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Posted on Mar 24, 2010 in Bento, For Kids, Leftover Remake, Meat, Phyllo or Pancake or Other, Recipe, Rice | 111 comments

Leftover Remake: Risotto cake recipe & bento lunches

Leftover Remake: Risotto cake recipe & bento lunches

Because I’m not my son’s personal short-order cook, I love to use dinner leftovers in our bento lunches to minimize prep time. But eating the exact same thing for multiple meals can get boring pretty quickly, so finding new ways to quickly transform leftovers into different dishes is always welcome. Today I’ve got a simple Leftover Remake recipe for pan-fried risotto cakes.

Risotto cake bento for kindergartener

With these lunches, I took cold zucchini risotto left over from dinner the night before, and made it into little pan-fried risotto cakes that my five-year-old ate as finger food. They’re reminiscent of Sicilian arancini (deep-fried rice balls stuffed with cheese, meat, or vegetables), but I improvised as I didn’t have a good melting cheese on hand.

Contents of kindergartener bento lunch: Pan-fried zucchini (courgette) risotto cakes (recipe below), teriyaki & pineapple chicken meatballs (my favorite, Aidells brand), red grapes, and steamed broccoli with onion-based salad dressing. For dinner, I’d made the zucchini risotto from a recipe in Marcella Hazan’s classic cookbook Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking.

"Hugging" picks for children's lunchesMorning prep time: 22 minutes for the two bentos, including cooling time for the risotto cakes, meatballs and broccoli. In the morning I formed and pan-fried the risotto cakes from leftover risotto, microwaved the frozen meatballs, and steamed the broccoli in my microwave mini-steamer. (Click for full lunch details, an adult variation on this lunch with additional fruit & veggies, and a basic recipe for the risotto cakes.)

Packing: You know that I’m not one for spending a lot of time making elaborate food art, opting instead for food picks and little lunch accessories to give a bento a quick shot of cute. A while back I stumbled on a package of new colorful hugging food picks shaped like Usahana at a local thrift store for US$1, so I used them with the meatballs to make easy eating for little hands. I used all silicone lunch accessories in this bento, with a baran separator and food cup for the broccoli — keeping foods from touching (more of an issue for Bug than it would be for me).

Thorough cooling of the lunch contents before packing up the box is important to prevent condensation that would: 1) make the risotto cakes soften up, 2) create a vacuum inside of the box that would make it hard to open, and 3) increase the odds of food spoilage as bacteria thrive on moisture, protein and warmth. The lunch is packed in a 450ml Disney Cars bento box with movable subdivider, the right size box for a 5-year-old according to the bento box size guidelines.

Verdict: Mostly thumbs up with everything gone except the grapes. Bug said he only ate half of a grape because he was trying to get the seeds out and peel the skin off with his fingers as he didn’t like the taste of the skin. He protested when I went to throw the remaining grapes out, though, saying he still wanted to eat them, it just took him too much time at school. So these big red grapes are off the bento list because they’re too time-consuming, but still in the kitchen at home for when we’re not in a hurry.

Risotto cake bento lunch

I added tangerine slices and smoked mushroom salad to our homestay Japanese teacher’s bento to round it out and make it different from the child’s version above.

Contents of adult bento lunch: Pan-fried zucchini risotto cakes, tangerines, smoked mushrooms dressed with homemade balsamic vinaigrette, red grapes, steamed broccoli with onion-based salad dressing, and teriyaki & pineapple chicken meatballs. I adapted a recipe for smoked mushroom salad in the terrific barbecue cookbook Smoke & Spice: Cooking with Smoke, the Real Way to Barbecue , and my husband smoked them in a vegetable grill basket on his Big Green Egg ceramic cooker. (You know, men love their grills!)

Morning prep time: 22 minutes for the two bento variations, including cooling time for the risotto cakes. The mushroom salad was leftover from a previous dinner, and I quickly sliced up half of a tangerine.

Hakoya two-tier rabbit bento boxPacking: I didn’t worry about separating the different foods as much for A-sensei, so I put only the drained mushrooms into a silicone food cup to keep the vinaigrette away from the grapes. The lunch is packed in a 600ml two-tier Hakoya bento box that I picked up at Soko Hardware in San Francisco’s Japantown last year.

