Transform your leftover pasta and rice into exciting new meals


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You know how it goes. Containers shoved to the back of the fridge hold what will eventually become mysterious lumps either covered in fuzzy mold or crystallized into a food-based rock formation. Letting leftovers go to waste is bad for your wallet. It's challenging to transform leftovers into dishes that won’t insult your taste buds — rice again? — so here are some ways to give new life to your old food.


Pleasing pasta

Leftover pasta can be a blessing or a curse. Some dishes, such as lasagna or baked ziti, are made for nuking and eating again or, even better, skipping the reheating and eating Photo by Jessica Mendezcold. Others, usually less saucy or cheesy variations, suffer immensely upon reheating. Enter the mighty frittata, a surefire egg dish that is made for salvaging leftovers. Got a spare bell pepper, some wilting spinach and maybe an onion that has seen better days? Chop 'em up and add them into a yummy egg mixture. This trick works marvelously for pasta as well, and helps you stretch what could have been a lackluster meal for one into an elegant, crowd pleasing meal for four to six people.

I recently found myself in possession of some leftover Spaghetti Aglio E Olio I made using Ina Garten’s foolproof recipe, and it was the perfect base for Spaghetti Frittata. Domenica Cooks has a wonderful recipe that works with or without the suggested anchovies. The creamy, crunchy pie made four very filling meals, whether served with a salad or sandwiched between two soft, thick slices of honey wheat bread.

You can make a frittata with gluten-free pasta, too! Martha Stewart’s genius recipe for Pasta and Cheese Frittata was perfect for using up some leftover quinoa pasta with spinach and chickpeas I had on hand. The addition of ricotta cheese is a brilliant way to add creaminess and get even more use out of a carton of eggs.


Reinventing rice

I grew up eating leftover rice. My mom was a wizard at reheating it to taste almost as good as fresh. Me? Not so much. My often unevenly cooked leftovers put me off reheated rice for ages, but I have learned to embrace this sometimes difficult grain. The trick? Disguise the hell out of it. Okay, sprinkling cold, hard rice with water and even laying a pat of butter on it before reheating does help. Also, when I’m reheating rice on the stove, I check it often and stir every couple of minutes so I don’t get an unappealing mishmash of soggy rice with crunchy bits.

The easiest way to reuse rice is to use it as filling for a wrap. Any combination of rice, veggies and protein will do. Use all your leftovers from the previous dinner in a wrap and you’ll get at least an extra meal out of the food than you would get from just heating it up. Vegetarian Gastronomy’s recipe for Grilled Lentil, Brown Rice and Spinach Wraps inspired my salmon, rice and broccoli grilled wrap.

If you want to completely hide the rice, make Rice Pancakes using the easy recipe from Family Home and Life and make last night’s dinner into today’s breakfast, or go wild and make these pancakes for dinner! I added cinnamon to mine for an extra hint of flavor. Also, my batter was a bit thick because I Photo by Jessica Mendezused coconut flour, which tends to absorb more liquid than other flours. My pancakes still cooked up nicely and had a great texture. I thinned out part of the batch with almond milk, going a splash at a time and pulsing in the blender until I reached my desired consistency, and these pancakes were delicious as well. Top with fresh fruit and either maple syrup or honey and dig in!

One of my favorite foods is a good old fashioned rice ball, especially if it’s covered in marinara sauce and ricotta cheese. I was delighted to discover this recipe from Woman’s Day for oven-baked rice balls. Initially, the mixture didn’t bind as well as I would have liked, but I added a bit of breadcrumbs, mixing until everything held together, and packed the mixture into a quarter-cup scoop instead of a tablespoon, which created a little “cake” when gently loosened from the scoop and placed onto the baking sheet. Top with a dollop of ricotta and marinara sauce after baking for savory cupcakes that are not only filling but totally adorable and way healthier than your average rice ball.

Try these recipes and turn those leftovers into magical meals. Tell us: what are you going to make with your leftovers?