Right now we're all about cozy weeknight meals with: minimal effort, maximum flavour, and ideally as few dishes as possible. This tomato orzo pasta bake is exactly that. Pantry workhorses—like tomato paste, roasted red peppers, fire roasted tomatoes, and smoked paprika—bring deep flavors to this relatively quick cooking dish. And everything comes together in a single skillet! It's a one pot dinner that's in our regular rotation these days—and we hope it makes it into yours too.
Some of the key ingredients you'll need to make this one pot tomato harissa orzo:
- Red onions: We really love the bold flavor that red onions provide here. You can substitute yellow onions if you don't have red ones. Either way, take the time to let them brown before adding the other ingredients—it adds an extra level of flavor.
- Tomato paste: Cooking the tomato paste in olive oil—until the color darkens—helps cook out some of the bitter and "raw" flavors of tomato paste straight from the tube (or can). For even better flavor, buy "double concentrated" tomato paste if it's an option at the store.
- Harissa paste: This Tunisian hot pepper paste is a fast way to add heat to a dish. Harissa paste is usually sold in a small can or tube. Different brands vary in how spicy they are, so adjust accordingly. And remember, it's always easier to add more, rather than take out spice. If you can't find it, you can add crushed red pepper flakes (to taste) instead.
- Fire-roasted diced tomatoes: These canned tomatoes have an extra depth of flavor since they've been roasted. In a pinch, you could use regular canned diced tomatoes. I like to stock up on fire-roasted tomatoes when they go on sale—they're great to have in your pantry, especially when tomatoes are out of season!
- Orzo: Orzo is often sold in 12 oz (340 g) packages—so you'll need one full package for this recipe. If your package is a different size, don't worry, we got you covered! The cup equivalent is also included in the recipe below.
- Cannellini beans (or other white beans): Adding canned beans to this dish is a quick way to add protein to round out this meal. See below for other bean options, if you need a substitute.
- Spinach: We usually add a couple big handfuls of pre-washed baby spinach for convenience—but you could add chopped regular spinach or even kale if you prefer.
- Feta: Feta is creamy, salty, and tangy—making it a delicious garnish to this one pot orzo. It also gets golden brown after a quick trip to the oven. If you're vegan, use a vegan feta substitute; or leave out the feta, and garnish with a bit more flaky salt and lemon instead.
- Lemon: The lemon wedges are meant to be squeezed over the dish right before digging in. Broiling the lemons not only gives the wedges a pretty char—but it also mellows the sourness, which works well because the tomatoes are also acidic.
Find the recipe card below for the complete recipe, including all ingredients and instructions.
How to make
This cozy and flavorful orzo dinner comes together in 6 easy steps:
- Cook the onions until golden brown
- Add the other aromatics (tomato paste, garlic, harissa paste, smoked paprika)
- Pour in liquids (stock and tomatoes) and bring to a boil
- Stir in orzo and cook until al dente
- Turn the oven to broil
- Top with feta and lemons—then broil until golden brown
See, we told you it was easy!
A note on cooking acidic foods in cast iron pans
We recommend using either enamelled cast iron, stainless steel, or another non-reactive pan for cooking this tomato-based recipe. We absolutely love using this enamelled braiser/casserole! It can go from stovetop to oven, it's shallower than a Dutch oven so we prefer it for broiling (the toppings get closer to the heat element), and it comes with a lid so you can refrigerate leftovers directly in the pot. We've been using it for years and it's one of the more affordable enamelled cast iron options out there.
Keep reading below to learn more about cast iron pans and acidic foods.
Cast iron reacts with acids. So cooking acidic foods—like tomatoes, lemon juice, and wine—in a raw cast iron pan can accelerate the trace amounts of metal that transfer from the pan to your food. Now, before you freak out, there's a few things to keep in mind:
- The seasoning helps protect it: If the cast iron pan is well seasoned, it'll have a layer of polymerized oil between the raw cast iron and the acidic food. (To read more about seasoning and polymerization see this post). This polymerized oil helps protect the pan from reacting with acids. But, the reality is that there will be some areas of your pan that aren't fully coated/protected, and these areas will be the most susceptible.
- Any noticeable taste differences happen after longer cook times: A quick splash of acid in a cast iron skillet isn't a big deal. We do that all the time at the end of cooking: like adding a squeeze of lemon or splash of white wine to the pan. But, cooking acidic foods for a long time in a cast iron pan is what might create a slightly metallic taste. America's Test Kitchen reported that their testers could detect a more metallic taste after a tomato sauce was simmered in a cast iron skillet for 30 minutes. This of course depends on how sensitive you are to different tastes—for example, I notice it a lot earlier than my husband does!
