Compared to the other small, stubby pastas, with lyrical names like ditalini (little thimbles), annelini (little rings), acini de pepe (little beads), tubettini (little tubes), tripolini (little bows) and stelline (little stars), orzo sounds so... well, so pedestrian.
It definitely needs another syllable or two to fit in with the other pastas, but in taste, texture, and versatility, orzo (which means "barley" in Italian) leads the pack.
Known collectively as "soup pasta", most small and stubby pastas are made from semolina (white or whole wheat), and do their best work in place of rice or noodles in soup, where they add bulk and texture, and absorb the flavors around them.
(Did you know that, in the United States, by law a noodle must contain 5.5 percent egg solids to be called a noodle? So without egg, a noodle really isn't a noodle. So don't call orzo a noodle; call it pasta.)
Orzo, unlike some of the tiniest of the soup pastas, also holds its own in chickpea salad or spinach salad, "risotto", and baked shrimp casserole. It cooks in 10 minutes, and swells up to the size and shape of a pine nut; 1/3 cup uncooked will make 1 cup of cooked orzo. It tastes great hot or cold.
Like all dried pastas, the small, stubby ones will keep in your cupboard for a year or more if stored in a sealed, dry package. Keep a few shapes on hand for soups, and maybe an arts-and-crafts project with your kids, but be sure to give orzo -- the pasta with the short and stubby name -- a special place in your pantry.
Cold curried orzo
Serves 4; can be doubled.
8 oz orzo
2 tsp sweet or hot curry powder
1/2 cup mayonnaise
Juice of half a lemon
1/4 cup raisins
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
1/4 cup diced cucumber
1/4 cup roughly chopped peanuts
Bring a pot of 2 quarts of water to the boil. Add the orzo. After the water returns to the boil, lower heat to simmer and cook 9-10 minutes or until the pasta is al dente (cooked, but not mushy). Drain and rinse under cold water to stop the cooking.
Place the curry powder, mayonnaise and lemon juice in a mixing bowl, and stir well to combine. Add orzo and remaining ingredients, and stir to coat the pasta and vegetables with the mayonnaise. Refrigerate until ready to serve (can be made up to one day in advance; it will improve with age).
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