The Key Difference Between Orzo And Risotto

Both orzo and risotto are versatile ingredients that are the basis for some of the most delicious, stick-to-your-ribs dishes that are perfect for a cold winter day. And at first glance, it would seem there's not much difference between them; they both look like traditional rice. However, there is one big difference that separates the two.

Orzo is a type of pasta that is formed and cut to resemble grains of rice. In Italy, it is called risoni, and it falls under the larger category of pastina, which includes other small pasta varieties like ditalini and stelline. Risotto, on the other hand, is the name for a dish itself and not the grain that makes it. This traditional Italian dish is the specific preparation of arborio rice, a high-starch grain that, when boiled in broth, results in a creamy, chewy consistency where the grains clump together. This is in contrast to other varieties like long-grain white rice or jasmine rice, which are fluffier and less starchy. 

Risotto and orzo are prepared in different ways

Beyond this one big difference, orzo and risotto are also prepared in unique ways. The traditional preparation for orzo mirrors that of its pasta kin. After salted water reaches a boil, orzo is added for several minutes until it reaches the desired texture. The water is then drained from the pasta, which is added to whatever dish is being made — from soup to salad. 

Preparing risotto takes a bit more patience and attention. The rice is added to a pot of broth and heated. As it cooks, the grains absorb the broth, expanding in size while also expelling their starch, which provides a sticky consistency. This process requires constant stirring so that the rice doesn't clump or burn. While the rice is still in the pot, it's very common to add spices, aromatics, butter, cheeses, or any other ingredients to finish off the dish — all while still stirring. The final product should be perfectly creamy and fully incorporated with all its ingredients.

The different varieties of risotto and orzo

Despite these differences, both orzo and risotto have a ton of versatility. Even though orzo has Italian origins, it has become popular throughout the Mediterranean. Greek cuisine calls the pasta kritharaki, serving it as a side in tomato sauce or in meat casseroles. In Turkey, it is called arpa sehriye, and it is added to tomato soups and used as a pilaf. Orzo reaches far beyond these examples; they are a perfect addition to any soups or in grain-based, cold salads like orzo with peppers, tomatoes, and olives.

Risotto's versatility comes from its added ingredients. In Italy alone, there are many regional varieties: Risotto alla Milanese made with beef and saffron, risotto ai fungi using a wide array of mushrooms, risotto alla zucca that is flavored with either pumpkin or butternut squash and sage, and even Risotto al nero di seppia, a striking black dish made from squid ink. The natural creaminess and hearty nature of arborio rice make it such that each risotto recipe can be entirely unique based on what you add to it.