Verdict: A-sensei ate everything, with a thumbs up on the risotto cakes. When I probed more deeply about what they were like at room temperature (as I ate mine at home when they were still warm), she finally said that she thought Bug might like them better with ketchup or some other dipping sauce. Bug disagreed and said they were good as is, but it’s an interesting suggestion.

* * * * *

Recipe for Pan-fried Risotto Cakes

  • leftover cold risotto (How much have you got? Try a basic risotto recipe is you’re starting from scratch.)
  • 1/4 cup flour (or breadcrumbs)
  • dash of salt & pepper
  • 1 Tb vegetable oil (or vegetable oil spray) for pan-frying
  • kosher salt to taste
  1. In a shallow bowl or pie plate, mix together the flour, salt and pepper for breading the risotto cakes.
  2. Use a small disher or tablespoons to scoop up 2-3 tablespoons of cold risotto. Use your hands to shape the risotto into small rounds about 1/2 inch thick. (This is for small risotto cakes to fit in a bento box; feel free to make larger cakes if you like.)
  3. Place the risotto round into the flour mixture and lightly dust. Tap off excess flour and set aside.
  4. Heat the vegetable oil in a nonstick frying pan over medium heat. Place the floured risotto cakes in the hot pan without crowding, and fry until golden brown on the bottom (a couple minutes per side). Don’t mess with the cakes too much when you first put them in — you want them to develop a nice crust that’ll hold everything together when flipping.
  5. Flip the cakes and fry until brown on both sides. Remove from the pan with a small spatula, and cool on a cooling rack lined underneath with paper towels.  Blot off any excess oil off with paper towels.
  6. Sprinkle with kosher salt to taste while still warm.
  7. If not packing in a lunch, serve right away while warm. If packing in a bento, let these cool as completely as you have time for before closing up in a bento box. This’ll help prevent condensation inside the box that would soften the nice crust you’ve developed on the risotto cakes.

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  1. I just bought a pack of those big globe grapes from Costco and while I find them completely delicious peeled and seeded, it’s been so time consuming to do it, especially since my son inhales them.

    Very nice bentos and those risotto cakes are so cute!

  2. I’ve never heard of peeled grapes… Hmm…

    Anyway, I’ve dropped by to say that I’m very envious of your bento-skill, and also that those mushrooms and the risotto recipe both look delicious!

  3. Those look so good! Thanks for sharing your wonderful bento ideas, they always give me new ideas of things to spice up my hubbys bento’s!

  4. biggie,
    secretly v. happy that you have visiting sensei to make bento for and to post again. I know life gets v. busy, but I love reading your bento adventures.

    N started eating sandwiches this year! the collapsable sandwich bento box I got last year is finally coming in handy. I do wrap sandwich in wax paper so it doesn’t dry up since the box is ventilated.

    Funny, I feel proudest of the bento I make with upwards of 7-9 various items. As if, the more variety I put into his bento, the more time and love I’m sending to school with him.

    One day I just gave him a burger sandwich in a SnackTaxi (reuseable sandwich bag) and a whole apple. Very american style. He loved the novelty of it!

  5. Thank you for the delicate recipe! I love the Food-Picks and the absolutely beautiful adult-Bento-Box <3

  6. Ugh! I love risotto! I make a yummy normal one that usually has no left overs lol. I’ll try and put a small container aside for maybe 3 discs for my lunch the next day.
    Ive been thinking of getting a cute mayo container online but I wanted to ask if these sauce bottles and mayo containers are easy to clean. The one I saw was a good size so I could hand clean it if I have to.

    P.S. I was reading the DE Your Health Magazine and saw you were in it for March in the Lunch with a Punch article. Congrats! I was excited to see you in it!

  7. @8 from Kelly: The sauce bottles are easily cleaned if you just put liquidy things in them (use the suction method to get hot/soapy water inside, shake, then repeat with hot clean water). The mayo containers have a wide enough opening on top with a lid, so you can get a sponge in to clean them out properly. Dishwashers don’t tend to clean either very well.

    What’s DE Your Health Magazine? I’m not familiar with it; am curious about the lunch article you mentioned.

  8. Great idea. It’s been so cold lately i haven’t made “bento” style lunch for my son since microwaving it tunred to make it into a huge mess. This combo looks great even in slightly cold weather.

  9. @13 from yvette yasui: I put Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution on my Tivo list to record; I’m really looking forward to it. Good to hear you enjoyed it — I’ll be sure to watch it.

  10. @14 from frosty: Thanks for the award, frosty! Nice new blog.

