your own
  • A good store-bought pesto. If you want to make your own pesto, here’s a good basil pesto with walnuts recipe.

Make Ahead 

  • This dish will keep in the fridge in a sealed container for several days. Reheat it in the microwave or on the stove. For best results, add some broth, water or milk to loosen it up.
bowl of parmesan orzo with spinach

More creamy cheesy pasta recipes

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bowl of parmesan orzo with spinach
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Creamy Orzo Pasta with Spinach (15 Minutes, One Pot)

You're going to want to try this creamy orzo pasta with spinach if you're looking for a quick, family-friendly, easy dinner idea with good nutrition. Just 15 minutes in one pot.
Prep Time3 minutes
Cook Time12 minutes
Total Time15 minutes
Course: Main Course, Side Dish
Cuisine: American, Italian-style
Servings: 4 as side dish
Author: Cheryl

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups broth (vegetarian or chicken) PLUS 1/2 cup more to loosen pasta at the end if needed.
  • 1 cup milk or cream, any kind
  • 1 cup orzo
  • 6 cups fresh baby spinach, packed, roughly chopped (6-7 good handfuls – about 6 oz)
  • 1/2 cup grated or shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoon pesto optional, but delicious if you like pesto
  • 3 tablespoon sun dried tomatoes. oil squeezed out, roughly chopped optional
  • salt and black pepper to taste amount of salt will depend on saltiness of broth

Instructions

  • COOK ORZO: In medium skillet (Note 1), bring 2 cups broth and 1 cup milk to a boil. Stir in orzo. Lower heat to medium high (liquids should be gently boiling). Stir, uncovered, for about 8-9 minutes or until most of liquid is absorbed. TIP: Stir a lot toward the end so that orzo doesn't stick to pan.
  • ADD OTHER INGREDIENTS TO FINISH: Lower heat to medium low. Add chopped spinach, Parmesan and, if using, pesto and sun dried tomatoes. Stir until well until combined and spinach is wilted, about 2-3 minutes. If too thick, add more broth to the consistency you prefer. Taste and add salt and pepper to taste. You can also add additional pesto and Parmesan if you like. Serve with extra Parmesan on the side.

Recipe Notes

  1. Cooking Time will vary a bit depending on the type of skillet you use and if you double the recipe. The orzo will cook quicker in a larger, flatter skillet. You may need to add more liquid or cook the orzo longer. The recipe is very forgiving, though, so don’t worry. Just add more broth or milk as needed or increase/decrease the heat as needed. 
  2. Variations
    • Pasta: Instead of orzo, use other small pasta like baby bow ties. You may have to adjust the cooking time a bit.
    • Pesto and sundried tomatoes: Use one or the other for great flavors. Or both. Or leave them out. You can substitute the pesto with fresh basil or, instead, other fresh herbs like dill or thyme.
    • Cream or milk: 
      • I use 2% milk, but you can use any combination of milk from skim (0%) to half and half (10%) depending in the richness you like. 
      • You can even substitute the milk with broth, but you will lose some creaminess.
      • Or try a lower fat Parmesan cheese to lower the calories.
      • If you prefer a creamier texture like I do, add extra broth or milk at the end until you reach the consistency you like
    • Veggie add-ins: If you want to add other vegetables like onions, garlic, peppers or mushrooms, sauté them first in a bit of butter or oil until tender. Then add the milk and broth and continue the recipe from there.
    • Garnish options: Try adding some crumbled feta cheese, chopped green onions or chopped cherry tomatoes.
    • For a non vegetarian version and to make the dish more substantial, you can added chopped cooked chicken, fish or sausage when you add the spinach. Here’s a delicious creamy salmon pasta that uses the same orzo-spinach base.
  3. Make Ahead: If you make this ahead of serving time, it will thicken on standing. Before serving, stir in additional broth or water to loosen it up. You can refrigerate the dish in an airtight container for 3-4 days. Reheat on stove or in microwave with a splash of water, milk or broth. 
 
Nutrition values are estimated with 2% milk, pesto and sundried tomatoes.  

Nutrition

Calories: 293kcal | Carbohydrates: 38g | Protein: 14g | Fat: 10g | Saturated Fat: 4g | Cholesterol: 16mg | Sodium: 944mg | Potassium: 607mg | Fiber: 3g | Sugar: 6g | Vitamin A: 4995IU | Vitamin C: 24mg | Calcium: 279mg | Iron: 2mg
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