Our Buttery Tomato Orzo with Blackened Scallops have all of the creaminess of a traditional risotto, but we make it a little bit healthier with the addition of whole-wheat orzo. It’s packed with luscious tomato flavor rivaling the most perfect marinara and hints of nutty brown butter, making it my current favorite thing to eat. We serve ours with perfectly seared blackened scallops, but the protein of choice is up to you.
Creamy Tomato Orzo with Blackened Scallops
If I knew all I had to do to get my kids to eat seafood (besides salmon), was to spoon a big helping of Creamy Tomato Orzo below said seafood, I would have been whipping up this easy pasta dish eons ago. Similar to a risotto, but in whole-wheat pasta form, this is full of pure tomato flavor and all the creaminess I crave in a perfectly executed risotto.
Bonus? The whole family goes crazy for it.
In addition to all that lovely tomato flavor, you’ll find nutty hints of brown butter, white wine and plenty of garlic (always a must when it comes to tomatoes).
For me, every perfect risotto or pasta needs a protein of some sort to be paired with and the beauty of our Tomato Orzo is it pairs well with just about anything. So while our choice of seafood landed on sweet seared scallops (they were on sale), you could go with whatever you think will earn the most praise from your family members.
Ingredients in Tomato Orzo
Butter. You could use olive oil, but I love the way butter turns nutty and brown in a hot iron skillet.
The aromatics. We go the simple route with onion and garlic to flavor the base of the tomato orzo. I do like to use a heavy hand of garlic, so you’ll need 3-4 cloves.
Orzo. When I was developing the recipe for our Buttery Tomato Pasta, I knew I wanted it to feel luxurious, but I also knew I wanted it to be on the healthier side. Using whole-wheat orzo is a great compromise so not only do we still get that risotto/pasta-like texture, but we’re also getting a little bit of nutrition as well.
Wine. White wine is what is commonly used in risotto, so that’s what we went with here. Any dry white will work – I’ve even used individual cans of sparkling wine if that’s what I have on hand.
Tomato paste. The real tomato flavor in our Creamy Tomato Orzo comes from a quality tomato paste. It’s my favorite way to add a concentrated tomato flavor without using a whole 28-ounce can of tomato puree. Red Gold Tomatoes is our go-to brand for a few reasons.
First, their tomatoes are picked when they are in tip top condition, meaning they are PACKED with tomato flavor and therefore have no need for any artificial flavors or additives. They also make our health a priority by eliminating GMOs and using non-BPA lined cans, which is important to me when feeding my little ones. And as a family-owned company for over 75 years, family is as important to them as it is to me. They work with local family-owned farms to provide the highest quality tomato products.
Tomatoes. In addition to the tomato paste, I wanted some bits of whole tomatoes as well, so we add in one can of Petite Diced Tomatoes, also by Red Gold Tomatoes. What I love about using Red Gold’s canned tomatoes this time of year is you can still get that ultra fresh straight-from-the-vine taste even though we’re months away from tomato season.
Chicken broth. The chicken broth is what’s going to cook the orzo, so you want to make sure to use a low-sodium chicken stock or broth.
Cream. This is definitely an optional ingredient, but I love the luxuriousness a little bit of heavy cream gives the finished product. I only use a 1/4 cup, but if you feel strongly against it, you can leave it out.
The finishing touches. To balance out the flavors of the tomato orzo, I like to drizzle in a little bit of honey and the TINIEST amount of white wine vinegar. Don’t worry, this isn’t going to make the dish taste sweet or like straight-up vinegar, it’s just a subtle way to make everything sing together.
While we used scallops here, it’s not something you have to use. We also love topping this tomato orzo with chicken, shrimp, salmon, or honestly, anything you want. Stick with the same seasoning blend and apply it to whichever protein you choose. Here’s what you’ll need:
- Protein. Again we went with scallops and if you do too, look for dry sea scallops. Sea scallops are larger in size than bay scallops and are perfect for searing. Also, the bigger, the better. You only need about three per person if they are on the larger side, five if they are on the smaller side.
- Garlic powder
- Paprika (smoked if you have it!)
- Onion Powder
- Cayenne (optional)
- Salt (kosher)
- Black pepper (freshly cracked)
How to Sear Scallops
- Mix the spices. Add all the spices to a small bowl or ramekin. Mix to combine.
