You’re going to want to try Parmesan orzo 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.
I love this vegetarian meal because it’s easy, comfort food-y and versatile. The fairly low calorie, creamy orzo caught my eye in a recipe by Cooktoria.com when browsing online. I tried it with a couple of tweaks including pesto and sun dried tomatoes to up the flavors and a LOT more spinach to up the nutrition level.
The orzo in this recipe has a similar texture of risotto and a similar creamy-cheesiness of mac and cheese. But it’s easier and quicker to make than both. The one pot cooking method is a bonus. And so is the meatless Monday meal idea.
So is orzo a pasta? Yes it is. It looks like rice, but it’s a pasta made from flour. It doubles in size when cooked in liquid.
The Parmesan orzo is great on its own with a soup or salad. I also serve it as a side with chicken, pork or fish. Here are a few options: grilled BBQ chicken, marinated pork chops, sweet and spicy salmon. Straight out of the container from the fridge the next day is darn good too :).
Tailor To Your Taste
There are lots of variations and tweaks you could try:
- Pasta: The recipe calls for orzo, but other small pasta like baby bow ties will work too. You may have to adjust the cooking time a bit.
- Flavor add-ins: I add pesto and sun dried tomatoes, but feel free to leave one or both out. You can substitute the pesto with fresh basil or, instead, other fresh herbs like dill or thyme.
- Rich or light? I use 2% milk, but you can use any combination of milk from skim (0%) to half and half (10%) depending. You can even substitute the milk with broth, but you will lose some creaminess. You can also try a lower fat Parmesan cheese to lower the calories.
- Creamier or drier? If you prefer a creamier texture like I do, add extra broth or milk at the end until you reach the consistency you like.
- Vegetables: If you want to add other vegetables like onions, garlic, peppers or mushrooms, saute them first in a bit of butter or oil until tender. Then add the milk and broth and continue the recipe from there.
- Garnishes: 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 or sausage when you add the spinach.
I use all of these.
- Use pre-washed and dried baby spinach
- Buy shredded or grated Parmesan cheese instead of grating it on your own
- The recipe uses a good store-bought pesto, but if you want to make your own, here’s a good classic basil pesto recipe.
Make Ahead Parmesan Orzo
- This dish will keep in the fridge in a sealed container for several days. Reheat it in the microwave or on the stove, adding broth, water or milk to loosen it up. I wouldn’t freeze it.
Parmesan Orzo with Spinach (one pot)
- 2 1/2 cups broth (vegetarian or chicken) PLUS 1/2 cup more to loosen pasta at the end if needed.
- 1 cup milk, any kind I use 2%, but you can use whole to make it richer or skim for extra light.
- 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 tbsp pesto optional, but delicious if you like pesto
- 3 tbsp sun dried tomatoes. oil squeezed out, roughly chopped optional
- salt and pepper to taste amount of salt will depend on saltiness of broth
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 a sealed container for 3-4 days. Reheat on stove or in microwave with a splash of water, milk or broth.
Other quick and easy pasta dishes you might like: