whole wheat orzo giada's way

We've always been suspicious of orzo pasta. For one thing it looks more like it is pretending to be some wierd kind of rice. And being the smallest pasta shape (discounting the baby stuff called pastina), it seems more appropriate for some kind of broth-based pasta soup, which for some reason we rarely think to make. However, when this organic whole wheat version surprised us at Whole Foods, we immediately snatched a box and proceeded to look for a trial recipe. It turns out we had a pretty good one right in our cooking library, in a cookbook signed with a big smile "To Dr. BoB — Xo Giada" by Giada herself after a 3.5 hour wait in the nearby King of Prussia Mall Williams-Sonoma store two years earlier. The reward for patience.

The combination of carbs with shrimp is a good start, but injecting the saffron makes this dish seem like an obvious risotto recipe (in which we usually pair the shrimp with asparagus), with the advantage that whole wheat orzo beats arborio rice nutritionally. We guess, since it is not easy to find this information with a simple web search. The Abruzzo region directly across from Rome on the east coast of Italy where our box came from is a particularly rich source of Italian food products, and a region with which we have developed some acquaintance through the presence of the International Center for Relativistic Astrophysics in the old train station in Pescara, a destination which regularly calls dr bob from Rome. Abruzzese cuisine also recently arrived in Philly in the form of the Passyunk Avenue Abruzzese restaurant Le Virtu, whose cook Luciana turns out to be a friend of a friend of a friend (3 degrees of separation).


4 c reduced-sodium veggie broth (giada says chicken, but we prefer the vegetarian option on principle)
1 t saffron threads (this stuff does not come in quantities where you can stick a teaspoon into, we use 1 standard 12mg powder packet)
1 lb? orzo, more like 2 c, see note (whole wheat if you can find it!)
pasta condiment
4 T extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 c fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
fresh lemon juice (squeezed from 1/2 lemon)
1 t salt or to taste
1 t freshly ground black pepper or to taste
shrimp stuff
1 lb large shrimp, peeled and deveined (Trader Joe has a good reasonably priced bag)
fresh lemon juice (squeezed from 1/2 lemon, the other half)
3 T extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 lb cooked asparagus, chopped into 3/4 in pieces or some baby zucchini cooked and cross cut


  1. Bring 4 c water to boil if you use concentrate and add in the appropriate amount when boiling, or bring the unconcentrated broth to a boil, and stir in the saffron. Let the saffron fuse with the broth briefly.
  2. Dump in the pasta, bring to a boil again and cook until al dente on medium heat. Drain the pasta.
  3. Meanwhile toss the shrimp with salt and pepper and lemon juice and then sauté the shrimp in 3 T olive oil. About 2 minutes per side until they are just pink, or if you use already cooked shrimp, just heat them up in the olive oil.
  4. Finally combine the cooked orzo with the condiment stuff and the cooked shrimp (and the optional asparagus or zucchini if you go that route), remembering that salt enhances flavor but too much kills, and pepper enhances flavor but too much distracts from the taste of the ingredients.
  5. Serve.


  1. Organic whole wheat orzo pasta by rustichella d'abruzzo, imported by Manicaretti of California. The package says use 1 c water per 1/4 c orzo (plus salt), so 4 c water is appropriate for 1 c orzo. We could not have used more than 2 c orzo for this recipe. 6 c water and 1 1/2 c orzo is good for two hungry people, maybe 2/3 bag of 1 lb bag of shrimp.
  2. Saffron orzo with shrimp, p.127 of Everyday Pasta by Giada de Laurentis.
  3. Le Virtu, trattoria e taverna cucina abruzzese e ascolano.
  4. Those blue and gold pasta boxes in most US supermarkets these days come from De Cecco, whose headquarters is near Pescara. We often rely on this brand for non-whole wheat dried pasta, but now we are making an effort to choose whole wheat as much as possible.
  5. We made a half recipe since we are only two people, but we kept at it until we finished it. Because we liked it so much and it was not overwhelming.
  6. Illustrations available.

variation 2010: orzo with shrimp, baby clams and soycotash

We'd been having some really cold weather, after quite a few years of milder winters, and bob stayed late at the office while ani went out to an early evening fitness session with a friend for the first time, and since ani had been making nice dinners for bob lately, it seemed only fair that bob have dinner ready when she came back late (eightish). But although having complained of how warm it was in his classroom earlier in the day (typical American energy waste), bob had not taken the outside climate seriously enough to have put on an extra layer under his heavy winter coat that morning and now began feeling the cold knifing into his body on the short walk to the car, and then sitting in the car, a torture which could only be ended quickly by driving straight home to our warm house (electronic programmed heat). That meant scrounging around the kitchen trying to figure out what could be done without venturing out again. During this inspection it occurred to him that orzo had not been on the menu for a while, and we had a can of baby clams and an open bag of frozen recipe ready shrimp willing to join in for a seafood pasta dish of some kind. After a bit of googling on "orzo clams shrimp," bob settled on something which amounted basically to a slight modification of the present recipe.

4 c water boiling
1 c orzo (whole wheat if you can find it!)
1 t salt
1 small packet saffron threads
sauce base
2 T extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, pressed
1 10 oz can baby clams, plus juice
1 c Trader Joe's frozen soycotash or mixed vegetables, microwaved on high a few minutes (3?)
sauce add-ins
1 T butter
1/4 c fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 c frozen shrimp, thawed in cold water (no tails!), ready to eat
fresh lemon juice (squeezed from 1/2 lemon)
salt to taste
freshly ground black pepper
freshly ground parmigiano on each individual serving, with more freshly ground black pepper if desired


  1. Put the frozen shrimp in a bowl of cold water and let sit.
  2. Bring 4 c water to boil, add in the salt and orzo and boil 6 minutes (package said 8). Turn off the heat, stir in the saffron and cover.
  3. Sauté the onion in olive oil until softened, then stir in the pressed garlic and cook for a minute.
  4. Then dump in the drained baby clams and heat through.
  5. Then toss in the reserved clam juice from the can with the microwaved frozen veggies and reduce the liquid on high heat for a few minutes.
  6. Turn off the burner.
  7. When ready, turn back on the heat, toss in the shrimp and lemon juice to heat through a minute or two stirring around.
  8. Then dump in the orzo with the butter and stir it up until the butter is melted.
  9. Salt and pepper to taste.
  10. Serve with freshly ground parmigiano on each portion, we like extra pepper.


  1. We really enjoyed this variation too. Meanwhile the biggest Whole Food store in America just opened up down the road, in the former location of the first beachhead of IKEA USA at the Plymouth Meeting Mall (PA Turnpike crossing with itself: I-487 and I-276), which in turn had moved closer to us by one exit to an expanded superstore. Lucky us. Even Wegmans finally got close enough to frequent in the fall, although so far we only hit the grand opening. Must mean we are spoiled consumers.
  2. This time we left one portion for lunch but each of us had seconds.
  3. More illustrations available.
wworzo.htm: 2-oct-2010 [what, ME cook? © 1984 dr bob enterprises]