Skillet Chicken with Cheesy Orzo and Zucchini

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

  • Prep time: 15 minutes
  • Cook time: 30 minutes
  • Yield: 4 to 6 servings


  • 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


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.

Click on the comments you'd like to print with your recipe. Grayed out comments will not print.


  • David

    it’s a hit at my house. I do have a question though. if I wanted to shred the chicken and mix it in would boiling it to cook then shred and add to the orzo at the end work best or is there a better way to do it?


  • Elizabeth

    Omg you need to leave the chicken in way longer to make sure it’s not pink! I highly recommend tenderizing ( pounding)the breast pieces so they are all the same thickness, and can cook according to your recipe, and leaving the zucchini in longer than suggested as well for those that want it more tender. Other than these things, it’s a good attempt for a one skillet option. More herbs are always a good idea as well …..


  • Alissa

    The recipe calls for boneless skinless chicken breast, but the photos and instructions really seem like it should be for bone in with skin- am I just confused?

  • Sandy S

    Wonderful recipe! I made a GF version by using GF spaghetti broke into 1/2″ pieces. I also used full fat canned coconut milk in place of the half and half. The sauce tasted so good at that point I skipped the cheese and was quite happy with how it turned out! Looking forward to other variations with the suggested peas or broccoli and possibly with fried/seasoned cubed tofu and mushrooms in place of the chicken. Might also be good spiced with some hot peppers. It comes together fairly quickly once the prepping is done. Wil definitely be enjoying variations over this fall and winter!


  • Diane Dubois

    Loved the orzo with the cheese mix. Used broccoli which was so good too. But the chicken breasts were tough (I split them in half because they were so thick). Could I substitute with chicken thighs? Or what tips to
    Tenderize chicken?

    • Emma Christensen

      Hi, Diane! You could definitely swap in chicken thighs — I think that would be fantastic! If using thin chicken breasts, I’d recommend searing them for less time (2-3 minutes per side). Enjoy!

  • [email protected]

    Did not make yet. Can I substitute different cheese?

    • Emma Christensen

      Hi, Jem! Yes, you can substitute any kind of melting cheese that you like. I think Monterey Jack or Mozzarella would be phenomenal in this dish. Enjoy! Let us know how you like it!

  • Dawn

    I would really like to try this, but I can’t eat pasta (low FODMAP diet) and I haven’t found a gluten-free orzo yet. Do you think it would work with grits or even risotto? I will let you know if I try it. Thank you!

    • Emma Christensen

      Hi, Dawn! Emma here, managing editor. I think you could definitely swap in another grain that fits your diet. The cooking time will need to be increased and perhaps the amount of liquid. Add it instead of the orzo in Step 2, and then simmer it with the chicken stock and the half-and-half until it’s just about cooked. Add extra stock as needed if the pan seems like it’s starting to become dry. Hope that helps! Let us know how it works!