Orzo cooked in Tomato Sauce (Manestra)

Ingredients for manestra orzo in tomato sauce
“Aman vre Lulu, you’re not the first person to burn something!” But I was still upset; how could I screw up such a simple dish? And not just once, but three times in a row! I’ll catalogue my mistakes here so that you can avoid them. Lulu’s new motto: “Screwing things up so that my readers don’t have to!” This is actually a great dish for a day when the cook is too busy to chop up a bunch of stuff; it’s very easy. There’s just a few things that can go wrong, and I’ve found them all for you!

Mistake #1 – Not cooking it long enough.

The package will tell you to cook the orzo for something like 12 minutes or so. I’m sure that’s correct if you’re cooking the orzo in a large pot of vigorously boiling water, but it’s going to take longer in simmering tomato sauce. Plan on 30-45 minutes of cooking, and be sure to taste test. Don’t do what I did, which was to eat a big blob of undercooked pasta and give myself indigestion before I finally admitted that it was undercooked.

Mistake #2 – Not using nonstick cookware

After the under-cooking incident, I made the dish again, using my green enameled cast iron Tramontina brasier. Why? Because it’s pretty, it’s photogenic, and it’s green, my favorite color.
But it’s not nonstick. So despite my continual stirring, the orzo insisted on sticking. It never burned, but eventually it stuck so much that I was afraid it would burn. I salvaged the situation by turning the heat off and letting it sit. After a while (half an hour or so) the stuck-on stuff on the bottom softened up and I was able to stir it up and turn the heat back on. So I finished cooking it okay, but of course I’d ruined my plans to give a recipe saying how long it would take to cook this.

Mistake #3 – Keeping the heat too high and not stirring often enough.

Ironically, although I just listed not using nonstick cookware as a mistake, I made the worst and least salvageable mess using nonstick cookware. I should have turned the flame down as low as it would go, especially given that I went off and got involved in surfing the web reading very important official emails from work, and didn’t come back to stir for about 20 minutes. This time the stuck-on stuff actually burned, so in that sense my flimsy nonstick pot maybe wasn’t as good as the enameled cast iron, but pick your own poison. Or better yet, stir! By the way, you’ll see both pots in the photos.


3 TB olive oil
2 or 3 cloves of garlic, sliced or chopped
1 8-oz can of tomato sauce
3 cans of water
1/2 pound (about 1 cup) of orzo or menestra
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper

Cook It!

Heat the oil, then add the garlic. Saute the garlic until it’s fragrant, just a few seconds, don’t let it get brown or even golden.
Saute the garlic very briefly for menestra, orzo with tomato sauce

Add tomato sauce…
For orzo or manestra, pour in a can of tomato sauce.
…and saute it for about 5 minutes.
Saute the tomato sauce for menestra for a few minutes.
Using the empty tomato sauce can, add 3 cans full of water. Also add the salt, pepper and orzo. Stir!
Simmer the orzo or manestra.
Simmer over very low heat for about 45 minutes. Stir frequently! Serve with bread and feta on the side, or you can top the manestra with grated cheese.
Orzo or manestra in tomato sauce with bread and feta.

I am entering this recipe in this week’s Presto Pasta Night, hosted by Hillary of Chew On That and originated by Ruth of Once Upon a Feast.


  1. Comment by Paula

    Oh, reading your recipe and seeing the pictures has brought back so many great memories. My mom used to make this for me when I was little. Gosh, I would always dig in too fast and burn my mouth, but I just couldn’t wait to eat it! Since my mom was from So. Italy, I’ve only had this pared with pecorino romano, but I bet it’s wonderful with feta. I swear I can still smell that great aroma. Now I’m all nostalgic and happy!

  2. Comment by Lulu

    Hi Paula! I wonder how many dishes are shared by Greeks and Italians? I actually like manestra best topped with a grated hard cheese the way your mom served it.

  3. Comment by History of Greek Food

    MMM!!Manestra with feta!! A tasty pasta from my childhood summertimes!! I’ve only had it with fresh tomatoe’s sauce. A great, easy and healthy dish.

  4. Comment by Lulu

    Hi History of Greek Food! So this is a bit of personal history for you. :-) I agree it’s even better with fresh tomato sauce.

