We don’t have leftovers. We have tapas, bento bowls, cold plates, and sampling menus. Sure, the ingredients are mostly small servings of “leftovers” that would be insufficient or strange as a full meal (four spears of asparagus, lunchmeat, half a can of cannellini beans, and a hardboiled egg, for instance).
But when you look at these bits and ends as standalone elements that, with a little doctoring, could be a collection of individual morsels, all of a sudden your lunch goes from “meh” to “ooo!” Wrap the ham smeared with a little dijon and a shake of thyme around the asparagus, devil the egg, smash the beans with garlic and olive oil on a piece of crusty bread, and throw a little pile of olives or cornichons on the side, and hey – you’ve got a spring sampler that would cost $16 at a restaurant. It becomes an episode of “Iron Chef WTF is in the Fridge,” and you’re the winner.
Part of the transformation is physical. Even if you don’t do any further cooking or prep to the things you’re working with and just pay attention to the presentation, the mundane becomes special. Take the lunch shown in the photo above. I took a bunch of small, orphan portions of pickled beets, ginger carrot soup, cumin roasted carrots, home-canned peaches, and smoked bacon baked beans, and put them into a series of little glass ramekins. Then I sliced up a remnant hunk of aged gouda, threw it all on a slate with a few crackers, and served a nutritious color study that was really fun to eat AND cleaned some random crap out of my fridge. Normal? Probably not. Do I give a damn? Not even a little.
The second – and probably more important – part of this concept is what to call the new creation. Leftovers are boring. Small plates are fancy pants. Toast made out of day-old baguette sounds second-class, while crostini piques the appetite. Menu writers know this. With word choice alone, they turn pizza into flatbread. Sausage on a cutting board is charcuterie. Grilled cheese becomes panini. Chips and salsa are fried tortilla wedges with pico de gallo. And (most of the time) they’re not even lying; they’re just picking different words. If they can do it, so can I.
In the end, you gotta eat – might as well have fun with it!