I’ve had a real thing with bacon the past couple of years, which somewhat amuses me because most of my life I didn’t really love it. Yet there’s something about its crispy, salty flavor that lends an incredible savoriness to just about anything you pair it with.
Usually, I like to buy turkey bacon because it’s leaner and we aren’t that into pork, but I’ve been picking up the real deal bacon and it’s been a great addition to some of our weeknight meals. A couple of years ago I perfected this healthier pasta carbonara, and who could forget about my incredible bacon wrapped dates? Drooling just thinking about them.
This summer I shared an amazing bacon parmesan brussels sprouts spaghetti, which was loosely inspired by this incredible, creamy garlic parmesan orzo pasta with spinach, crispy bacon and all the veggies you could dream of. This delicious, healthy 30 minute dinner is one that you can throw together any day of the week. Everyone loves it thanks to that flavorful, crispy bacon. Personally, I’m a huge fan because it’s a great excuse to use up all the veggies in your fridge (including an entire package of spinach!)
I recommend serving this recipe with a side of my best ever garlic bread, because the hell why not?
What is orzo?
Although orzo looks like a form of rice, it’s actually a rice-shaped pasta. I love using orzo for quick and easy lunches and dinners because you can actually cook it like you do traditional pasta, or you can cook it the same way you would rice. Recipes like this parmesan orzo pasta are delicious eaten hot or cold, and orzo is even amazing in veggie-packed salads.
Two ways to cook orzo
There are actually two super easy ways to cook orzo!
- The pasta method: I typically cook orzo using this traditional method. You’ll boil a large pot of water, add a pinch of salt, stir in orzo, and cook until al dente about 6-8 minutes. Once orzo is done cooking, drain pasta and set aside in the colander.
- The rice method: You can also cook it the same way you cook rice. In a pot bring orzo and double the amount of water to a boil, lower the heat, cover your pot, and let the orzo simmer until all of the liquid is absorbed.
Everything you’ll need to make this parmesan orzo pasta
This easy garlic parmesan orzo is filled with colorful veggies, tender orzo pasta and some savory bacon. What more could you ask for?! Here’s what you’ll need to make it:
- Orzo: the base is, of course, delicious orzo!
- Bacon: we’re adding a wonderful savory, salty element with bacon.
- Produce: you’ll also need garlic, spinach, shredded carrots, red bell pepper and corn. Gorgeous!
- Butter: I like to cook down the veggies in butter, but feel free to use olive oil or avocado oil.
- Seasonings: don’t forget garlic powder, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes (if you like a little heat).
- Parmesan: gotta have that melty cheese in every bite! Plus, garlic and parmesan together is just *chef’s kiss*.
Our fav ingredient swaps
Looking to customize a bit? Here’s what we can recommend for substituting in this orzo recipe:
- Swap the bacon. Feel free to use sliced, sauteed chicken sausage instead, or even some cooked, shredded chicken!
- Make it vegetarian. A can of rinsed, drained white beans or even roasted, crunchy chickpeas would be the perfect swap for the bacon to keep the recipe vegetarian.
- Choose your pasta. I love the creaminess of orzo, but you can really use any pasta shape you’d like! Orecchiette or angel hair would be fabulous. You can also use your favorite gluten free or whole grain pasta.
- Up the veggies. Feel free to swap or add in any veggies you’d like as well. Broccoli would be delicious.
Tips for the best garlic parmesan orzo
- Use freshly grated parmesan instead of the parmesan that comes out of the green jar, which often has caking agents in it. We want the real deal parmesan for flavor and simple ingredients! You can usually buy fresh, already grated parmesan at the store.
- Make sure to reserve some pasta water after you boil the pasta and before you drain it. The pasta water is starchy and will help to create a nice creamy sauce when mixed with the pasta and parmesan cheese.
- Use good-quality bacon and cook it over medium heat, then switch it to medium low to prevent burning. Feel free to cook it for more or less time depending on how crispy you like it, and blot the excess grease from the bacon when it’s done.
How to store leftovers
Add any leftover orzo to an airtight container and store it in the refrigerator for up to 4-5 days. Simply reheat in a microwave safe dish.
More pasta recipes you’ll love
- Crispy Broccoli Sweet and Spicy Sesame Tahini Noodles
- 30 Minute Brown Butter Goat Cheese Grilled Veggie Orzo
- One Pot Cheesy Mushroom Spinach Beef Pasta
- Sweet & Spicy Hot Chili Chicken Noodles
- Buffalo Cauliflower Mac and Cheese
Get all of our amazing noodles & pasta recipes here!
I hope you love this easy, delicious garlic parmesan orzo recipe! If you make it be sure to leave a comment and a rating so I know how you liked it. Enjoy, xo!
Spinach Garlic Parmesan Orzo with Crispy Bacon
Easy, flavorful spinach garlic parmesan orzo pasta with crispy bacon and gorgeous veggies like red bell pepper, corn, carrots, and spinach. This creamy garlic parmesan orzo recipe comes together in 30-minutes, is the perfect meal prep dinner, and is delicious hot or cold!
- 8 slices bacon
- 10 ounces uncooked orzo pasta (about 1 2/3 cup uncooked orzo)
- 1/2 cup reserved pasta water, after pasta is done boiling
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 3 cloves garlic, finely minced
- ½ cup shredded carrots (or carrots cut into matchsticks)
- 2/3 cup frozen or fresh sweet corn
- 1 red bell pepper, cut into chunks
- 1 (5 ounce) package organic spinach
- 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon red chili pepper flakes, plus more if desired
- Freshly ground salt and pepper
- To garnish: Fresh flat-leaf parsley + extra parmesan cheese, corn and bacon on top
Add bacon to a large skillet or pan and place over medium heat, cook bacon on both sides until crispy and golden brown. If the pan starts to smoke at any point, simply lower the heat. I always cook my bacon on medium low heat. Once bacon is done, blot with a paper towel to absorb excess grease, then chop into bite sized pieces and set aside.
While the bacon is cooking, place a large pot of water over high heat and add in a generous amount of salt. Once water boils, stir in the orzo and cook until al dente about 7-9 minutes. Once orzo is done cooking, drain pasta and set aside in the colander. Make sure to reserve ½ cup of the pasta water.
Next add 1 tablespoon butter to the same pot you cooked the pasta in and place over medium heat. Once butter is melted, add in minced garlic, carrot, corn, red bell pepper and saute for 2 minutes.
Next add in spinach; cooking until the spinach wilts, about 2 minutes. Add the cooked orzo back into the pot and turn the heat to low. Stir in the reserved pasta water, parmesan, garlic powder and red chili pepper flakes.
Finally, stir in bacon crumbles. Add salt and pepper to taste. I like to add A LOT of black pepper into this dish -- it just gives it a really nice flavor! If you think it needs a little extra parmesan cheese, feel free to stir in 1/4 cup more. Enjoy. Serves 4.
If you don't want to use bacon, you can easily use 4 chicken sausages instead; just slice into rounds, saute in pan, then stir into pasta like you would the bacon.
If you want to make this vegetarian, I think a can of rinsed and drained white beans or even roasted, crunchy chickpeas would be a really nice option.
Feel free to use a different pasta, such as orecchiette or angel hair pasta. I prefer orzo because it keeps the pasta nice and creamy. Feel free to add in more veggies.
Recipe by: Monique Volz // Ambitious Kitchen | Photography by: Eat Love Eats
This post was originally published on March 26, 2019, and republished on September 1st, 2021.