Skillet Chicken with Cheesy Orzo and Zucchini

Chicken and pasta and cheese, oh my! Zucchini gives this weeknight meal some veggie love, and the best part? The whole thing cooks in one skillet, minimizing the mess.

How to Cook Chicken in a Skillet
Kerri Brewer

There is a true beauty to one-skillet dinners, and it’s not just the fact that there is only one pan to wash.

It’s just very satisfying to place a skillet right in the middle of the table and scoop out essentially your whole meal. It's family style dining at its best. (Just be careful of the hot pan!)

Skillet Chicken Breast Recipe
Kerri Brewer

How to Serve This Skillet Chicken

Serve this skillet dinner as is right off the stove with the chicken breasts nestled in the orzo, and let everyone scoop up their own portions.

Alternatively, you can remove the chicken from the pan once the whole dish is cooked, slice it up, and then place it back on top of the orzo mixture. This makes it easy for people to take what they like—and go back for more.

Skillet Chicken Breast Recipe
Kerri Brewer

Add a Side Salad

This dish definitely stands on its own, with vegetables built right in thanks to the zucchini, but it’s also great paired with a simple salad, which you can make while the orzo and chicken are cooking. Try one of these salads as a light crunchy partner to this comfort food dish.

Or one of these from my site, The Mom 100:

Leftovers Are Great for Lunch!

This recipe makes quite a bit of the cheesy orzo with zucchini, perhaps more than you will eat at this meal. But you can pack up any leftovers and reheat for lunch or as a side dish later in the week for some bonus round cooking—my favorite kind.

Skillet Chicken with Cheesy Orzo and Zucchini

Prep Time 15 mins
Cook Time 30 mins
Total Time 45 mins
Servings 4 to 6 servings

If you want to trade in the zucchini for 2 cups of small broccoli florets or peas, both are good options.

Ingredients

  • 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil, as needed
  • 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts (4 to 6 pieces)
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped (about 1 cup chopped)
  • 1 1/2 cups dried orzo
  • 2 medium zucchini, cubed (about 2 cups cubed)
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • 1 cup half-and-half (or whole milk)
  • 1/2 cup grated cheddar
  • 1/2 cup grated fontina or Havarti

Method

  1. Sear the chicken:

    In a very large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium-high heat. Season the chicken on both sides with salt and pepper.

    Sear the chicken for about 4 minutes on each side, or until browned but not cooked through. (It should still be just barely pink in the center, if you want to cut into one of the pieces to test.) Transfer the chicken to a plate and set aside.

  2. Cook the onions and add the orzo:

    Reduce the heat to medium and add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil if needed (if there is still about a tablespoon of oil left in the pan, skip it).

    Add the onions and sauté for 2 minutes until they start to become tender. Add the orzo and stir for another minute to coat it with the oil and onions.

  3. Add the zucchini and stock, and simmer:

    Stir in the zucchini, thyme, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Add the chicken broth, raise the heat to medium-high and allow the liquid to come to a simmer, about 3 minutes, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom.

    Stir in the half-and half and bring it to a simmer, about 2 minutes. Cover the pan, lower the heat and simmer gently for about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the orzo is almost tender. Much of the liquid will be absorbed, but it should still be fairly runny at this point.

  4. Add the cheese and chicken:

    Sprinkle in the cheeses in batches, stirring after each addition until the cheese is all melted. Taste the orzo after all the cheese is added and add additional salt if needed.

    Tuck the browned chicken into the top of orzo mixture, and drizzle over top any juices that accumulated from the chicken as it rested.

    Cover the pan and simmer for another 3 to 5 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through (165°F with a digital thermometer) and the orzo and zucchini are tender. The orzo mixture will have thickened slightly, but should still be quite saucy, like a very loose risotto.

  5. Serve immediately:

    Serve the chicken and orzo hot from the pan.