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Camille Kingsolver’s Disappearing Zucchini Orzo from the wonderful book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle has been a favorite around here since 2008. It’s a brilliant way to use up three large zucchini in a hot minute, so maybe tuck this recipe away (or pin it!) for late summer.
Why we love this recipe
This recipe is an ingenious little contribution to the culinary canon. Shredding and sautéing a laughable quantity of zucchini or other summer squash reduces it to a nutrient-packed, almost saucelike element that really does commune beautifully with — if not quite totally disappear into — the dish as a whole.
Disappearing zucchini orzo:
- Uses up a LOT of zucchini
- Has lots of great savory flavors but is still kid-friendly
- Is make-ahead friendly
- Can be a meal on its own but also goes well with lots of other summer favorites
What you’ll need
Here’s what you need to make this dish. It’s a very flexible recipe, so see the notes in this section for additions and substitutions.
- Shred the zucchini on the large holes of a box grater or in a food processor with the shredding disc.
- You can mix or substitute other kinds of summer squash (such as yellow squash) if you like. It’s best if the squash has a similar texture to zucchini and doesn’t have very large seeds. (If it does, you can slice the squash in half lengthwise and remove the seeds before shredding.)
- For the onion, you can substitute shallot or leeks. Regardless, cut them nice and small so that they practically melt into the zucchini.
- Thyme works beautifully in this dish, but so would a wide variety of herbs. Add a little bit of rosemary and sage with the time, and/or finish the dish with minced parsley and chives after cooking.
How to make it
Here’s all you need to do to make this recipe. You can see all the steps in action in the video that accompanies this post.
- Soften the onion and garlic in the olive oil.
- Add the zucchini and thyme along with a generous amount of salt.
- After 10-15 minutes of cooking, the zucchini mixture turns into a creamy, flavorful saucelike element. Boil the pasta in well-salted water while the zucchini cooks.
- Off the heat, stir everything together. That’s it!
Expert tips and FAQs
Orzo means barley in Italian, but orzo pasta is made from semolina just like other pasta. The name refers to the shape, which looks like grains of barley or rice. Orzo is a flexible pasta shape that’s great for hot dishes, pasta salads, and soups.
Yes, you can! It’s great both warm and at room-temperature and travels well for picnics and potlucks. Make it in the morning and serve anytime during the day. Or make it a day in advance and bring to room temperature (or reheat in the microwave) before serving.
This recipe keeps well for up to a week in a tightly sealed container in the fridge. Toss leftovers into salads, top with some chopped tomatoes and white beans or chickpeas, or put an egg on it!
How to serve disappearing zucchini orzo
This dish makes a nice, simple meal all on its own. Or serve it with:
- A big green salad (like this one)
- Tomato salad
- Sausages or grilled meat
- Bean salad (like this one, this one, or this one)
- Simple sautéed greens (like these)
It’s a good choice for bringing along to a picnic or adding to a casual buffet or BBQ.
A fun variation
If you like, substitute linguine or another long pasta for the orzo. The zucchini doesn’t disappear as much in this variation, but it still creates a nice saucelike element. In my book this version makes a great dinner, paired with a crisp New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.
More of our favorite zucchini recipes
If you’ve got a glut of zucchini, we’ve got your back. Here are some of our best uses for this inherently plural vegetable.
- Savory fritters with corn and feta
- A creamy, dreamy spread
- Spiralized noodles with: turkey meat sauce // lemon caper butter // summer vegetables
- Chocolate cake (!)
- Savory quick bread with cheddar
- Sheet pan pizza with pesto
- Quick curry with chickpeas
- Thai red curry with vegetables
More great uses for orzo
It’s one of our favorite pasta shapes and almost always in our pantry. Here are some more of our favorite ways to use it.
- 1 pound orzo pasta
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 medium yellow onion, finely diced
- 6 garlic cloves, minced
- 3 large zucchini, shredded
- 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
- Juice and zest of 1 lemon
- 1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (more to taste)
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Cook the orzo in well salted water according to package directions.
- Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the onions, garlic, and a big pinch of salt and cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is beginning to soften.
- Add the shredded zucchini and the thyme and raise heat to high. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the squash releases its juices and they cook off. The zucchini will reduce in size by at least half and may begin to brown slightly.
- Turn off the heat and immediately add the drained orzo, lemon juice and zest, and cheese, along with salt and pepper to taste. Stir well but gently to combine. Serve warm or at room temperature.
- You can use other summer squash, like yellow squash or other varieties similar to zucchini, for this dish. It's best if they have a similar texture to zucchini and don't contain very large seeds. (You can always slice the squash in half lengthwise and remove the seeds before shredding.)
- Use the large holes of a box grater or the shredding disc of a food processor to grate the zucchini.
- Camille's recipe says to sauté the squash "briefly," but I'm thinking that brief must mean something different to people who start their food from seed. This process takes 10 to 15 minutes when I do it.
- This dish is equally good hot or at room temperature and can be made in advance.
- Keep leftovers tightly sealed in the fridge for up to a week.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 319Total Fat: 9.2gCarbohydrates: 48.7gFiber: 3.3gProtein: 11.1g