Parmesan Orzo Pilaf with Jazzed-up Pasta Sauce

Parmesan Orzo Pilaf with Jazzed-up Pasta Sauce

Need an easy dinner, but want something fancier than just dumping pasta into boiling water?  This parmesan orzo pilaf with jazzed-up jarred sauce is will change your life.  Probably not, but you'll never know unless you try.  

For years I'd make dried pasta, jarred sauce, and frozen meatless meatballs when I was stressed out and too tired to cook.  Eventually it became known as "argument pasta" as we'd get into a little tiff pretty much every time we had it.  Not this time!  Don't make argument pasta.  Make a weeknight pasta fit for a queen.  

Could you do this up with homemade sauce and meatballs (meatless or not)?  Sure!  But that's not the point of this recipe.  This will give you something special with barely more effort than boiling water and no risk of burning yourself.  (I actually blistered my stomach once while attempting to drain pasta.  I'm not always the most graceful human.)

Things to feel good about:

  • dinner in 30 min or less
  • minimal ingredients & dishes
  • you'll feel super fancy
  • uses pantry ingredients
  • great "emergency" dinner
  • can still impress people with it
  • it isn't "argument pasta"
Pantry ingredients minus the onion & parmesan cheese...  Yes, I know the oregano is from the garden.  You could use dried, too.

Pantry ingredients minus the onion & parmesan cheese...

Yes, I know the oregano is from the garden.  You could use dried, too.


Parmesan Orzo Pilaf with Jazzed-up Pasta Sauce

prep & cook time: ~30 min | clean up: do-able | makes: 2-3 servings, double it for 4-6


1 jar of your favorite pasta sauce

1 c orzo (I used whole wheat, use what you have or what you like)

3 or more garlic cloves (their sizes vary, and you can adjust to your preference)

1/4 c minced white or yellow onion

3 T olive oil, divided

1 t red pepper flakes (more or less depending on your spicy preference)

1 t dried or 1 T fresh & minced both oregano & basil

1/4 t salt, or to taste 

2 servings frozen meatballs of your choice 

1/4 freshly grated parmesan, plus more for serving (get the real thing, it's worth it!)


First, put 1 T oil in a small sauce pan and 2 T oil in a large skillet. 

(to start sauce) Turn heat on the sauce pan to medium and use a garlic press to add 1-2 cloves of garlic directly in to the pan. (Alternatively, if you don't have a garlic press, mince finely and crush to release juices, then add to pan.) Add red pepper flakes and a good pinch of the herbs.  Stir until fragrant and garlic is starting to color.  Add jar of sauce and stir.  Cover and leave to heat up, stirring occasionally.  Reduce heat to maintain a simmer.  Be careful as pasta sauce can splatter!  

(to start pilaf) After sauce is started, turn heat on skillet to medium-high.  If you forgot to dice your onion, do that now.  Add onion to the skillet with a good sprinkling of salt and stir.  Reduce heat to medium and cover pan for a few minutes to help onion soften and steam.  (Rinse and recycle or save pasta jars during this time.)  Check frequently and stir until onion is translucent.  Add pressed or minced garlic and herbs to the pan.  Stir and cook for 1 minute more.  Add orzo to the pan, stir and cook until orzo is toasted, about 2 minutes.  Add 2 cups of water, stir and cover pan for 12 minutes or until water is mostly absorbed and evaporated.

While you're waiting for the orzo to cook, add your meatballs to the pasta sauce.  Mine take 10 minutes to heat so this works out perfectly.  If yours take significantly more time, add them as soon as the sauce is bubbly and be sure to cook as long as directed.  I'll usually take the lid off the sauce a few minutes before the orzo timer goes off to thicken the sauce even more.

Do a bit more clean up while the orzo is cooking, making sure to stir the orzo & sauce once or twice to be sure it isn't burning or sticking.  If it is, reduce your heat!

Once the orzo is ready (see note above), add 1/4 c of parmesan cheese and stir until melted & combined.  Add a tablespoon of water if too dry.  Now you're now ready to serve!  Plate up your pasta, add sauce & meatballs, top with a healthy pile of parmesan cheese and a grinding of black pepper.  Enjoy your fancy weeknight pasta!  


A big ol' bowl of comfort food.  Glass of wine optional, but encouraged. 

A big ol' bowl of comfort food.  Glass of wine optional, but encouraged. 

P.S.  We had no leftover sauce because I always eat too much sauce.  It works out because my husband doesn't like a lot of sauce.  He calls me the "sauce boss." 


Don't forget to share with me if you make it! I love to know if I've inspired you. <3 and #eatlikeaqueen
Eat like a queen & be your best self! 
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