Creamy Pesto Orzo (30 Minutes; ONE Pot!)

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This easy, one-pot, 30-minute Creamy Pesto Orzo is loaded with ground meat, veggies, and orzo pasta. Plus: minimal chopping, minimal dish clean-up, and minimal hands-on time. What’s not to love?!

We love creamy pasta dishes, especially when they’re light like this one! No heavy cream, no half-and-half, and minimal butter! Try some of our other lighter pasta dishes next time, like this Chicken Penne Pasta or this Chicken Broccoli Alfredo.

Creamy Pesto Orzo in a bowl

Creamy Pesto Orzo

This dish is the perfect easy weeknight meal! It’s not only loaded with flavor and texture, but it’s also filled with some good-for-you ingredients and packed with protein. Between the ground meat, peas, and whole milk, you’ll be amazed how much protein is in this dish! I personally love adding protein (plant-based or animal-based) to dinner recipes for my family, because they’re so much more filling and satiating. And that’s important for my active little kiddos — especially as the weather warms up and they’re outside playing hard.

Beyond how filling it is, it’s also ridiculously easy to make and the clean-up is pretty minimal. While it’s a creamy and hearty dish, the pesto adds freshness and lightness to the meal. And we’re actually not using all that much butter (2 tablespoons for the whole recipe!), plus no heavy creams or half-and-half. So, yes, it’s creamy, but in a lighter way than a typical heavy Alfredo sauce.

Process shots: cooking the veggies and ground turkey

Ground meat

This Creamy Pesto Orzo works great with either ground chicken or ground turkey. Use whichever your family prefers! If using ground chicken, I’d recommend ground chicken thighs if they’re available. That way, the meat will be nice and juicy in the end dish!

For ground turkey, I recommend ground turkey that is sold in a carton, rather than in a chub. Chub-style ground turkey is the kind that comes in the plastic tube and it tends to be less flavorful. I recommend 93/7% ground turkey (we love JennieO® or Butterball® ground turkey). We’ve found 99/1% ground turkey to be far too dry and flavorless.

Sometimes grocery stores sell seasoned ground turkey (taco flavored or similar) and it’s easy to mistake for regular ground turkey. Be sure to select plain, unseasoned ground meat for this recipe.

Process shots: making the sauce for Creamy Pesto Orzo

Let’s Talk Pesto

Since the pesto is a big part of this Creamy Pesto Orzo, make sure you use a really tasty one. You can of course make your own, but if you’re looking to save some time (this dish is supposed to be super quick and simple after all!), I’d recommend getting a refrigerated, freshly-made basil pesto, which you can find near refrigerated fresh pastas and gourmet cheeses. Rana’s® Basil Pesto is my personal favorite store-bought pesto sauce (not sponsored).

Freshly made pesto can certainly be spendy, but it lasts a good amount of time and a little goes a long way to add loads of flavor to so many dishes.

Consider adding some leftover pesto to some of our favorite dishes like: 

Orzo used in this recipe

What’s orzo?

Although orzo looks a bit like rice, it’s not a grain. Orzo is a type of short-cut pasta that looks like larger grains of rice. It also goes by the names risoni and risiand they’re all the same thing: small pasta made from durum and semolina wheat. In Italian, orzo means barley…and that’s what it looks like, too! Because of its small size, orzo is a kid favorite and goes well in soups and salad. You’ll find orzo on the pasta aisle of most grocery stores.

It’s a common misconception that rice and Orzo can be interchanged, but they are different and won’t cook the same in this recipe. This is pasta, not rice, so it cooks much quicker and is creamier in this recipe.

Process shots: cooking orzo and adding in the remaining ingredients

Creamy Pesto Orzo tips

  • Prep everything before you start cooking. This is a dish where the cooking goes pretty quickly, so you want to make sure to have everything cut up and ready to go before starting.
  • Seasonings. This dish doesn’t have a whole lot of seasoning because it’s relying on the chicken stock (which has plenty of seasonings already), the Parmesan cheese, the pesto (which typically has more Parmesan cheese as well), and the salt and pepper. That said, you still might need a pinch extra at the end — don’t be afraid to add more salt and pepper until the flavors sing.
  • Use whole milk. While 1% or 2% milk will work, I highly recommend whole milk in this recipe — we don’t find it creamy or flavorful enough with lower fat percentages of milk.
  • Use a large, nonstick pot and stir often. The orzo pasta cooks up better in a nonstick pot and being stirred frequently. Without being stirred frequently, it can catch and clump at the bottom of the pot.

