Back to School Bento 1

Dear Hubby needed a lunch today for teacher training.  I had leftover Chinese food in the fridge to serve as lunches this week and keep it simple.  BUT, the school ordered Chinese for lunch yesterday for all the teachers.  To change it up, I decided to make a more western meal.  So we have a two tiered bento with a three course lunch.

This is the top level. The first course is veggies: carrots and cucumber with a Laughing Cow wedge as a dip. The dessert is apple bars cut in half (to fit in the space), slices of frozen strawberries, and a some thin orange wedges. The center cup contains Parmesan cheese for the next level.
This is the lower level of the same box. Here I whipped up some ramen noodles with a tomato sauce - sauteed red onion, red wine, crushed tomatoes, and herbs - and pulled some lovely petit farci balls from the freezer.  Lettuce leaves and cherry tomatoes fill the gaps.

What's a petit farci?  Glad you asked!  :)  It's a French meatloaf - sort of.  There is a lot more veg in a petit farci than in any American meatloaf.  This makes it a great way to sneak veggies into a picky eater's diet.  It also stretches a small amount of meat.  The actual dish might look something like this:
Each veggie is hollowed out and restuffed with the meat and veggie mix.  This image has a lot of bread in it.  Mine doesn't have any bread at all. 

Basically, I take whatever veggies I have on hand: mushrooms, small eggplants, zucchini (this time of year we have lots), tomatoes, potatoes, onions, and peppers (the mini peppers can be very cute) and I hollow them out.  I take the pieces I've removed from each veggie and put them through a food processor until I have a finely grated veggie mix.  I sauté the veggies in butter and olive oil (a little butter - just for flavor) with garlic and herbs de Provence until tender and fairly dry (there can be a lot of moisture in the veggies).  I let the mixture cool and add it to about a pound of ground beef.  I add an egg, some salt and pepper, and mix together (à la meatloaf).  You can also add Parmesan cheese if you like. Then, restuff the veggies and bake at 400 degrees for about 20-30 minutes. 

I typically make A LOT of this when I decide I have the time to play in the kitchen.  They make a lovely dinner when you have guests and can be made a few hours in advance which is always nice. 

I always have leftover farci filling.  I use a cookie scoop and fill mini muffin tins and bake that way.  Because the pieces are smaller than your veggies, these cook a lot faster, so do watch them in the oven.  I then freeze the mini muffin trays until the farci balls are solid and then remove the farci balls and place them in a labeled bag in the freezer for lunches and quick snacks. 

  • Deglaze your sauté pan with white wine (a little - you don't want too much moisture)
  • Try different meats.  This is traditionally done with veal but it's expensive, so I usually just use beef.  But you could do half ground pork, half beef.  You might also try turkey or chicken.
  • Add bread or perhaps some leftover rice to the mix (you may need to add a little milk or egg to keep the mix moist).
  • Try different cheeses.
  • Press the farci filling into different shapes - hearts, stars, leaves, dinosaurs, whatever.  Small cookie cutters would be cute for this.  You could even pan fry the shapes for your little audience; little kids like to help make the shapes.
  • Take the farci filling and make dim sum with it.
Do you have any ideas?  Please share!

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