- Use a cast iron skillet. This is hands down my favorite way to sear any kind of food. It adds a lovely crust to just about anything and is the easiest way to make sure your food cooks evenly. If you don’t have a cast iron skillet, any skillet will work. Make sure it’s big enough to hold the tomato orzo as well since we will be cooking it in there as well.
- Pat the scallops dry. You don’t want any moisture on them, or they won’t sear properly.
- Season. Before you sprinkle the seasoning on top, sprinkle both sides with a generous amount of kosher salt and then sprinkle both sides with the prepared seasoning.
- Heat the pan. Heat the cast iron skillet over a medium-high heat. add the butter. Once the butter melts and starts to turn brown on the edges, swirl it once or twice and then add the scallops.
- Don’t move them! Once you add the scallops to the skillet, do not move them for 2-3 minutes. You want them to get a really nice crust on the bottom, once you see that, flip them over and sear on the other side.
- Don’t over cook! Scallops take virtually no time to cook whatsoever, all they need is a good sear on each side and they should be done. Similar to shrimp, when scallops over cook, they become rubbery and unappetizing.
Let’s make Tomato Orzo
Sweat the aromatics. While it’s not necessary to brown the butter, I do like the extra flavor it gives the tomato orzo. Once you cook the scallops, remove them from the pan and add the rest of the butter. The pan should still be pretty hot, so the butter should brown up quickly. Swirl the pan until the butter smells intoxicatingly nutty and then add the onion.
Because garlic burns easily, we want to let the onions soften a bit before adding them. When the onions do soft, throw in the garlic. Let it cook for a minute and then stir in the Red Gold Tomato paste.
Add the liquid. The next step is to add the liquid a little bit at a time. To mimic the texture of a creamy risotto, you want the starch from the pasta to release a little bit at a time. We do that by first adding the white wine and Red Gold Petite Diced Tomatoes and letting it cook down a bit. We then add half the chicken stock and while stirring occasionally, let the liquid slowly absorb. Add the rest of the chicken stock and stir until the orzo is creamy and al dente.
Finish it off. As we mentioned before, I like to add a little bit of acid and vinegar at the end to give the final creamy tomato orzo a pop.
Season. Arguably the most important part of any recipe is the final touch of seasoning to taste. Don’t skip!
Substitutions and Tips and Tricks for Recipe Success
- For extra flavor, use Red Gold’s Petite Tomatoes in Olive oil and Garlic
- Only cook the garlic for a minute so it doesn’t burn.
- Swap out scallops for chicken, shrimp or salmon.
- For a hint of spice, add in a few pinches of crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 1/2 tbsp unsalted butter, divided
- 1 lb sea scallops (12 large or 20 small)
- 1/2 cup diced onion
- 2 large garlic cloves, minced
- 1 1/2 cups whole-wheat orzo
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 3 tbsp .Red Gold Tomato Paste
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 15 oz Red Gold Petite Diced Tomatoes
- 2 1/4 cups low sodium chicken stock, divided
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- 1 tsp honey
- 1 tsp white wine vinegar
- Cast iron skillet
- Pat the scallops dry and remove the little tag or beard on the side of the scallop. Season both side of the scallop with salt and pepper. Sprinkle both sides of the scallops with the seasoning mixture.
- Heat a large cast-iron skillet to a medium heat. Add ½ tablespoon butter Swirl to coat the pan. Add the scallops. Sear 1-2 minutes until they have a blackened crust. Flip and do the same. Transfer to a plate and cover with foil to keep warm.
- Add remaining butter to the hot skillet. Add onion and ¼ teaspoon salt. Toss to coat in the butter. Sauté until slightly softened and translucent, about 2-3 minutes. Add garlic. Cook one minute. Add orzo and toss in the onion and garlic. Toast for one minute.
- Stir in the Red Gold Tomato Paste and cook for one minute.
- Stir in the white wine. Let it reduce for a minute or two and then stir in the canned tomatoes and one cup of the chicken stock and another ¼ teaspoon salt. Let the mixture come to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Simmer, stirring every 2-3 minutes until the liquid has been absorbed.
- Stir in another cup of chicken stock and ¼ teaspoon salt. Continue to simmer and stir every 2-3 minutes until the liquid has absorbed. At this point, the orzo should be cooked to aldente. If it’s not, add another ¼ cup of stock and stir until the liquid has absorbed and the orzo is cooked.
- Turn the heat off and stir in heavy cream, remaining ¼ teaspoon salt, honey, and vinegar. Season to taste with salt and pepper.