  5. Comment by maria verivaki

    and in hania, we don’t call it manestra!! it’s called kritharaki

  6. Comment by Lulu

    More food vocabulary for me! Thanks, Maria!

  7. Comment by Ivy

    Hi Lulu, this sounds delicious and as Maria said it’s kritharaki and we call this dish giouvetsi. Why not try it in the oven. There is no chance you will burn it and you don’t have to mix it all the time. Prepare your tomato sauce and when it has boiled put it in a non stick baking tin or a pyrex and in half an hour it’s ready. Just check it out once or twice and if more water is needed, just add hot water. If you want to see the recipe just type giouvetsi in the search engine of my blog.

  8. Comment by History of Greek Food

    And if you’ll add some fresh basil in giouvetsi, you’ll have a glorious summer dish.

  9. Comment by Lulu

    @7 Hi Ivy! I thought giouvetsi included meat? I’ll check out your recipe.

  10. Comment by Lulu

    @8 Mariana, I adore basil! But won’t I lose my hard-earned philhellene status if I start sticking basil into pasta? Maybe I’ll have to get some Italians to adopt me too! :-)

  11. Comment by History of Greek Food

    this pasta dish takes its name from the youvetsi or giouvetsi(< Turkish guvez), the round, medium deep, earthenware casserole used in cooking. The main ingredient of giouvetsi is kritharaki, although in early 20th cent. recipes tube shaped macaronis were also used. Traditionally a giouvetsi is kritharaki or pasta baked with tomato paste sauce, with or without meat or poultry.
    However,seafood baked in a clay dish is also called giouvetsi. In this case, there is no need for pasta.
    Basil is added in giouvetsi when cooked in Ionian islands and western Crete.

  12. Comment by FoodJunkie

    I get like that with cooking disasters and it always feels terrible. But to make you feel better I can tell you that I have burned oh-so-many pots with jam, I have served spinach pie with sand in it (didn’t wash the spinach well and it was sandy..), I have made fassolada with bacon that smelled of old pig’s feet (because greek bacon is not made for boiling) and I have managed to mess up the marbled cake I have been making the last 25 years (I never understood how that happened, I think my baking powder was old or something)!

  13. Comment by Lulu

    @11 Yay, I can use basil! Thanks Mariana! Interesting info about the pot and all the recipes it has given its name to.

  14. Comment by Lulu

    @12 FoodJunkie: LOL, Ioanna! I do feel better now!

  15. Comment by Laurie Constantino

    I bake it in a 350F oven for 40-45 minutes, which will take care of all your problems! (Recipe in Tastes Like Home)

  16. Comment by James

    Sounds delish. Ok so I had to wiki orzo…. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orzo not come accross this funnily enough, but now I’ll make sure I do!

  17. Comment by Lulu

    @15 And “Tastes Like Home” should be arriving any day now! I got a confirmation email severaly days ago and am waiting eagerly!

  18. Comment by Ivy

    Lulu, I have an award for you.

  19. Comment by Lulu

    Hi James! For some reason your comment got sent to my spam folder. Glad I found it!

    Orzo has a nice chewy texture that’s a little different from most pasta.

  20. Comment by Cheryl

    I love this dish, but for some reason the kids aren’t interested yet…which I don’t understand because it’s pasta with tomato sauce, usually a favorite. I think that it’s the orzo that they get weird about. Anyway, I love it and I’ve had those days!

    Cheryls last blog post..

  21. Comment by Lulu

    Cheryl, that surprises me too. I would think it would be a perfect kid-friendly dish. I wonder if adding half a teaspoon or so of sugar to the tomato sauce would help? I suppose not, if it’s the orzo itself that’s bothering them.

  22. Comment by stel

    i love orzo, so having another scrumptious recipe for it is just wonderful. thank you!

    stels last blog post..clams in black bean sauce

  23. Comment by Lulu

    Hi Stel, welcome! This was my first introduction to orzo, and I’d like to find some other stuff to do with it as well. I just looooove the texture!

  24. Pingback by Presto Pasta Night #69! | Chew On That

    […] Orzo Cooked in Tomato Sauce Next, we have Lulu from Mama’s Taverna’s savory orzo in tomato sauce. Served with bread and butter, this filling meal looks incredibly tasty! Click on the photo or link above for more details on this pasta dish. […]

  25. Comment by Ruth

    I do love your green cast iron pot. It’s gorgeous. And I do appreciate you sharing your misfortunes with us so we don’t do the same thing.

