Kritharaki – a Greek Pasta Similar To Orzo Pasta

In this post:

  • what is kritharaki and what could you serve it with?
  • Al dente… or not?
  • the difference of kritharaki and orzo pasta
  • cooking kritharaki alongside a roast in place of potatoes
  • recipe for kritharaki pasta with tomato sauce

“The lamb was exquisitely pink and juicy inside, deliciously charred on the outside, and arrived with a risotto whose curious consistency and complex flavour led me to investigate its composition…..a few questions…. revealed that the risotto included pine kernels and tiny rice-shaped scraps of pasta dough, a surprisingly sophisticated combination”

Elizabeth Luard, Still Life

What is kritharaki and what could you serve it with?

Kritharaki (Κριθαράκι), a type of Greek pasta which looks a bit like long-grain rice.

It’s very similar to orzo pasta, so kritharaki can be substituted in any recipe which specifies orzo pasta. There are differences however, which are outlined further down this post.

It is especially good:

  • with tomato sauce and lots of parsley as in the recipe at the bottom of this page
  • or with nuts, nutmeg and peas (a good vegetarian and vegan option)
  • or with chicken
  • with prawns – try zingy and light prawn orzo pasta
  • with pork – try poached pork in milk on a bed of orzo
  • sausage and artichoke orzo
  • or very traditionally as part of a giouvetsi (γιουβέτσι) – casseroled meat to which the pasta is added to cook in the meat juices
  • or, as described in Elizabeth Luard’s quote above, it can be added to risotto with a handful of pine kernels
  • and it’s also good with mince
  • in salads – try warm, lemony orzo salad
  • or alongside a roast in place of potatoes… see below

Cooking kritharaki alongside a roast in place of potatoes

You can cook it, in the tomato sauce, alongside a Happy Easter Gold-encrusted Greek Lamb.  That way you don’t even have to peel the potatoes! Add it in at the end of the cooking, allowing the time specified on the packet, and mixing in well with the cooking juices. Add a little extra stock or vermouth (or wine) if you think necessary.

what is kritharaki
Kritharaki with sixteen hour lamb… a feast fit for Easter!

Difference of kritharaki and orzo pasta

There are many advantages to using kritharaki over Italian orzo (whose other name is risoni). Kritharaki comes in three sizes. If you go for the largest it will take considerably longer to cook, which gives it longer and more body to soak up the cooking juice. Greeks use a slightly different duram wheat to make their kritharaki (Italians get theirs often from the US) and this also has the advantage of being slower-cooking.

Al dente… or not?

It’s not like Italian pasta – it should not be served absolutely al dente – but nor should it be cooked to a mush. If you are using it in a salad bear in mind that it will continue to cook even after you take it off the heat – you might want to rinse in cold water to halt the process.

Recipe for a simple kritharaki pasta with tomato sauce

Serves about 8

Ingredients

  • 500g macaroni or orzo pasta or authentic kritharaki
  • 4 x 400g tins of good quality, plum tomatoes
  • 120 ml red Martini
  • 3 tbsp dried mint
  • 3 onions, chopped
  • 3 tsp Spanish sweet smoked paprika
  • cinnamon stick
  • 1 head of garlic

Method

  1. About 40 minutes before the lamb is due to be served put the sliced onions into the same roasting pan as the lamb, and wrap a head of garlic in foil and put it in.
  2. Ten minutes later check that the onion isn’t burning – baste with some pan juices. They need to caramelise a little.
  3. About twenty minutes before the lamb is due to be served add the tomatoes – which you’ve broken up – and all their juice.
  4. Add the martini to which you’ve added the dried mint.
  5. Take the garlic out, the flesh should ooze out of the skins. Mash with a little smoked salt.
  6. Add the kritharaki.
  7. Add  the paprika and cinnamon stick.
  8. Put the roasting tin on the hob to get the liquid simmering.
  9. Put back in the oven (you are slow-cooking the lamb so it’s in at a low temperature – 150ºC – use the Aga simmering oven) for 20 minutes, checking after ten minutes that the pasta isn’t drying out. If it is, add a little water or some more red Martini.
kritharki recipe
Kritharki Greek pasta makes for a good one pot meal

Where to buy krithariki

You can get it on Amazon, or in Greek speciality shops.

Music to cook to

The fabulous Greek singer, Eleftheria Arvanitaki, sings The Wild Beast’s Passion.

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