Baked pasta and cheese bites

Humble mac ‘n cheese gets a delicious makeover!

I’m always looking for ways to make healthier, baked versions of favourite deep-fried dishes. My super crispy oven-baked chicken wings are a great example as are my fish and chips. This new recipe is inspired by my love of arancini, stuffed rice balls which are coated with bread crumbs and then deep fried. I decided to swap out the rice for rice-shaped orzo pasta, and switched things up to bake the pasta balls instead of deep frying. The results of this experiment were fantastically delicious. I chose to add in a little chopped kale to make them even healthier; chopped spinach and/or onions would be good too. I can pretty much guarantee that anyone from toddlers to great-grandparents will love these beautiful bites.

it's a mac and cheese switchup as cheese-sauce coated orzo gets breaded and baked for a delicious treat


  • 2/3 cup (180 mL) orzo
  • 4 teaspoons (20 mL) butter
  • 4 teaspoons (20 mL) all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) milk
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) grated cheese *
  • 1/4 teaspoon (1.25 mL) each salt, pepper and smoked paprika
  • 1/8 teaspoon (.65 mL) cayenne
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) finely chopped kale or spinach (optional)
  • 1 egg
  • 2/3 cup (180 mL) panko
  • Flavoured olive oil in a spray bottle (optional but delicious)

* I used Tex Mex; Italian blend would be good too


  • Bring a medium-sized pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add orzo and stir. Cook for 7 – 9 minutes, stirring occasionally, until just tender (al dente). Drain and set aside.
  • While orzo cooks, make cheese sauce by melting butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir in flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes.
  • Whisk in milk and cook, whisking constantly, for 2 minutes. Add cheese and spices and whisk until cheese has melted (about 1 minute). Remove from heat and stir in kale or spinach, if using.
  • Add cooked orzo to the cheese sauce and stir until well blended. Put pot into the fridge to chill. Note that you can make the dish up to this point and refrigerate for up to 48 hours.
  • If you want to speed up the chilling, transfer the pasta and cheese mixture to a shallow glass dish (about 8 x 10 inches / 20 x 25 cm is ideal) and put the dish in the freezer for 15 – 20 minutes, until orzo mixture is cold to the touch.
  • When ready to bake, preheat oven to 425F.
  • With a small cookie scoop or two teaspoons, scoop out golf-ball sized portions of the cold pasta mixture and place on a parchment lined baking tray. You should get about 15 portions.
  • Beat the egg in a small dish (a ramekin or custard cup is ideal). Put the panko in a small, broad bowl (like a dessert dish).
  • One at a time, dip the shaped pasta bites in the egg mixture then roll in panko and place back on the baking tray.
  • Once all the bites are coated, spray lightly with flavoured olive oil (I used roasted garlic oil) or baking spray. You don’t need to spray them if you don’t want to – they’ll still be very tasty!
  • Bake for 13 – 15 minutes, until golden brown. Serve hot with ketchup for dipping, if desired.

Makes 15 pasta bites.

it's a mac and cheese switchup as cheese-sauce coated orzo gets breaded and baked for a delicious treat

Author: Paula Roy

Welcome to my kitchen! I love simple dishes prepared with passion and am always seeking to find new methods to make food as fun and flavourful as possible. If you enjoy this space be sure to check out my Rogers TV Ottawa cooking show, Paula Roy's Favourite Foods, available on local cable, streaming and a dedicated playlist on Rogers TV's YouTube channel.

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