Come Over for Crusty Casserole

Dear Helena,

Last night a friend called in tears to tell me she got dumped. I invited her over to dinner. I’d had some other friends over two days earlier, and I still had leftover curried lentil soup and butterscotch pudding. My friend and I had the remains of the soup and pudding and a bottle of wine and had a great time. I saw no need to mention I’d made the whole meal 48 hours ago. Is it OK to serve leftovers to guests? Is it ever not OK? Should you be honest about it with your guests, or can you fudge it a little? —Thrifty Hostess

Dear Thrifty Hostess,

Personally, I love being served leftovers, because it shows my host feels comfortable enough with me not to stand on ceremony. And now that many people are trying to economize, it doesn’t make sense to waste yesterday’s half-eaten roasted chicken out of a misplaced sense of shame. Plus, some dishes actually taste better after sitting around a day or two, like most soups, stews, and braised dishes. Here are some tips for making leftovers sexier:

Be vague. Though you shouldn’t lie and pretend you whipped up the cassoulet that afternoon, there’s no need to go into detail about the item’s age and provenance.

Shun the microwave. Molly Wizenberg, author of A Homemade Life, says, “The oven is much better at getting a little color on [leftovers], or even the toaster oven.” The microwave can have a weird effect on texture, turning pizza flaccid. And while the ping of the microwave is a lonely sound, the smell of something heating in the oven, or on the stovetop, makes a kitchen feel welcoming.

Reshape or replate. Don’t just set a Tupperware container on the table with a few forks. It only takes a minute to replate.

Add garnishes or frills. I had leftover artichoke soup at a friend’s house recently. It tasted wonderful, and I was honored that she shared it with me. Nonetheless, it was a weird whitish-gray color, and a bit of parsley would not have gone amiss. So snip some fresh herbs over the dish or add a drizzle of olive oil. A great bottle of wine will turn leftovers into a feast; if that’s not in your budget, a loaf of good bread or a freshly made salad or dessert could do the trick.

Finally, the one time it’s not OK to serve leftovers is if you’re having a dinner party, because guests usually have higher expectations when invited to an event rather than an impromptu weeknight dinner. Using leftover cooked ingredients is OK, like some roasted tomatoes or white beans, but you should not serve leftover dishes.

CHOW’s Table Manners column appears every Wednesday. Have a Table Manners question? Email Helena.