  11. Will try this for sure. Wonder if it will work with leftover fried rice if you add some egg to bind it. Will have to try that.

  12. Biggie, I love your blog and have lurked for awhile; I’m going to Japan in April; what two or three words or phrases would you recommend to the ignorant gaijin? Thanks in advance.

  13. DE (Delaware) thats where its from
    its called Your Health.
    Its a magazine I get at my Doctors office. You want my copy? Lol I already read it, I mean I would scan and send it to you in an email but you deserve a copy of a magazine you were published in lol.

  14. Those risotto cakes look quite good!

  15. We’re on our 2nd full week of Bento lunches for my 10 year old son, my fiancee and I and we’re loving it! I am doing most of the prep the night before and actually really enjoying NOT being so rushed in the morning. Everyone is eating tons more veggies this way- even my fiance is using the little plastic ‘picks’ I got from the Matsuba market to pick up his broccoli trees, lol.

    I also made a version of your ‘ketchup rice’ for my son using brown rice, black beans and corn. I roll a couple of little balls and put them in those little silicone Wilton cups (very handy) and he is eating them cold. I want to try pan-frying them for a change as well! GO BENTO!

  16. Ah, peeled grapes. My mom made us peel every fruit we ate as kids, including grapes. I hated eating them since they took so much effort. It’s such a guilty pleasure to just pop them into my mouth now.

  17. Really? Throwing away perfectly good grapes because your son wouldn’t eat them? Thank goodness he stopped you!

  18. @24 from Honeywell: Good point, Honeywell! I don’t know what I was thinking with that. D’oh!

  19. Is this a freewebs website?

  20. Hey, do you think you could do a tutorial for filled onigiri?

  21. Biggie we miss you!!!! =(

  22. Hi~ I just discovered your site as I am on a quest for my family and myself to eat more healthfully. My 8 year old has been resistant, but you have provided some great inspiration.Thank you.
    I happily placed your link on my sidebar.

  23. I did a small blog post on my blog about you and bento boxes I hope you can come visit..nf1andpre-kwhisper DOT blogspot DOT com [NOTE: edited for dead link]

  24. Hey, Biggie… Just checking in to say I (continue to) love your blog, and I hope you’re OK. We miss you, ma’am!

  25. I love bento boxes or small lunch boxes, they are not good for kids for adults like me, who like to try little of many food.

    Risotto cakes looks yummy. I am liking the little accessorizes that you are using with food as well. Neat!

  26. Where are your posts? I’ve been waiting for three months to read a new one

  27. I love these bento picks!! I will look for them!!

  28. Those risotto cakes look so good! And those teri pineapple meatballs sound tasty too!

  29. You haven’t updated in almost five months! Did something happen?

  30. I know, I hope Biggie is okay :(

    Does anyone know what’s happened?

  31. What a great idea! We are always looking for ways to creatively re-use our leftovers. I just found this site from blog.com’s top 10 list – hope you keep updating this!

  32. It’s been a while since you have posted something. I hope everything is ok and I just wanted to tell you that your blog is a big inspiration to me. I have moy own blog (in French) at http://bentoblog.fr.nf and I love coming back to yours :)!

  33. Hi Biggie, I found your site by searching for a Youtube of the Bento Box song for my Japanese students, and now I’m addicted to your website! Great ideas for school lunches! My family and I lived in Japan for one year in 2003, and looking at your lunchbox ideas makes us so nostalgic for Japan.

  34. Hey Biggie,

    I remember a while back, you had mentioned ichiban kan as an online store. I have in the past ordered from them, but have just noticed that it doesn’t seem to be online anymore. Do you know of any online stores that are like ichiban kan that are online.

    Thanks!

  35. Haven’t see a new post since March of this year. Are you still blogging? Hope all is okay with you.

  36. There were some very nasty comments on one of the other posts. I’m sure that didn’t deter Biggie, but maybe she’s taking a break. I hope Biggie comes back, I really have enjoyed her Blog and all the time she’s taken to provide us Bento’ers a place to ‘plug in’. Miss you Biggie!

  37. Hiya :)

    Ickle Frenchie here just starting the bento adventures. I came across your website and utterly loved it. Thank you very much for all those tips, they’re very useful and I love all your ideas. :)
    Have a beautiful and yummy life. :)

  38. I love this bento boxes, nice idea=)

  39. Very cool! Healthy & practical:)

  40. This looks delicious. Thanks for posting all your instructions and recipes. I’ve just discovered bento and your site and I’ve been playing around with some bento-ish plastic containers I got. There’s a Japanese market in my Midwestern city (surprise!) and they have darn near everything. I’m in love with sticky rice!

