Here’s how to cook orzo as a simple side dish! This rice-shaped pasta comes together in minutes, flavored simply with butter and lemon.

Lemon Butter Orzo

Here’s a clutch pantry staple recipe to accessorize with quick weeknight meals: orzo! This rice-shaped pasta is ultra fast to cook, making it ideal for nights where you need something on the table fast. This orzo recipe is incredibly simple but comes out comforting and nostalgic, pairing the tender grains with butter and a hint of lemon. It’s so tasty, you’ll quickly add it to your regular rotation…then wonder how you lived so long without it!

What is orzo?

Orzo is a small pasta that’s shaped like grains of rice. Known as risoni in Italy, it can be served in various ways: as a side dish, pilaf, as part of an orzo salad, or in soups. There are two main ways to cook orzo: boiled in a large amount of water like pasta, or cooked like rice where it simmers and absorbs all the liquid.

There are several sizes of orzo available in stores: we prefer the medium sized grains that are about the size of grains of rice. You can also find different colors of orzo, like tricolor orzo that’s colored naturally with sundried tomatoes and spinach.


How to cook orzo

There are two methods for cooking orzo: the pasta method (cooking in a large pot of boiling water and draining) and the rice method (simmering with less water until it’s all absorbed). The best way to avoid sticky orzo is the pasta method: it makes deliciously tender, well-separated grains. The rice method comes out creamier, but you run the risk of it coming out sticky or waterlogged. Here’s how to cook orzo:

  • Bring a pot of water to a boil. Estimate about 8 cups water per 1 cup orzo.
  • Add the orzo, bring back to a boil, and cook for 8 minutes. Taste a grain. If it’s mostly tender with a small amount of “chew” in the middle, it’s done. If not, cook 1 to 2 more minutes: just take care not to overcook it.
  • Drain and season. Drain the water from the pot, then return the orzo back to the pot. Season with salt, butter and lemon juice. Instant side dish!
Orzo recipe

Flavor variations

This simple orzo recipe with butter, salt and a squeeze of lemon is so simple yet satisfying! The buttery flavor almost reminds us of an elevated version of boxed max and cheese (without the cheese!). There are loads of ways to step up this simple dish: here are a few ideas:

  • Chopped herbs. A bit of chopped parsley looks lovely, or add chopped thyme or chives.
  • Parmesan cheese. Swirl in a bit of grated Parmesan to take it to new heights.
  • Feta cheese. A sprinkle of feta cheese adds a nice salty counterpoint.
  • Garlic. Saute a minced garlic clove in a bit of butter or olive oil, then mix it into the cooked orzo with the salt.
  • Spinach. Saute baby spinach (with or without garlic), then add the cooked orzo and salt. Feta cheese would be another nice addition!

More orzo recipes

There are lots of ways to use orzo! Here are some ideas, from this website and others:

Let us know what you think of the simple side dish recipe below, and any other ways you love to serve orzo.

More basic side dishes

This orzo recipe has saved us on many a weeknight. (In fact, as I’m writing this Alex is just bringing me a dish of this exact recipe!) Here are a few more simple side dishes perfect for rounding out a meal:

This orzo recipe is…

Vegetarian. For vegan, use olive oil or plant-based butter.

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Lemon Butter Orzo

Easy Orzo Recipe

  • Author: Sonja Overhiser
  • Prep Time: 2 minutes
  • Cook Time: 8 minutes
  • Total Time: 10 minutes
  • Yield: 4 ½ cup servings 1x


Here’s how to cook orzo as a simple side dish! This rice-shaped pasta comes together in minutes, flavored simply with butter and lemon.


  • 1 cup orzo
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon butter (or olive oil)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (½ lemon)
  • Chopped fresh parsley or feta cheese crumbles, for garnish (optional)


  1. Fill a medium pot with 8 cups water and bring it to a boil. Once boiling, add the orzo and stir.
  2. Bring the pot back to a boil, then boil for about 8 minutes until the orzo is tender. (Taste test a grain to assess doneness.) Drain into a strainer, then return the orzo to the pot.
  3. Stir in the kosher salt, butter (or olive oil), and lemon juice. Taste and if desired, add more lemon to taste. Add optional chopped parsley or feta cheese to garnish. Serve immediately; leftovers store refrigerated for up to 5 days.
  • Category: Side dish
  • Method: Boiled
  • Cuisine: Mediterranean
  • Diet: Vegan

Keywords: Orzo, orzo recipe, what is orzo

About the authors

Sonja & Alex

Meet Sonja and Alex Overhiser: Husband and wife. Expert home cooks. Authors of recipes you'll want to make again and again.

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  1. Cucumber Salad and Cajun Salmon were added to this recipe. It was sooooo delicious that I had to let you know. We will definitely have this again. I got a thank you and a good kiss from my hubby. Thank you for sharing this recipe.