May 20, 2021

Lemon Kale Orzo

Ready in 20 minutes, this lemon kale orzo with garlic, breadcrumbs and pecorino cheese is a simple pasta that's great to eat anytime of year.

Ready in 20 minutes, this lemon kale orzo with garlic, breadcrumbs and pecorino cheese is a simple pasta that’s great to eat anytime of year.

Lemon Kale Orzo

Every week before I go to the grocery, I make sure that my kitchen is stocked with a few lemons and at least half a bunch of kale. 

Even though technically they are produce, I consider this fruit and vegetable pantry ingredients. 

Unlike things that are more delicate, lemons and kale are hearty with a shelf life just long enough to give you time to use them before they go bad.

I never know how my week will turn out despite my carefully planned shopping list, so having them on-hand gives me options.

Lemon Kale Orzo

And lemon and kale are incredibly versatile. Both do not require cooking. Kale can be the base of a filling dinner salad tossed in bright, zippy lemon vinaigrette.

Pasta is another sure thing with these two. My version of lemon pepper spaghetti involves kale because I never can resist the urge to add greens wherever I can.

This spaghetti inspired me to make a dish that I think of as its cousin, lemon kale orzo, which is garlicky and fresh using the juice and zest of a lemon.

The best part is that you can eat it warm, at room temperature or as leftovers from the fridge. It tastes great each way.

Lemon Kale Orzo

The Ingredients

For the orzo, you will need these ingredients:

  • Lemon: Including the lemon zest and juice means nothing goes to waste, and the orzo turns out very lemony.
  • Curly Kale:  Just tear the leaves off a bunch of kale, discarding the stems and chop the greens. If you don’t have curly kale, you can swap it out for lacinato kale.
  • Orzo: This rice shaped pasta can be prepared a few different ways. For this recipe, I cook it in salted boiling water.
  • Olive Oil: For salads and pastas that are dressed in oil, I always reach for extra virgin olive oil. 
  • Garlic: No, that isn’t a typo, I mince 4 garlic cloves for this orzo to infuse the olive oil. With so few ingredients, I like really amping up the garlic.
  • Breadcrumbs: Panko breadcrumbs are something I always have in my pantry. They add a reliable crunch to so many dishes.
  • Pecorino Cheese: This hard Italian cheese is saltier and more pungent than Parmesan. If you do happen to only have Parmesan at home, then you can make the substitution.
  • Red Pepper Flakes: Sprinkling in red pepper flakes is such a simple way to add a touch of heat to pasta.
  • Salt & Pepper: Taste the orzo when you are finished cooking it because you may need to adjust the seasonings.
  • Parsley: Chopped fresh parsley gives the orzo an herby finish. 
Cooking the breadcrumbs and kale

How To Make Lemon Kale Orzo

First, I get the orzo out of the way and cook it in a pot of salted boiling water. Instead of multi-tasking and starting the garlic oil, I wait till the orzo is al dente and rinse it in cold water.

Like most small pasta shapes, it is very easy to overcook orzo. Also, it has a tendency to stick together. I find it’s better to transfer the orzo to a strainer and wash it off with cold water. Then it is ready when I need it.

Next, I warm olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat and add the breadcrumbs. With a wooden spoon, I keep moving around the breadcrumbs in the oil. In a few minutes they become golden brown. 

Lemon Kale Orzo

Then I add the minced garlic, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes and give it a half-minute to sizzle and become fragrant before stirring in the kale, lemon juice and zest.

Initially, it will look like a lot of kale, but it wilts pretty quickly. That’s the sign to stir in the orzo, pecorino cheese and parsley.

Finally, I give it a minute or so in the pan for the orzo to warm. 

Lemon Kale Orzo

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Lemon Kale Orzo

Lemon Kale Orzo

  • Author: Paige Adams
  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cook Time: 13-15 minutes
  • Total Time: 18-20 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 4 1x


  • 1 cup orzo
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • Pinch red pepper flakes
  • 3 cups chopped curly kale
  • Juice and zest of 1 lemon
  • 1/4 cup grated pecorino cheese
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley


  1. Cook the orzo in salted boiling water until al dente according to package instructions. Drain and rinse with cold water in a colander or strainer.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet or sauté pan over medium heat. Toast the breadcrumbs, stirring frequently, until they turn golden brown, about 2-3 minutes. Add the garlic, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. Continue cooking for 30 seconds until fragrant. Add the kale, lemon juice and zest and sauté until the kale has wilted, about 2-3 minutes.
  3. Stir the orzo, pecorino cheese and parsley into the kale and give it a minute for everything to warm.


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