Orzo with Lemon, Asparagus and Ham

Light and Lively…oh wait, that’s a yogurt isn’t it?

You know how sometimes you’re just putzing around in your kitchen and you remember some ingredient that’s been in the pantry for a while? You meant to use it before now, really you did! A perfectly good, even wonderful, ingredient like that little tin of some special something, that interesting package of pasta, dried beans, a grain of some type, that pesto. Well in my case it was, and is, orzo.

Now I’ve had many an orzo salad in my day, and many meat dishes with orzo used as a side. It’s a wonderful pasta and every single time I have it, I ask myself why I don’t make it more often. A few years ago I was in the position above, and it was Easter weekend and I was casting about for something to make for the two of us with what I had on hand that would be, well, Easter-ish or evocative of Spring in some way. Enter the orzo and this wonderfully simple concoction below. It’s so light with such lively flavors, and comes together so quickly, just my kind of dish. And it’s made with ingredients that I often have on hand in the spring, including asparagus…my favorite spring vegetable. We enjoyed this dish late in the day on Easter Sunday, along with a little spring dessert I’ll share with you later.

I love pantry inspirations, don’t you?

Orzo with Lemon, Asparagus and Ham
Serves 4-6

3 Tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
1 lb. fresh asparagus, end stem trimmed off, then cut into 1 inch pieces
Pinch of Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 lb. (8 oz.) cooked ham cut into 1/2 inch pieces or a combination of ham and prosciutto
1 lb. dried orzo
zest and juice of 1 lemon
Freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano to serve

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, and add salt according to the package directions for the orzo.

Very few ingredients, really.

Heat 2 Tablespoons of the olive oil in a large skillet over medium low heat. Add the onion and cook until it is soft and transparent, about 4-5 minutes. Add the asparagus to the onion and season with a tiny pinch of salt and some freshly ground black pepper. Cook for 4 more minutes.

Add the orzo to the pot with the water boiling, and cook according to the package instructions, about 7 minutes to al dente. Add the ham (and prosciutto) to the asparagus and onion mixture, continue to cook until the asparagus is crisp-tender, and the ham is lightly browned. Turn the heat to low.

Ready to add the drained orzo and lemon.

When the orzo is done, drain the water and then return the pasta to the pot, adding the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and stirring it through to coat. Add the orzo to the vegetable and ham mixture and stir to incorporate. Add the zest and the lemon juice, and season with more freshly ground black pepper, and another pinch of salt if you think it needs it to taste…I usually don’t. Stir to combine and rewarm gently, then turn off the heat and serve the orzo by itself or with a little freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano. Enjoy.

I’ll take mine with just a little cheese, please!

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51 thoughts on “Orzo with Lemon, Asparagus and Ham

    • I’m so glad you want to try it, Barbara! I think you’ll be as addicted to it as we are. And, you can change it up pretty easily…feta might be nice, spinach instead of asparagus, etc, but for sure it’s a great way to use up leftover ham or prosciutto! :)

  1. What a great looking dish Betsy. I adore the fresh colours. I must go through my pantry too and see what has been neglected; I love the idea of being inspired this way! have a great day.

    • Hi Eva, those inspirational dishes or challenges to use up what you have on hand are probably the most fun to me! Some of my favorite recipes have come together that way. Thanks, and hope you have a great day, and fun in your pantry, too!

      • That’s another reason why blogging is great, Betsy, otherwise I wouldn’t remember these spontaneous recipes!

  2. This time of year, I rarely make a dish of pasta without some chopped asparagus in it. The 2 ingredients seem meant for each other. And I agree with you about orzo. Each time I re-discover it in a cupboard, I make it for dinner and wonder why I don’t have it more often. Your recipe here, Betsy, sounds delicious and is yet another reason why I should cook orzo more often.

    • This is so simple I hesitated to refer to it as a recipe…and the combinations you could do, or add to this are pretty endless…warm or cold. I’m going to try and start keeping orzo in the pantry just to experiment with, now that it’s back on my radar. And I’m with you, John, I love pasta dishes with asparagus this time of year…and really any way I can use asparagus while it’s at its freshest I’m going to do it…other than perhaps as a dessert!

    • I know it will be hard to decide what/how to prepare that first batch, or just blanch it and dip it into some dressing or curry mayo and eat it right then. :) But, if you do try this recipe, let me know what you think! Thanks, Gretchen.

  3. It took me the longest time to find orzo in France, because they call it “avoine”, which means “oat” (they also call oats “avoine” of course!) but I found some the other day. I made a soup with it, but didn’t try anything more solid yet. This looks like a wonderful spring meal – that asparagus especially looks like a delicious addition.

    • I had no idea that the French called it avoine…but I guess it’s because of the shape??? I love orzo in soup, too. It’s such a versatile little pasta. I hope you’ll try it with asparagus…they’re a perfect match!

  4. What a pretty looking salad. I think we call orzo ‘risoni’ here. I love this little pasta that looks like rice. This is a beautiful dish that I would love to cook xx

    • Hi Julie, cheese is my first thought. Make cheese dip and blanch your asparagus then offer it to dip into the cheese. And if he likes curry, mix a good amount of curry powder with mayonnaise and dip it in that. Hidden in frittata with other things he likes…plus cheese, is also a good way. I used to hate asparagus when I was a kid, then realized as an adult it was because I hated it canned, not fresh, so I can empathize a bit!

  5. I think orzo is such an underused pasta. The size is perfect to use in a pasta salad and is a great substitute for rice which is basically the same size. Your recipe is perfect for leftover Easter ham.

  6. Orzo is one very cool word – that is almost enough to make me want to try it :D
    That and the fact that you present it beautifully and so deliciously :)

    Cheers
    Choc Chip Uru

  7. Betsy, this has all of my favourites rolled into one — so I will definitely be making it. Isn’t orzo just the greatest thing ever???? BTW, I’m not sure what happened, but I’ve reset the email alerts. Thanks for looking into that for me!!!

    • Barb, I’m so glad you like this recipe. I am a huge fan of orzo and plan to use more of it this year. It just slipped off my radar for a while, and now that it’s so readily available I have no excuse…or desire, to not use it! :) I’ve had people drop off of my email, too, and am not sure what happens with that but have noticed if I just unfollow and refollow it seems to fix…just a little WP glitch I guess!

  8. Pingback: Grilled Asparagus & Onion with Balsamic & Blue Cheese | A HEALTHY LIFE

  9. Pingback: Orzo and Black-Eyed Pea Salad | A HEALTHY LIFE FOR ME

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