    I’m in a long-distance relationship and must fly to see my bf, so packing a travel bento is a fantabulous idea. I can’t wait to try it. Beats overpriced airport food and those horrible things they call cookies on the plane!

  41. (sorry, with correct link)

    Crab Risotto Cakes with Spicy Remoulade

    They are elegant, delicious, easy, and the perfect use for the giant pot of risotto I always seem to have left after we’ve eaten it for a few days.

    Recipe here: http://wp.me/puWta-8y

    Let me know what you think!

  42. I used left-over mushroom risotto to make similar burgers/cakes and took them to work for lunch. They were quite tasty! (definitely will try this again)

    Hope you’re ok and you’ll be back to blogging soon!

  43. Hello Biggie,
    i’m Rocío Macho, publisher for n magazine, a publication about children, for
    modern parents, from Brazil. We are going to publish a report about the
    “Bentos”, and would like to have in high resolution some pictures from your
    blog. Is this possible? I’ve alreade sent you an email with this same subjet. Please answer me!

  44. Bento boxes look great for kids and adults. Everything looks yummy and the pictures are fantastic. I’m going to try this recipe. I think my kids will love it.

  45. We are going to publish a report about the
    “Bentos”, and would like to have in high resolution some pictures from your
    blog. Is this possible? I’ve alreade sent you an email with this same subjet. Please answer me!

  46. I’ll start practising on making these so that my son will enjoy his lunch when he goes to school next year. I won’t have any problem with the grapes though. He devours them seeded or not.

  47. Lucky son for having school lunches like that. :))) You’re very creative. The food looks delicious so I won’t be surprised if your son eats it all. lol.

  48. Looks delicious! Merry Cristmas!

  49. Yes, I think this blog is finished.

  50. Sorry about the total silence guys. Now going through a yucky divorce and all that entails; not a good time to be much of a public person.

  51. I’m very sorry to hear about the divorce. Hopefully things will be better for you and yours after the proceedings are finished and a new chapter can begin. Take care. Cathy

  52. Oh, Biggie! I am so so sorry to hear that you’ve been experiencing such an awful thing during your absence. By all means, take some time to adjust to this new lifestyle, which won’t be easy. Very relieved to hear that you are alive and well though. I’ll be praying for you and your family.

  53. do take care, biggie. love your blog, it’s been an inspiration. be praying for you

  54. so, I just found your awesome site when I was wondering if I could recreate yaki onigiri we have fallen in love with from trader joes. My search led me to your site and I am hooked!! Thank you for sharing all your ideas. I am so packing a bento tomorrow!

  55. That’s absolutely a great idea! I can’t believe I haven’t done if for my own kids…haha, and we use rice everyday. My son is in love with brown rice. I’m so doing this!

  56. Biggie – hope one day you can come back to us, I’ve gotten inspiration from you many a lunch. Very sorry to hear of what you’re going through. See you soon I hope!

  57. I love this bento boxes, nice idea=)

  58. I did a small blog post on my blog about you and bento boxes I hope you can come visit..www DOT bstoffrm DOT com [NOTE: edited for dead link]

  59. I may not be a five year old, but I doubt I’d ever get bored eating out of lunch boxes like these! Fantastic, and just so visually appealing :)

  60. I’m so sorry to hear about your divorce. I know how hard these can be for everyone involved, wish you well, and hope, when you have some time, you’ll drop us a line or two (even if you don’t return to blogging) just to let your us know you’re o.k.

  61. thanks for that recipe. I love everything zucchini..

  62. I’ve been mostly silent here, but I love your posts and I hope you’re holding up together through the divorce process. <3

    Hang in there!

  63. This is so great! I’m in college and packing a quick lunch is the best way I’ve found to save a lot of money. I also really appreciate you not “dumbing down” adult food for your child. Keep up the great work!

  64. hi biggie, hope you’re doing okay. i’m sure it’s hard to blog about bento, considering the reason you started it in the first place, but as a reader i pray that things will turn up and that you will drop a line or two. perhaps even return to bentoing. you’ve been an inspiration, biggie. lotsa love!

