Orzo is the Italian word for barley. However, it's not made from barley at all, but rather from semolina, a course-ground flour made from durum wheat. With its shape reminiscent of slivered almonds, orzo cooks up in about half the time of rice, making it a speedy standby to have on hand to add heartiness to meals.

How to Cook Orzo

Most packages of orzo come with instructions for cooking it. These directions will suggest cooking times specifically for that manufacturer's product; most brands cook in about 10 minutes. Here are general cooking instructions for four servings of orzo.

In a large saucepan bring 3 quarts lightly salted water to boiling. You do not need to add cooking oil to the pasta water; adding oil prevents sauces and seasonings from adhering to the orzo.

Add 8 ounces (1-1/2 cups) dried orzo. Boil the orzo about 10 minutes or until it has a firm, chewy texture, stirring occasionally to prevent it from sticking together.

Drain orzo in a colander and serve immediately.

Tip: Rinse the orzo only if it will be baked or served cool in a salad. Otherwise, do not rinse -- rinsing removes a light coating of starch that helps sauces and seasonings cling to the pasta.

Tip: For the best flavour and texture, serve the orzo immediately after cooking. However, if your orzo gets done before the rest of the meal, you can keep it warm by returning the drained cooked pasta to the warm cooking pan. Stir in a little butter or olive oil to prevent it from sticking together. Cover the pasta and let it stand no more than 15 minutes.

creamy orzo side dish

500g orzo
vegetable stock
chopped onion
chopped carrot
chopped celery
garlic clove, crushed
100ml cream
handful of frozen peas
grated parmesan

Cook the orzo in vegetable stock according to the packet, then drain, reserving 100ml cooking liquid.

Fry the chopped onion, carrot and celery in butter until soft, then add the crushed garlic clove and cook for 1 minute.

Add the cooked orzo, cream and the reserved cooking liquid with the frozen peas. Simmer until cooked, season, then serve with grated parmesan.