A form of short-crust pasta, orzo is the Italian word for barley (from the Latin hordeum) and is shaped like a large grain or rice or barley.
As with any other pasta, it can be boiled and served on its own with a sauce and other toppings, or, because of its small size, it can be added to other recipes, such as soup, salads, pilaf, or to a casserole for baking. It is often found in soups such as minestrone. It can also be boiled and then fried, instead of rice, for a risotto-style dish.
Orzo is made by rolling the pasta dough into thick spaghetti-like lengths, flattening it slightly, then cutting it off short grain-like pieces.
The orzo pasta dough is usually made with semolina flour which in turn is made from the denser part of the wheat berry. This makes it somewhat harder and helps it to keep its shape while cooking so that it doesn’t become floppy as with other pastas. It makes for a chewier result. Some manufacturers make whole wheat variations which are denser and nuttier in flavour and have all the benefits of whole grains, such as more protein a better fibre. Some manufactured varieties are also flavoured with tomato or spinach, and these will appear either pink or green in colour.
As an ingredient, orzo pasta soaks up flavour, easily absorbing the cooking liquid, which is why cooks use it to add bulk or interest to soups and broths. It is usually added dry then left to cook with the other ingredients when used in this way.