  65. your bento is so good! and rabit picks “dakituite” is cute.l’m looking forword to your new post.

  66. Miss your updates :(
    I hope everything is okay!

  67. I also have never heard of peeled grapes. The lunch box looks very colorful and inviting.

  68. I’m still here.
    And waiting.

  69. Fantastic! we love this site and think your idea’s are fantastic. We have a similar idea to make food fun for kids using westernised bento over here in Australia. If you dont mind us sharing our link its at http://www.neat2eat.com.au :)

  70. Hey Biggie!

    You prob dont remember me because I most likely never posted (but I did lurk, LOTS of lurking), I just wanted to say, I hope everything is going okay for you. I havent been in food-blog mode in a long time, but school term is begining soon and forsome reason I thought of YOU.

    Even if you dont post, I bet your boy is still enjoying bentos (though theyre most likely bigger now) hehe.

  71. I miss you. ;-;

  72. The lunch box is so great and actually I admire you that you are so creative cook and you manage to turn almost every leftover into such a wonderful lunch box.

  73. Biggie:

    Hope you still check your site. We miss you and hope you are doing well and will come back one day. Love.

  74. Dear Biggie,
    We all miss you and wish you & yours well. Your blog is enduringly useful and I still refer the bento-curious to it.
    All the best to you & your family, and I, along with others, hope to hear from you again.

  75. I love what you do and hope you will return when you are able. I have been enjoying the archives.

  76. These risotto cakes are so good, and so easy to make, i made this for my self and oh this as yummy!

  77. Biggie, I’ve very recently found your website and absolutely love it! There’s been a lot of reading your backdated posrs on my behalf! You truly are an inspiration, as many other readers have said. Just bought my first bento/dosirak box today. Hope your divorce isn’t too painful and you continue brightening my day with your posts soon :)

  78. @102 by Jasmine: Thanks for the comment, and so glad you’re enjoying the old posts! Just wrapped up the last of the divorce stuff, so that’s a big relief. Phew!

    Also experienced a bit of a stalker problem relating to the blog for a while there. Seems to have died down recently, though, so the road may be clear for posting again. Still feeling a bit apprehensive as it relates to my son, though.

  79. Yikes! Stalking?!? (Seriously, what goes ON in people’s heads?) Be safe, I hope all goes well, and I look forward to seeing the revival of this blog.

    I discovered this site not long ago, and I am so excited about giving bentos a try. My husband bought me a stack of bento books and my first two bento boxes for my birthday, and as soon as we settle into our new home and I make a field trip to a wonderful international market in the southern part of my state, I will start my own bento journey! I will be peeking in here from time to time for instpiration (and probably a few silly newbie questions!)

    Take care…

  80. This is a very good idea! Food isn’t wasted and you can make it something new and good :) Simple and easy solutions are so close.

  81. Hope you are doing better now, you are truly an inspiration for food bloggers and I can´t wait for your return.

    Best wishes :)
    H.-

  82. Thank you for the auspicious writeup. It in fact was a amusement account it.

    Look advanced to more added agreeable from you!
    By the way, how can we communicate?

  83. Not sure if you have it mentioned anywhere on the site, but i haven’t seen any updates since 2010. Just wanted to let you know you still have fans out here wondering where you disappeared too, and that we miss your stuff.

  84. hi, Mrs.Biggie,

    I thought you packed bento like Japanese moms do. It looks yummy.^^ That’s because you live in Japan.

    I make bento for my girlfriend and me everyday.

  85. umm….. make more posts.

    please

  86. Thanks for this cool idea! I always used to make a salad with the leftover risotto.

  87. Do you think these would freeze well like okonomiyaki?

    • Yes, these will freeze just fine. Be sure to wrap airtight before freezing to prevent freezer burn.

  88. Not all of us can buy teriyaki & pineapple chicken meatballs. Do you have a recipe for them so we can make them ourselves?

    • That’s a good idea for a future post!

  89. We miss you and your wonderful posts. <3

    • I’m back now! Sorry for the extended sabbatical…

  90. I peeled my grapes when I was a kid too, glad I wasn’t the only one haha

  91. Those pan fried risoto cake sounds so tasty we would like them in our lunch box and those lunch accessories are just adorable! Cheers!

    • Thank you! The risotto cakes hold up well in packed lunches.

  92. Really loved the recipes and the cute bentos. Not too cutsy or time consuming but very nice to look at as well as pretty tasty looking.

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