My wife has a very intense aversion to this recipe… actually all puttanesca recipes. While I love the salty, briny flavors in the sauce, this Orzo Puttanesca recipe contains almost all of her least favorite foods in one!

But hey… if you like these flavors, this is a really delicious twist on a classic puttanesca sauce because you can cook everything in one pot!

Let’s dive in and make this new twist on the classic!

What is a Puttanesca sauce?

Puttanesca is a classic Italian sauce that is a complete switch from the standard marinara sauce. While there are tomatoes in it, it also generally contains big flavors like garlic, anchovies, and olives.

In theory, puttanesca sauce can be served with any pasta. It’s generally served with spaghetti, but I switch it up with an orzo pasta for this recipe.

Want a different puttanesca version? Try this Penne Puttanesca with Tuna!

Why Orzo works well for this recipe

Orzo has some advantages for this recipe. It cooks really fast and also can be cooked in the same pot as the sauce! You can just add some water to the pot and simmer the orzo. As the pasta cooks, it will soak up the sauce and also thicken the puttanesca sauce.

The finished dish gets close to a risotto but doesn’t get quite as creamy, keeping its tomato base.

Orzo pasta does make the recipe faster to make and makes for an easier cleanup!

How to make the crispy prosciutto topping

This crispy topping is the hidden star of this recipe. The orzo puttanesca has great flavor and texture but needs something crispy on top for balance and this crispy prosciutto topping is the perfect touch!

I make this in a medium-sized skillet by adding some olive oil over medium-low heat. Roughly chop up the prosciutto and add it to the skillet. Stir it as the prosciutto starts to brown and get crispy.

Crispy Prosciutto Topping.

When the prosciutto is browned, add breadcrumbs to the skillet and stir them into the oil and prosciutto. After another minute or two, they will start to brown. Remove the breadcrumb mixture from the heat and stir in some red pepper flakes (optional).

If the prosciutto chunks are too big, you can break them up or chop them further. As the topping cools, it’ll get crispier!

Building the puttanesca sauce

This sauce has big flavors but also comes together pretty quickly. I start with a good amount of olive oil in a medium to large pot. Keep in mind you are going to cook all the pasta in this same pot so make sure it’s big enough to hold everything.

Anchovies and garlic frying.

Over medium heat, add the anchovies and garlic. As the anchovies fry in the olive oil, use a wooden spoon to break them apart. The anchovies should almost dissolve into the oil.

Building the flavors for the sauce.

After a few minutes (don’t let the garlic burn), add the olives, capers, and tomato paste. Stir that all together and then add a few cups of water. I start with three cups and you may need a little more.

Simmering pasta in the water.

Use the liquid to scrape up any bits and bring the sauce to a slight simmer.

Stir in the orzo pasta and let it simmer over low heat for 8-10 minutes until the pasta is just cooked.

The sauce should thicken as the orzo cooks. If it gets too thick and dry, add extra water by the half cup.

Cooked orzo puttanesca.

Near the end of cooking, you can stir in the spinach for some color and also some parmesan cheese.

Taste this orzo puttanesca and make sure the orzo is cooked through. Serve it right away with the crispy breadcrumb mixture on top!

What to serve with this orzo puttanesca

This orzo dish is good on its own in a bowl with the prosciutto topping, but a good salad would go well with the pasta. It would be great with this shaved zucchini salad during the summer or this kale salad any time of the year.

If you wanted to serve the orzo with a protein, these lemon chicken cutlets would be the perfect thing.

Orzo on a plate.


While the sauce for this has big flavors, you can leave out one or two of the ingredients (like the anchovies) if you don’t like them. Here are some other substitution ideas!

  • Feel free to switch out the pasta. If you are using a larger pasta, you probably want to cook it separately and stir in some pasta water into the sauce to finish it.
  • Different kinds of olives will change up the sauce flavors. Kalamata are the standard, but you could use green olives as well for a brighter flavor.
  • You an leave out the spinach or use any quick-cooking green like chard for an extra vegetable.


The leftovers for this orzo puttanesca will keep fine in the fridge for a few days. While you can reheat it in the microwave, it’ll get a bit dry. It’s best to reheat it in a small skillet with a splash of water to bring it back to life.

Are you a fan of puttanesca pasta? Would you try this orzo version!?

Orzo Puttanesca finished.

Orzo Puttanesca with Crispy Prosciutto

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Author: Nick Evans
Servings: 4 servings
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes
Total Time: 35 minutes
This puttanesca style pasta dish has big flavors like anchovies, capers, and olives and uses orzo pasta so it can be made all in one pot. Whatever you do… don't skip the crispy prosciutto topping!


  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 4 anchovy fillets, in oil
  • 6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • ½ cup kalamata olives, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons capers, drained
  • 6 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 3 cups water
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 8 ounces orzo pasta
  • 3 cups baby spinach
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

Crispy Prosciutto Topping:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 ounces prosciutto, chopped
  • 1 cup breadcrumbs
  • 1 pinch red pepper flakes


To make crispy prosciutto topping:

  • In a large skillet over medium-low heat, add olive oil and chopped prosciutto. Stir regularly while the prosciutto cooks, until it is crispy – 5-6 minutes.
  • Add breadcrumbs to the skillet along with a pinch of red pepper flakes. Continue to cook and stir until breadcrumbs toast, another 2-3 minutes. Then remove from heat and allow to cool. Topping will continue to get crispy as it cools.

To make orzo puttanesca:

  • In a medium (at least 2.5 qt.) saucepan over medium heat, add 1/4 cup olive oil along with anchovies and garlic slices. Fry for a minute or two, breaking up anchovies while they fry until they almost dissolve.
  • Add olives, capers, and tomato paste to the pot and continue to fry for a minute or two, stirring the tomato paste into the oil.
  • Add 3 cups of water, salt, red pepper flakes, and bring to a simmer.
  • Once simmering, add orzo and stir. Turn heat down to low and simmer for about 10 minutes, uncovered, until orzo is cooked and the sauce thickens. Stir spinach in near the end of cooking.
  • As the orzo cooks, watch the liquid. If the pot seems very dry at any point and stuff starts to stick, add another cup of water to the skillet if the orzo is still crunchy.
  • The sauce should thicken as the orzo cooks and the sauce simmers until it lightly coats the orzo. It should be a loose sauce that coats the orzo.
  • Add parmesan cheese before serving. Taste and adjust flavors to your liking.
  • Serve the orzo puttanesca with a generous topping of the crispy prosciutto.


Serving: 1plate | Calories: 673kcal | Carbohydrates: 71g | Protein: 20g | Fat: 35g | Saturated Fat: 8g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 4g | Monounsaturated Fat: 21g | Trans Fat: 0.02g | Cholesterol: 23mg | Sodium: 1305mg | Potassium: 645mg | Fiber: 5g | Sugar: 6g | Vitamin A: 2711IU | Vitamin C: 13mg | Calcium: 254mg | Iron: 4mg
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Italian

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