    Most of all thanks for sharing with Presto Pasta Nights.

    Ruth’s last blog post..Presto Pasta NIght #69 Roundup

  26. Comment by Lulu

    Hi Ruth! My pleasure, I’m really glad you have this event for us. So, thank you!

  27. Comment by Bellini Valli

    This sounds like one of those comforting dishes Lulu:D

    Bellini Valli’s last blog post..Apricot Ginger Scones with Apricot Honey Butter

  28. Comment by Lulu

    Val, it is total comfort food!

  29. Comment by maria verivaki

    we cook orzo in the oven (with sheep’s head)

    maria verivaki’s last blog post..Zucchini baseball (?????????????????)

  30. Comment by Lulu

    Hi Maria, I saw you just posted about sheep’s head, but I haven’t had a chance to read your post yet.

  31. Comment by Sophie

    Such a good idea to cook the orzo in the tomato rather than boil then tip it into the sauce. I’m sure this will make it much tastier

    Sophie’s last blog post..Squash and chickpea salad with orange, ginger and black pepper dressing (or how to eat four portions of fruit and veg in one go)

  32. Comment by Lulu

    @31 Hi Sophie! Glad you visited! It’s certainly easier in the sense that you have one less pot to wash. More worries about sticking though. But the best part is that the orzo soaks in the flavor while it cooks.

  33. Comment by maria verivaki

    basil is a common herb these days, but a Greek would probably use mint instead

    maria verivaki’s last blog post..Imam baldi (???? ???????)

  34. Comment by Lulu

    I’ll have to try that, Maria.

  35. Comment by Cassandra

    Mmmm… kritharaki. In Thessaloniki too we would call this kritharaki. It could probably be called giouvetsi too, but I’ve always used the term giouvetsi for kritharaki with meat. It’s such a pity we can’t find orzo very easily in London; however, my partner did manage to find some packets once, at the beginning of my pregnancy. When I had that terrible 1st trimester morning sickness I found that kritharaki & plain rice were the only things I could eat, so my partner kept going to that same place, at the other side of London, to fetch me some more kritharaki…. AAAAAAhhhhh, now I’m longing for some more, think I’ll ask him again! Thanks for the recipe.

    Cassandra’s last blog post..An everyday meal: Leek & lemon risotto

  36. Comment by Angie

    Made this last night with pork chops for the three of us. I used 1/2 lb of orzo and followed the recipe exactly.

    Very, very good, the family loved it. Needless to say, there were no leftovers. Next time, rather than three cans of water, I might try low sodium chicken broth for even more flavor.

    Thanks for this recipe, just wonderful! I’ll be making this quite often!

  37. Comment by Lulu

    Hi Angie, glad you liked it!

  38. Comment by tastythaicooking

    Glad I found your site. I will try some of your recipes soon! Thanks for sharing.

  39. Comment by Kristine

    I saute’ the orzo and onions in butter and olive oil a little before adding vegetable broth and then a little can of tomato sauce.
    Also, I put chickpeas in it in for protein since we are vegetarians.

  40. Comment by Lulu

    Hi Kristine,

    Yes, browning the orzo gives it a nice nutty flavor.

  41. Comment by Andreas

    In Nafplio we call this dish manestra as the recipie author.

  42. Comment by Lulu

    Thanks, Andreas! Yay, Nafplio! :-)

  43. Comment by MamaLisa

    Do any of you make the tomato sauce with a cinnamon stick? I had a great Orzo dish at my wedding shower (which was at a Greek restaurant) – and they made the sauce with tomatoes, beef broth, butter, onion, garlic and oregano, and the cinnamon stick. Then when it’s up to taste, throw in the orzo and cook in the sauce. It was fabulous then. I just found my 14 year-old recipe and am going to try it tonight! Thoughts?

  44. Comment by Nousiesmom

    I make something similar. My recipe calls for one can of diced tomatoes, chopped onion, chopped sweet red pepper, garlic, and kalamata olives (have to be kalamata as the brine taste is the key). I warm up a few chilli flakes in my olive oil, add the veggies, then the orzo to toast a bit and absorb flavor. Toss in the can of diced tomatoes and water.
    It is such a yummy side dish!