Close-up view of Creamy Pesto Orzo

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Creamy Pesto Orzo

5 from 1 vote
This easy, one-pot, 30-minute Creamy Pesto Orzo is loaded with ground meat, veggies, and luxuriously creamy orzo pasta. Plus: minimal chopping, minimal dish clean-up, and minimal hands-on time.
Print Recipe

Creamy Pesto Orzo

5 from 1 vote
This easy, one-pot, 30-minute Creamy Pesto Orzo is loaded with ground meat, veggies, and luxuriously creamy orzo pasta. Plus: minimal chopping, minimal dish clean-up, and minimal hands-on time.
Course Dinner, Main Course
Cuisine American
Keyword creamy orzo pasta, creamy pesto orzo
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Servings 6 servings
Calories 563kcal
Cost $7.83

Ingredients

  • 1-1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup (130g) finely diced yellow onion
  • 2 teaspoons finely minced garlic (~2-3 cloves)
  • 1 pound (16 oz.) 93/7 ground turkey (or ground chicken -- thigh meat preferred)
  • Fine sea salt and freshly cracked pepper
  • 1-1/2 cups (225g) frozen corn
  • 1-1/2 cups (225g) frozen sweet peas
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons white, all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups (450g) chicken stock or broth (we love Swanson)
  • 2-1/4 cups (548g) whole milk Note 1
  • 1-1/2 cups (286g) uncooked orzo pasta
  • 1 cup (56g) freshly grated Parmesan cheese Note 2
  • 1/2 cup (125g) fresh basil pesto Note 3
  • Optional: 1/3 cup (20g) finely chopped fresh flat-leaf Italian parsley

Instructions

  • PREP: Finely chop the onion and garlic and set out the rest of the ingredients -- cooking goes quickly!
  • COOK: Heat olive oil in a large (nonstick) pot over high heat. Add onion and stir around for about 5 minutes or until turning golden; add in garlic and stir for 30 seconds. Add the ground turkey and season with salt and pepper to taste. (I add 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.) Cook, crumbling as you cook, until mostly cooked through, about 5 minutes. Add in the frozen corn and peas (no need to thaw). Stir for 1-2 minutes or until veggies are thawed and meat is fully through. Dump this entire mixture onto a plate or bowl and cover it with foil.
  • COOK CONT.: Return the pot to burner. Melt the butter, whisk in the flour, and cook and stir for 1 minute. Gradually add in the stock, whisking constantly. Add in the milk and all the uncooked orzo.
  • FINISH COOKING: Bring the mixture to a simmer, and then lower the heat until it is just barely bubbling at the edges. Cook for 7 minutes without a lid, stirring occasionally and making sure to scrape the bottom of the pan so the orzo does not stick. After 7 minutes the pasta should be almost tender (the mixture will still be soupy). Add the plate of veggies and ground turkey to the pot and stir. Add in the Parmesan and stir to melt. Mix in the pesto and optional parsley. Mix well. Taste and season to taste with any additional salt and pepper as needed. Don't be afraid to add a bit more-- the salt and pepper really pull all the flavors together.
  • SERVE: Consistency should be similar to risotto and very creamy. Add a splash of milk if needed to thin consistency a bit. Enjoy while hot.

Video

Recipe Notes

Note 1: I do not recommend skim milk or a dairy milk alternative. This is a creamy recipe, and the lower-fat choices just don't achieve that texture. We didn't find 1% or 2% milk to be creamy enough.
Note 2: Use a block of Parmesan cheese and grate on the small holes of the cheese grater. Measure loosely. I don't recommend jarred/canned parmesan cheese -- the flavor will be overpowering and too salty. 
Note 3: The pesto is a big part of the flavor; I recommend getting a refrigerated, freshly-made basil pesto, which you can find near refrigerated fresh pasta and gourmet cheeses. Rana’s® Basil Pesto is my personal favorite store-bought pesto sauce, Buitoni's® fresh basil pesto is another favorite and we've tested that in this dish as well.

Nutrition Facts

Serving: 1serving | Calories: 563kcal | Carbohydrates: 35g | Protein: 37g | Fat: 31g | Saturated Fat: 13g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 99mg | Sodium: 995mg | Potassium: 522mg | Fiber: 3g | Sugar: 7g | Vitamin A: 1064IU | Vitamin C: 13mg | Calcium: 561mg | Iron: 2mg

We do our best to provide accurate nutritional analysis for our recipes. Our nutritional data is calculated using a third-party algorithm and may vary, based on individual cooking styles, measurements, and ingredient sizes. Please use this information for comparison purposes and consult a health professional for nutrition guidance as needed.

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2 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    will be making this soon can i use mushrooms vegetable broth almond milk and vegan cheeses as am a vegan can i skip frozen corn and peas as am not a big fan of them i love pesto sooooooooooooo much perfect for my after office meals will dm you if i make this and let you know how it goes Thanks Ramya

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