- It's not necessarily bad for you: Putting aside the possible taste differences, trace amounts of iron from a cast iron pans can actually be nutritionally beneficial for individuals who are low in iron. In fact, this product purposely uses similar rationale to provide people with most of their daily iron needs.
We'll get back to talking about the food and this recipe now, but hopefully this info about cast iron pans and acidic foods is some helpful background info! If you're interested in reading more about cast iron, read these posts: Pros and Cons of Cast Iron Pans, How to Season a Cast Iron Pan, How to Take Care of Cast Iron.
Frequently asked questions
Refrigerate leftovers in an airtight container for 3 to 4 days. You can reheat leftovers in the microwave, stovetop (covered with a lid over medium low), or in the oven at 300°F (150°C) until heated through.
In this recipe, you can substitute cannellini beans for another type of white bean—such as navy beans, lima beans, or Great Northern beans. Pinto beans would work too.
You might be asking why this recipe calls for adding the lemon wedges to the orzo before it goes to the oven. We like to roast the lemons in the oven because:
1. The heat brings out the juices so it's easier to squeeze out every last drop,
2. It slightly mellows out the flavor and perceived sourness—which is great because the tomatoes already add a fair bit of acid to this dish.
3. The lemon wedges look especially cute when they have a slight char to them
One Pot Tomato Harissa Orzo Pasta
- 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided (more for garnish, optional)
- 2 red onions, diced
- ¼ cup tomato paste
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 to 3 teaspoons harissa paste (see note 1)
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika (see note 2)
- 2 cups vegetable broth
- 1 (28 fl oz/796 ml) can fire-roasted diced tomatoes (see note 3)
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 12 oz dried orzo (1¾ cups)
- 1 (19 fl oz/540ml) can cannellini beans, rinsed
- 2 cups chopped spinach
- 2 roasted red peppers (from a jar), diced
- ½ cup crumbled feta cheese (see note 4)
- 1 lemon (cut into wedges)
- Flaky salt, for garnish (optional)
- Cook onions: Warm 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large broiler safe skillet over medium heat (see note 5). Add red onions and cook until golden brown around the edges, 8 to 10 minutes.
- Add other aromatics: Push onions to the edges of the skillet. To the middle of the skillet, add remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil and tomato paste, then stir to mix. Cook until tomato paste darkens slightly, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in garlic, harissa paste, and smoked paprika. Cook, stirring frequently, until spices are fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes.
- Bring to a boil: Pour in vegetable broth, tomatoes, and salt. Use a stirring spoon to scrape up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Cover with a lid (or baking sheet) and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
- Cook orzo: Add orzo and cook, stirring frequently, until orzo is al dente, 8 to 10 minutes.
- Prepare oven: Meanwhile, position an oven rack so that the top of the skillet will be 6-inches (15 cm) from the broiler. Set oven to broil.
- Combine and broil: Once orzo is al dente, remove from heat. Stir in beans, spinach, and red peppers. Top with feta and lemons. Broil until the feta is golden brown, 4 to 8 minutes (watch carefully as broil times vary!). Garnish with a drizzle of olive oil and flaky salt, if you'd like.
- Harissa paste: Depending on the brand you're using, spice levels vary so adjust as needed. As written, this recipe has a mild to moderate heat. If you like things spicy you can add more, but add in small increments— it is easier to add heat than remove it! In a pinch, you could use red pepper flakes instead of harissa (start with ½ teaspoon and add more to taste).
- Smoked paprika: This recipe calls for smoked sweet paprika. If a smoked paprika package isn't labelled "hot" or "picante", it's usually smoked sweet paprika.
- Fire-roasted tomatoes: Or 2 smaller (14 fl oz/398 ml) cans. If you can't find fire-roasted tomatoes, substitute with the same sized can of whole peeled tomatoes (San Marzano ideally) and crush the tomatoes with your hands as you add them (and their juices) to the pot.
- Vegan option: To make this vegan, use a vegan feta substitute or omit. If leaving out the feta, garnish with flaky salt and extra lemon juice to compensate (feta is both salty and tangy).
- Skillet selection: Use a 12-inch skillet (or a braiser/casserole/Dutch oven with at least 3.4L capacity) for 1x batch of this recipe. We recommend using a stainless steel or enamelled cast iron pan—or another material that is well suited for acidic dishes. (Note: raw cast iron can be sensitive to acidity, see post above for more details).