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Lemon Orzo Recipe

This Lemon Orzo is a quick and easy one-pot recipe that's perfect as a side dish or even as a light main course. With bright lemon flavor, creamy parmesan cheese, and thyme seasoning, this dish is sure to become a family favorite.

You'll love how the orzo soaks up all the delicious flavors from the chicken broth, lemon, and herbs. And the best part is it all comes together in just 20 minutes, making it a great option for busy weeknights or when you want something tasty without spending hours in the kitchen.

Lemon Orzo in a white bowl with lemon slices.

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I'm a huge fan of this Lemon Orzo because it's so versatile. It pairs perfectly with all kinds of proteins, from herb-roasted chicken to seared scallops or even grilled shrimp. But it's also delicious on its own as a light meatless meal.

The lemon and thyme combo is one of my all-time favorites. The tangy lemon really wakes up the dish, while the earthy thyme adds a subtle flavor that's just so good. And, of course, everything is better with cheese. The parmesan cheese takes everything to the next level.

This Lemon Orzo is my go-to when I need a quick and impressive side dish for dinner parties or potlucks. It always gets rave reviews, and everyone is surprised at how simple it is to make. Trust me, once you try this recipe, you'll be hooked!

Ingredient Notes

See the printable recipe card below for all ingredients, specific measurements, and complete instructions.

Ingredients to make lemon orzo set out on the counter.
  • Butter: Used to sauté the garlic and add richness. Salted butter works great, or you can use olive oil for a different flavor.
  • Garlic: Minced garlic adds a nice aromatic base. Fresh garlic is best, but you can use pre-minced in a pinch.
  • Chicken Broth: I used a low sodium chicken broth for this recipe. I love cooking the pasta in chicken broth rather than water because it picks up so much of the flavor, and there is no need to drain! I didn’t add any extra salt because the chicken broth adds enough in my opinion.
  • Orzo Pasta: A rice-shaped pasta that cooks up quickly and absorbs all the delicious flavors. I used Barilla brand for this recipe.
  • Dried Thyme: Adds a subtle, earthy sweetness that pairs perfectly with lemon.
  • Lemon: Both the zest and fresh lemon juice are used for maximum lemon impact. You'll need about 3 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice. As the star of the recipe, I found that a little bit of lemon can go a long way.
  • Parmesan Cheese: Freshly grated parmesan adds a salty, creamy element that brings everything together. It helps to balance the acidity from the lemon and gives it a bit of a creamy texture, all while adding a little extra flavor.
  • Fresh Thyme: Optional, but highly recommended for a pop of color and flavor. 

This recipe feels complete to me without adding salt and pepper, but salt and pepper can be added to taste for those who would like a little extra.

How To Make This Lemon Orzo Recipe

Start by melting the butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Toss in the minced garlic and cook just until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Butter, garlic, chicken broth, orzo, dried thyme, lemon juice, and lemon zest in a sauce pan.
Parmesan cheese added to the orzo in a sauce pan.

Next, pour in the chicken broth and orzo, then stir in the dried thyme, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Give it a good stir, then cover and let it simmer for 4-5 minutes until it starts to thicken. You'll know it's ready when the bubbles get slower and thicker before they pop.

Now, take off the lid and reduce the heat to medium-low. Keep stirring, making sure to scrape the bottom of the pan, until all the liquid is absorbed and the orzo is al dente, which takes about 3-4 minutes. This step is key to getting that perfect texture - tender but not mushy.

Finally, take the pan off the heat and stir in the parmesan cheese until it's nice and melty. Garnish with a sprinkle of fresh thyme and extra parmesan, then serve it up hot!

Cooked lemon orzo pasta in a sauce pan.

Recipe Substitutions and Variations

  • Change the herbs. Swap the thyme for basil, parsley, oregano, or whatever herbs you have on hand!
  • Make it dairy-free. Use olive oil instead of the butter and nutritional yeast instead of the parmesan for a dairy-free version. 
  • Make it vegetarian. Sub the chicken broth with vegetable broth to make this lemon orzo a vegetarian dish. 
  • Add vegetables. Add in sauteed vegetables like green peans, asparagus, or cherry tomatoes. 
  • Make It Creamier. Stir in a splash of heavy cream or half-and-half along with the parmesan at the end. You could also try adding a bit of cream cheese or a dollop of mascarpone.

Make-Ahead, Storing, and Freezing

Make Ahead: If you want to prep ahead, you can cook the orzo up to a day in advance. Just cool it, cover it tightly, and store it in the fridge. Reheat gently on the stove with a little extra broth or water, then stir in the parmesan right before serving.

Store: Store any leftover Lemon Orzo in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days. It reheats really well in the microwave or on the stovetop with a splash of broth or water to loosen it up.

Freeze: You can also freeze Lemon Orzo for up to 3 months. Just let it cool completely, then transfer to a freezer-safe container or bag. Thaw overnight in the fridge, then reheat as normal.

Recipe Tips

  • Be sure to use a low-sodium broth so you can control the saltiness. You can always add more salt, but you can't take it away!
  • Don't overcook the orzo, or it'll get mushy. Al dente is the way to go - tender but still a little firm.
  • Freshly grated parmesan really does make a difference here. Pre-grated just doesn't melt as well or taste as good.
  • If the orzo looks dry after cooking, just add a splash more broth or water to loosen it up.
Lemon Orzo pasta served on white plate with lemon slice and a fork.

More Side Dish Recipes

This Lemon Orzo is a true weeknight favorite. It's fast, easy, and packed with bright, fresh flavors that everyone will love. Whether you serve it as a side dish or a light main course, I guarantee it'll become a regular in your dinner rotation.

Lemon Orzo served in a white bowl with slices of lemons.

Lemon Orzo Recipe

Author: Judy Wilson
This Lemon Orzo is a quick and easy one-pot recipe that's perfect as a side dish or even as a light main course.
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 20 minutes
Course Side Dish
Cuisine American
Servings 4
Calories 255 kcal

Ingredients
  

  • 1 Tablespoon butter
  • 1 teaspoon garlic, minced
  • cups chicken broth
  • 1⅓ cups orzo pasta
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 lemon (juice and zest)
  • ¼ cup parmesan cheese, grated (and extra to garnish, optional)
  • Fresh Thyme, to garnish (optional)

Instructions
 

  • In a medium-size saucepan, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add garlic and cook until fragrant and just beginning to soften (about 30 seconds).
  • Add chicken broth and orzo, and stir in the dried thyme, lemon juice, and zest. Cover and allow to simmer for 4-5 minutes or until it begins to thicken.
  • Remove lid and reduce heat to medium-low and stir (being sure to scrape the bottom of the pan). Continue stirring until the water has evaporated and the orzo is tender yet firm (Al denté) (about 3-4 minutes).
  • Remove from heat. Stir in the parmesan cheese and allow it to melt. Garnish with fresh thyme and parmesan cheese. Serve warm.

Notes

This recipe feels complete to me without added salt and pepper, but salt and pepper to taste can be included for those who like to add a little extra.
Store any leftover Lemon Orzo in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 days.

Nutrition

Calories: 255kcalCarbohydrates: 42gProtein: 10gFat: 6gSaturated Fat: 3gPolyunsaturated Fat: 1gMonounsaturated Fat: 1gTrans Fat: 0.1gCholesterol: 16mgSodium: 681mgPotassium: 193mgFiber: 2gSugar: 3gVitamin A: 160IUVitamin C: 15mgCalcium: 86mgIron: 1mg
The nutritional information provided is approximate and should only be used as a general guideline. It is an estimate that will vary based on cooking methods and brands of ingredients used.
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