Orzo Risotto with Tomato and Basil


  • 6 tablespoons butter

  • 2 shallots, minced

  • 3 garlic cloves, minced

  • 2 cups orzo

  • 6 cups boiling water

  • 1 ½ teaspoons salt

  • 1 15-ounce can crushed tomatoes (most stores stock the bigger 28-ounce cans, but Cento, Furmano’s and Red Gold all sell 15-ounce cans. They all have bright yellow labels. I prefer Cento if you can find it.)

  • ¼ cup chopped basil

  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar (you can add a third tablespoon if you want, but be careful. Balsamic has a powerful flavor and can overpower a dish.)

  • Pinch of sugar

  • ¼ cup Parmesan, Pecorino Romano or other hard Italian cheese, grated. Extra for garnish.


  1. Melt butter in a large pot or skillet over medium heat.

  2. Meanwhile, start boiling the water.

  3. Add shallots and garlic to the butter and sauté for about 4 minutes. The butter should be completely melted and warm but not hot yet. Don’t worry if you don’t hear the telltale sizzle when the aromatics hit the pan. You’re going to be cooking with the butter for 9 minutes total, which will give it a chance to brown.

  4. Add the orzo and sauté for 5 minutes. It will get a little crisp, which is what you want.

  5. Add the boiling water and the salt.

  6. Simmer uncovered over medium heat, stirring regularly until the orzo is al dente. It should take 7-8 minutes. However the best way to tell is to taste! ABT! Always. Be. Tasting.

  7. Add the can of tomatoes, balsamic vinegar and a pinch of sugar. Continue to simmer until tender and creamy; that should be another 8-10 minutes. In total, it should take 16-18 minutes.

  8. Once the orzo is nice and creamy the final step is to add the basil and cheese. Stir to combine.

  9. Garnish with extra cheese!

Risotto is infamous on cooking competition shows. Basically, every time some poor chef tries to make a risotto (a rice dish that needs a lot of attention to achieve the perfect consistency) he or she fucks it up and is booted from the show. (Also, the f-word on a food blog!? What a rebel!)

However, risotto is a hell of a lot easier when you use orzo, a rice shaped pasta. I guess, technically, that makes it not-risotto. But who are you, the rice police?

This recipe is genuinely difficult to mess up. So, not only do you get a simple, hearty meal, you also get to feel fancy and sophisticated for making risotto (or not-risotto). The other good thing about this recipe is it’s adaptable. Shallots, garlic and brown butter are solid ingredients to work from. For instance, you could add thyme and lemon peel instead of the tomatoes, balsamic and basil. It would be equally delicious.