Lemon Kale Orzo

5 from 11 votes

This post may contain affiliate links. Please read our disclosure policy.

Lemon and garlic are a classic combination for pasta. Ready in 20 minutes, this lemon kale orzo is an easy vegetarian recipe that’s all purpose. Serve it as a main dish or a side or have it cold as a pasta salad. It’s wonderful to eat no matter the season.

Lemon Kale Orzo

Why You’ll Love This Recipe

You can make this orzo recipe in 20 minutes, and it only has 11 ingredients. Even though it’s so simple, it still delivers on taste and texture. The orzo is lemony and garlicky with a little toasty crunch.

The prep work is minimal. You just have to mince the garlic, chop the kale, zest the lemon and grate the pecorino cheese. Nothing complicated.

Enjoy this orzo recipe warm, at room temperature or cold. Small pasta shapes are very versatile. They play well with many other ingredients, and you can serve them in multiple ways. Eat this orzo as a vegetarian main dish, side dish or a pasta salad.

The Ingredients

Ingredients including lemon, kale, orzo, breadcrumbs, olive oil, pecorino, parsley and spices.

This is what you need:

  • Lemon: Including the lemon zest and juice means nothing goes to waste, and the orzo turns out fresh and full of citrus.
  • Kale:  Just tear the leaves off a bunch of curly kale, discarding the stems, and chop the greens. If you don’t have curly kale, you can swap it out for lacinato kale. You should have 3 cups of chopped leaves.
  • Orzo is rice-shaped pasta. Cook it in salted boiling water.
  • Olive Oil: For the best taste, use high-quality extra virgin olive oil. 
  • Garlic: I mince 4 garlic cloves to infuse the oil and breadcrumbs. With so few ingredients, I like really amping up the garlic.
  • Panko breadcrumbs: These Japanese-style breadcrumbs are something I always have in my pantry. They add great crunch to so many dishes and toast quickly on the stove.
  • Pecorino: This hard Italian cheese is saltier and more pungent than Parmesan. If you only have Parmesan at home, then you can substitute.
  • Red pepper flakes, salt & pepper season this orzo dish. Sprinkling in red pepper flakes is such a simple way to add a touch of heat to pasta. Taste it when you finish cooking in case you need to adjust the seasonings.
  • Parsley: Chopped fresh parsley gives the orzo a nice herby finish. 

How To Make Lemon Kale Orzo

Overall, I approach this recipe in 2 sections. Cooking the orzo is what you should get out of the way first. Simmer it in a pot of salted boiling water until al dente according to the recommended cook time on the package. Then drain it in a strainer and rinse the orzo with cold water.

1. Toast the breadcrumbs. Over medium heat, warm the oil in a large skillet. Stir in the breadcrumbs and give them 2-3 minutes to brown.

2. Stir in the garlic, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. It will take just 30 seconds for the breadcrumbs to become fragrant.

Saute the breadcrumbs in the skillet. Then stir in the garlic, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper.

3. And the kale, lemon zest and juice. Sauté the kale giving the leaves 2-3 minutes to soften.

4. Stir the orzo, pecorino and parsley into the kale. The orzo will need a minute or so to warm. Spoon onto serving dishes and top with additional Parmesan and parsley.

Add the kale, lemon zest and juice and continue cooking on the skillet. Then stir in the orzo, pecorino and parsley.


As mentioned, you can approach this orzo recipe as vegetarian main dish or a side dish. Serve it with a salad such as a basic arugula salad with lemon vinaigrette or an Italian chopped salad. If you do serve it as a main, you can pair it with a vegetable side such as sautéed broccolini or parmesan roasted zucchini.

Leftovers & Storage

You can store leftover orzo in an airtight container in the refrigerator up to 3 days. Warm it in the microwave. The breadcrumbs will lose some of their texture, and the orzo will soften a bit. You can also eat leftovers cold like a pasta salad and stir in chopped kale and balsamic vinaigrette.

Orzo with lemon and kale in a skillet

Recipe Tips

Don’t overcook the orzo. You want it to be al dente with a nice toothy bite and not mushy.

Remember to rinse the orzo with water right after you drain it. This stops any carryover cooking and prevents the pasta from sticking together. Since you stir the orzo into the warm kale and breadcrumbs the pan, it will reheat.

Taste the finished dish before you serve it. Simple recipes with a limited ingredient list can sometimes need more salt and pepper.

Recipe FAQs

Can you use rice instead of orzo?

Yes. Rice will take longer to cook than orzo, but this is a great way to make it gluten free. Other orzo substitutes include farro and barley, but these contain gluten.

How do you make this recipe vegan?

You can leave out the pecorino. Or use a plant-based/dairy-free version of Parmesan.

Want to save this recipe?
Enter your email below, and I’ll send it to your inbox. Plus enjoy recipes and cooking inspiration each week.
Please enable JavaScript in your browser to complete this form.

Lemon Kale Orzo

5 from 11 votes
Prep: 5 minutes
Cook: 15 minutes
Total: 20 minutes
Servings: 4
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.


  • 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 plus more for serving
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley plus more for serving


  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Stir the orzo, pecorino cheese and parsley into the kale and give it a minute for everything to warm.
  • Garnish with additional cheese and herbs when you serve it.


To make the recipe gluten free, use chickpea pasta or lentil pasta or substitute with brown rice.
If you need the recipe to be vegan, leave out the pecorino cheese or use a plant-based Parmesan instead.
Store leftover orzo in an airtight container in the refrigerator up to 3 days. Warm it in the microwave. The breadcrumbs will lose some of their texture, and the orzo will soften a bit. You can also eat leftovers cold as a pasta salad and stir in chopped kale and balsamic vinaigrette.


Calories: 298kcal | Carbohydrates: 35g | Protein: 9g | Fat: 14g | Saturated Fat: 3g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g | Monounsaturated Fat: 8g | Cholesterol: 7mg | Sodium: 715mg | Potassium: 314mg | Fiber: 4g | Sugar: 2g | Vitamin A: 5217IU | Vitamin C: 56mg | Calcium: 220mg | Iron: 2mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Additional Info

Course: Pasta & Noodles
Cuisine: Italian
Did you make this recipe?Mention @lastingredient on Instagram and tag it #lastingredient!

Author photo

Hi, I'm Paige.

Welcome to Last Ingredient where you will find simple seasonal recipes with plenty of fruits and vegetables, all for the home cook.

Related Posts

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recipe Rating


  1. 5 stars
    I made this easy recipe last night as a main course for 3 people. We all loved it and there wasn’t a crumb leftover. It’s so easy and fast to prepare. Thank you so much for this recipe and I will be making it again and again.

  2. 5 stars
    This came out great and took just minutes to put together. Excellent way to use kale! I didn’t have panko so used plain bread crumbs and it worked well. Threw in some fresh basil as well. Will definitely do this one again!

  3. 5 stars
    My daughter made this for our Christmas dinner to accompany her prime rib. Although I love greens, I haven’t been particularly fond of kale. This dish changed my mind. I can hardly wait to concoct some in my kitchen. I adored it!