  45. Comment by Rob

    My Grandma (from Greece) made something similar to this when I was a child, but she passed when I was 7 and I’ve never had it since. I only remember it as the ‘spicy red rice’. Does anyone have a recipe what is a little spicier?

  46. Pingback by Checking in… « In Search of a Better Self

    […] craving it lately, so I decided to try a hybrid of my mother’s rough, unwritten recipe and this  – I cut back on the olive oil, added the sadly missing cinnamon, and threw in […]

  47. Comment by Lulu

    @45 Rob – When I want this a bit spicy, I toss in a pinch of red pepper flakes.

  48. Comment by Mary

    My very Greek Grandma Stella (Stavroula) Kanelakos always added onion and chopped roast beef. Yum. My son just made this two nights ago. Hadn’t eaten it for ages. Great grandkids LOVED it!

  49. Comment by Becky

    Does anyone have any ideas for adding veggies to this and if so when to add? My ex used to make with I think zuchini half moons, spinach, and halved button mushrooms. Topped with extra olive oil.

  50. Comment by maria

    the correct cheese to use with this dish the way they do in Greece is Mizithra – found at a local greek store.
    Grated – has a flavor not compared to any other cheese.
    My yiayia made this often. Using fresh tomatoes is the best way of course.

  51. Comment by Sherry

    This recipe is great the only thing I added was 1/2 tsp of cinnamon.

  52. Comment by Stan

    My family makes this dish using the oven method. We add pork chops and allow them to bake in the caserole along with the orzo. Fantastic! One of my favorites.

  53. Comment by Kelvin

    Hello!!! Just made your recipe today and it worked!!!
    But…this is my first time trying orzo is it suppose to be
    mushy and soft texture???

  54. Comment by Sherry

    So happy to find this!!! I used to go to a Greek restaurant in Bitburg, Germany that served this and I would eat two orders :) Thank you!

  55. Comment by Robert

    I tried this recipe as an accompaniment to Crock Pot Greek Chicken and must confess to being underwhelmed. For me, it was just too bland. So, since I’m not Greek and this doesn’t remind me of Grandma, or Yiayia, I decided to tweek the recipe. The next time I made Greek Chicken I did this recipe again, but included the juices from the crock pot when the manestra was done (maybe a little on the dry side). Pretty much adding the chicken juices with garlic, lemon, and kalamata olive flavorings to the tomato of the orzo. It was amazing! Literally something I would order repeatedly at a restaurant. In fact everyone who ate the “enhanced” manestra was as impressed as I was. Making this again as I type…can’t wait for dinner!

  56. Comment by Robert

    Sorry I didn’t add this in my original comment, but thank you Lulu for putting a recipe on the internet that I will be making for the rest of my life. I love comfort food, and this is certainly that!

  57. Comment by Jo

    My Ma Ma used to make this for me when I was little — and I loved the stuff. My Ma Ma used fresh tomato sauce because she had a big garden with tons of tomato plants and always added whatever vegetable was in season (asparagus, broccoli, kale, carrots, etc). This is my favorite Friday night meal — we always played cards while eating this. Gosh this recipe is perfect — it’s the real thing — the bread and butter on the side is a “must”.

  58. Comment by Jo

    I just did a trial run of this recipe for a surprse meal for my Greek boyfriend. It went perfectly smoothly, no sticking or under cooking, and I followed your recipe to the word – but it just seems a bit…dull tasting to me. Am I missing something?

  59. Comment by The Healthy Project

    Thanks for this recipe! I had some leftover minestrone and didnt want ‘soup’. I found your recipe looking for something to do with some orzo and tomatoes. I used the leftover soup and some tomatoes for a minestrone ‘manestra’ and it was delicious.

  60. Comment by Healthy Eater

    Hi and thanks for this amazing dish which also brought many memories back to me.

  61. Comment by Tammy

    I was looking for a manestra recipe and tried yours. My Yiayia’s (grandmother’s) recipe was never written down and I wanted those flavors tonight. I used chicken broth instead of water for added flavor and my husband liked it. I did too, but I am still looking for my Yiayia’s flavors. I believe my grandmother always used some of the ‘juices’ from the roasted leg of lamb in her recipe. Will have to try it that way wth your recipe- I think that is the additional flavor I am seeking. Thank you for posting this. It will be the base for my next attempt. Love the garlic flavor!

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