Isn't it funny how different families interpret traditions differently? Like almost everyone I know has Santa come down the chimney on December 24, but not at all in the same way. Does he wrap his gifts or doesn't he? Doe he give the children all of their gifts, or are some of them from Mom and Dad? Does he leave a note on the cookie plate or just some crumbs? Does he bring everything the kid asked for and more? Or does he pick and choose from the wish list?
And then there is Thanksgiving. While nearly everyone has a turkey, there are those families who wouldn't dream of veering from a standard set of side dishes, and those who like to try something new every year. Cranberry sauce or cranberry relish? Canned or fresh? Should the stuffing go int he bird or in a casserole? Can you believe my husband's family doesn't care whether there is a pumpkin pie or not, as long as the chocolate pies are fresh and plentiful?
Anyway, I had never heard of green bean casserole until I met my husband. You know the one, with the French's dried onions on top and the recipe that comes on the side of the onion can? (I mean the casserole has onions on top, not my husband). Well, apparently, in his family that has almost no traditions whatsoever for any holiday, the green bean casserole is not to be left out of Thanksgiving.
So, when I mentioned to my mother that my new boyfriend would come to Thanksgiving and he really loved this green bean casserole stuff, she said, "Just the one with the Campbell's soup and the fried onions? No problem. I can make that." What? You know about that stuff, Mom? I've never eaten it!
Anyway, for better or for worse, the green bean casserole with the mushroom soup and the freeze-dried onions graced the Thanksgiving table unfailingly for many years. Somewhere in the ensuing 18 years it got, ironically, dropped from Thanksgiving at my in-laws. My mother, however, will always make it for my husband if we are going to be at her house on Thanksgiving.
So when we got our first green beans in our Abundant Harvest box at the beginning of the summer, my husband said "We could make green bean casserole!" I made stir-fry. When we got our next batch my husband said "We could make green bean casserole!" I made green bean fries. And one week I made a green bean salad and one week I even wrapped green beans into little bacon-y bundles. I roasted them and blanched them and sautéed them. But I didn't make green bean casserole. I mean, the point of green bean casserole is to take a bag of green beans out of the freezer, a can of soup and a can of onions out of the pantry, combine and bake. It really doesn't taste good and it is really unimpressive. Why invest a lot of time and effort into that?
Well of course you know where this is going. When I got the fresh box this last Saturday, I went to put the green beans away in the refrigerator... right next to the green beans from the week before. Okay, I said to myself, this is silly. Whatever am I going to do with TWO huge bags of green beans? And then this little voice in my head (that sounded eerily like my husband's voice) said "You could make green bean casserole."
Oh, okay!!! I'll do it!
So I googled it, and I found Alton Brown's recipe for "The Best Ever Green Bean Casserole." I think that is a little like saying "The best ever blank sheet of paper." Or "The best ever square of sidewalk." I'm not going to argue that it isn't the best ever, but really winning that title doesn't give you too much in the way of bragging rights.
However, (and I feel like I say this a lot on this here blog) although I went into this a little dubiously, I was very pleasantly surprised. This turned out to be very different from the traditional old frozen beans and mushroom soup standard, despite the fact that it is made with green beans, soupy mushrooms, and crisped onions. It is, of course, fresher and crisper. It is creamy and mushroomy, but lighter, and the beans actually taste like beans. I know, it's a strange concept.
At any rate, it was a hit at our house, and I guess if you are going to make green bean casserole, this is the one to make. It is delicious, for a casserole. It is far crisper and more flavorful than the name casserole might connote. And the onions are to die for. It just doesn't hold a candle to green beans wrapped in bacon. But then, bacon is a very unfair competitor.
So, here is Alton Brown's recipe. I didn't change a thing.
For the topping:
- 2 medium onions, thinly sliced
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons panko bread crumbs
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- Nonstick cooking spray
For beans and sauce:
- 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
- 1 pound fresh green beans, rinsed, trimmed and halved
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 12 ounces mushrooms, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 cup chicken broth
- 1 cup half-and-half
Preheat the oven to 475 degrees F.
Combine the onions, flour, panko and salt in a large mixing bowl and toss to combine. Coat a sheet pan with nonstick cooking spray and evenly spread the onions on the pan. Place the pan on the middle rack of the oven and bake until golden brown, approximately 30 minutes. Toss the onions 2 to 3 times during cooking. Once done, remove from the oven and set aside until ready to use. Turn the oven down to 400 degrees F.
While the onions are cooking, prepare the beans. Bring a gallon of water and 2 tablespoons of salt to a boil in an 8-quart saucepan. Add the beans and blanch for 5 minutes. Drain in a colander and immediately plunge the beans into a large bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Drain and set aside.
Melt the butter in a 12-inch cast iron skillet set over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms, 1 teaspoon salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms begin to give up some of their liquid, approximately 4 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and nutmeg and continue to cook for another 1 to 2 minutes. Sprinkle the flour over the mixture and stir to combine. Cook for 1 minute. Add the broth and simmer for 1 minute. Decrease the heat to medium-low and add the half-and-half. Cook until the mixture thickens, stirring occasionally, approximately 6 to 8 minutes.
Remove from the heat and stir in 1/4 of the onions and all of the green beans. Top with the remaining onions. Place into the oven and bake until bubbly, approximately 15 minutes. Remove and serve immediately.