One-Pan Creamy Orzo Chicken and Zucchini

published Jul 27, 2023
One-Pan Creamy Orzo Chicken and Zucchini Recipe

A one-pan orzo and chicken dinner that’s creamy, yet light and packs in a full pound of zucchini.

Serves4

Prep15 minutes

Cook30 minutes to 35 minutes

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overhead photo of Creamy Chicken Orzo Skillet
Credit: Kelli Foster

This one-pan creamy chicken orzo skillet with zucchini was born from my desire to change up my family’s usual weeknight chicken and rice skillet, and to use up the abundance of zucchini I always seem to have on hand this time of year. 

Cooked in a mixture of whole milk and chicken broth, the orzo becomes incredibly creamy and comforting, without feeling rich or heavy. And, thanks to a full pound of zucchini and a squeeze of lemon juice for a pop of acidity, the finished dish feels light with a bright, fresh flavor I’d describe as “summer creamy.”

Ingredients You Need to Make Creamy Chicken Orzo Skillet with Zucchini

  • Shallot or yellow onion. Use whichever you have handy: one large shallot or 1/2 small yellow onion.
  • Zucchini. You’ll need one pound of zucchini, which is about two medium. Feel free to swap any other variety of summer squash you have on hand — just be sure to cut it to about the same size.
  • Lemon. The zest and juice add a pop of bright flavor that keeps the orzo from feeling too rich.
  • Parmesan cheese. Grate your own or opt for the convenience of store-bought. Both work great, and add a little extra creaminess and salty flavor.
  • Boneless, skinless chicken thighs. Meaty thighs pack on more flavor, and are less expensive and less likely to overcook than more mild-tasting chicken breast. 
  • Dried orzo pasta. This rice-size pasta cooks along with the chicken thighs and zucchini to reach its soft, tender texture.
  • Low-sodium chicken broth. It gives the skillet more flavor than simply using water.
  • Whole milk. This makes the sauce creamy without making it too rich or heavy. 
Credit: Kelli Foster

One-Pan Creamy Orzo Chicken and Zucchini Recipe

A one-pan orzo and chicken dinner that’s creamy, yet light and packs in a full pound of zucchini.

Prep time 15 minutes

Cook time 30 minutes to 35 minutes

Serves 4

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 1

    large shallot or 1/2 small yellow onion

  • 2 cloves

    garlic

  • 1 pound

    zucchini (2 medium)

  • 1

    medium lemon

  • 1 ounce

    Parmesan cheese (1/2 cup firmly packed freshly grated or 1/3 cup store-bought grated)

  • 1 1/2 pounds

    boneless, skinless chicken thighs (5 to 6)

  • 2 teaspoons

    kosher salt, divided

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    freshly ground black pepper

  • 3 tablespoons

    olive oil, divided

  • 10 ounces

    dried orzo pasta (about 1 1/2 cups)

  • 2 cups

    low-sodium chicken broth

  • 2 cups

    whole milk

Instructions

  1. Thinly slice 1 large shallot or 1/2 small yellow onion (about 1/2 cup). Mince 2 garlic cloves. Trim 1 pound zucchini, halve lengthwise (quarter lengthwise if wider than 1 1/2-inches), then cut crosswise into 1/4-inch-wide pieces (about 3 1/2 cups). Finely grate the zest of 1 medium lemon (about 1 loosely packed tablespoon). Juice the lemon until you have 2 tablespoons. Finely grate 1 ounce Parmesan cheese (about 1/2 cup lightly packed) if needed, or measure out 1/3 cup store-bought.

  2. Pat 1 1/2 pounds boneless, chicken thighs dry with paper towels. Season all over with 1/2 teaspoon of the kosher salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper.

  3. Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a 12-inch or larger high-sided skillet or Dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the chicken and sear until browned on the bottom, 5 to 6 minutes. Flip with tongs and seared until the second side is browned, 2 to 3 minutes more. Transfer to a plate. The chicken will not be cooked through yet.

  4. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, shallot, and zucchini to the skillet. Cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 3 minutes. Add 10 ounces dried orzo, garlic, and lemon zest, and stir to coat with the oil. Cook until lightly toasted and fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes.

  5. Add 2 cups low-sodium chicken broth, 2 cups whole milk, and the remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt. Stir to combine, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon.

  6. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring frequently to keep the orzo from sticking. Reduce the heat to maintain a simmer. Nestle the chicken into the orzo and pour in any accumulated juices. Cook uncovered, making sure the orzo is in the liquid at all times and stirring frequently, until the orzo is tender, the chicken is cooked through and registers at least 165ºF on an instant-read thermometer, and most of the liquid is absorbed, 10 to 12 minutes.

  7. Remove the pan from the heat. Add the lemon juice and Parmesan and stir to combine. Taste and season with more kosher salt if needed. Let sit for 5 minutes before serving.

Recipe Notes

Storage: Refrigerate leftovers in an airtight container for up to 4 days.