Lemony orzo with asparagus is full of bright flavors that transport you to the Mediterranean coast. The orzo is mixed with lemon juice and seared asparagus and is topped with lemon zest and fresh basil to create a delicious orzo salad.
I love any recipe that transports me to Italy. And basil and lemon will never fail to remind me of that stunning country. Orzo is such a fun pasta shape to make, that I thought it would be perfect to combine with the asparagus and those lemon and basil flavors.
This recipe feeds two, but can easily be doubled or halved as needed.
Why make this recipe:
- Orzo is a fun pasta to make and cooks so quickly!
- Basil and lemon both add a freshness and brightness to this dish, making it perfect for those spring and summer months.
- The lemony orzo has so much asparagus added, that it feels like a substantial meal you can eat for lunch or dinner.
- Orzo - Orzo is a type of dried pasta that resembles rice
- Thin asparagus - Thin asparagus works best in this recipe.
- Lemon - You'll use both lemon juice and lemon zest in this recipe. It's easiest to zest before juicing!
- Olive oil - Use whatever type of olive oil you have.
- Fresh basil - Optional, but adds so much freshness and Mediterranean flavors to the recipe.
- Red pepper flakes - Optional, adds just the right amount of spice.
What is orzo?
Orzo is a pasta that looks like rice! Many people might mistake orzo for rice instead of realizing it is actually a pasta. If you can't find orzo, the best substitute would be a pasta shape like Ditalini.
What kind of asparagus to use:
This recipe works best with thin asparagus. The thin asparagus cooks quickly and doesn't overpower the orzo. If you can only find the regular kind, just know it will need to saute in the pan for longer to get tender.
What is the best way to remove the tough ends from asparagus?
You can either snap off the ends where they are easy to snap, or cut them. There are a variety of opinions about which way is best. I usually love snapping, because it's so satisfying, but if I'm short on time, it's easier to take a knife to a bunch at once.
- The red pepper flakes are optional, but if you like a bit of spice, I highly recommend! You could also add a dollop of Calabrian chili paste instead if desired.
- This recipe uses both the lemon zest and juice. Zesting the lemon adds so much flavor at the end! I have this microplane for zesting lemon (and grating Parmesan) and LOVE it.
- You can always add some shrimp, chicken, or fish to the orzo if desired. However, I love it without! You could also add feta, parmesan, or fresh peas.
How to make:
First, start that orzo cooking in a large pot! While the orzo cooks, wash and dry that asparagus! then cut off any tough ends.
Next, chop the asparagus into about 1-2 inch pieces.
Once the orzo is almost done cooking, add a little olive oil to your pan, add the sliced asparagus pieces, and cook over medium heat. Saute for a couple of minutes, stirring frequently.
Add the cooked (and drained) orzo to the pan, red pepper flakes, and lemon juice. Stir together. Add an extra drizzle of olive oil if needed and season with salt and pepper to taste.
Serve, and top with fresh basil leaves and lemon zest. Season with salt and pepper as needed.
Lemon Orzo with Asparagus
- 1 cup orzo dry
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 8 ounces thin asparagus
- 2 Tablespoons lemon juice
- ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes optional
- 6 leaves basil sliced into strips
- lemon zest
- salt and pepper to taste
- In a large or medium pot, add water and heat to boiling. Add the orzo and cook for 9-10 minutes (or according to package directions).
- While orzo cooks, wash and dry asparagus and lemon. Cut any tough ends off of the bottoms of the asparagus, then cut into 1-2 inch pieces.
- Zest the lemon and then juice to get 2 tablespoons.
- When orzo is almost done, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the asparagus and saute for 4 minutes, stirring frequently.
- Drain the cooked orzo and add to the skillet. Add the lemon juice and red pepper flakes and stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Plate, then top with fresh basil leaves and lemon zest.
Nutrition values are based on an online calculator and are estimates. Please verify using your own data.