I agreed during the summer to publish this recipe, but what with life and such, I never actually did. I was reminded of it when I heard someone yesterday on the radio talking about what they were having for Thanksgiving dinner, and on the list was “green bean casserole.” We all know the one – all our mothers made it, and most of us have, too – that combines beans and Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup and is then covered with those French’s (nee Durkee) fried onions in a can (for which, as far as I know, there is no other known culinary function).
It’s a great, easy comfort-food vegetable, which is why, some months ago, I thought of it when preparing a birthday dinner for a friend who is one of the most straight-ahead beef-and-potatoes fellows you’re ever likely to meet, but since I was coming up with this menu in the 21st Century and in a place thick with foodies who would look askance at the very idea of using a canned, preservative-heavy soup as a sauce, I decided to try a different approach and recreate the exact taste and experience of the original dish, but using only fresh ingredients (except, of course, for those overly-processed but tasty Durkee’s onions – sorry French’s, but they’ll always be Durkee to me – for which there is no substitute.)
I have also decided, after several bakings, that adding a few slivered almonds to the mix for a bit of crunch is not a bad idea, either, so that option is included below.
Granted, the Campbell’s Soup idea is easier, but I think you’ll instantly appreciate the improvement in taste and feel on the tongue, and am confident that your family will gobble up this vegetable so fast you’ll wish you’d made more. No doubt about it.
RECIPE: (For 8-10 people.)
Two lbs. fresh green beans, snapped or cut into 2″ pieces.
(TIP: This recipe was invented using prepackaged fresh beans – like those sold at Costco and other big box stores – which generally come in quantities of about 2 lbs. sealed and wrapped in plastic with all the beans facing in the same direction for compactness. Don’t open the package! You will save yourself a great deal of time and trouble if you simply place the package, flat, on a cutting board, then while pressing down on it with one hand, cut the plastic (and all the beans) into thirds right down to the board with a large, sharp chef’s knife or equivalent. Two cuts and you’re done! My original technique was to rinse and then cut the beans, but you’ll find that this way is much more efficient.)
3 TBS butter
2 TBS flour
1 1 lb. package fresh mushrooms, sliced (I use standard button ones)
1 medium sweet onion, medium chopped
1 1/2 cups chicken stock (approx.)
3/4 cup heavy cream
dash of salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper (I just grind it into the pan, so approx.)
1/2 cup slivered almonds (entirely optional)
2 ‘cans’ French’s fried onions (Since your college years, the cans have shrunk and morphed into plastic 8 oz. containers pinched at the waist to make them seem larger, so these days, it takes two.)
Preparation: (Note: This can be done well ahead and set aside until time to bake for 1/2 hour before serving.)
Step 1: Parboil Beans
Once cut and washed, place beans into a large pot of water at a rolling boil for 10 minutes. When done, they should be tender but still have a slight crispness to them. Always test to achieve perfect doneness, then immediately place in colander under rapidly flowing cold water until they are quickly and completely cooled. Set aside while making sauce.
Step 2: Make Mushroom Sauce
Turn on oven to preheat to 350º if planning to cook right away.
Melt butter in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add onion and saute until transparent. Add mushrooms and continue stirring until onions begin to brown and mushrooms are thoroughly covered in butter.
Add flour by sprinkling over mixture to help it blend. (Note: the usual roux ratio rule [Aside: Try saying “usual roux ratio rule” three times fast. I couldn’t do it for laughing at myself every time I tried. I highly recommend it.] is equal butter and flour, however, since the mushrooms absorb a considerable amount of the oil, I pretend I only used two tablespoons of butter when calculating the flour.) Stir constantly for at least two minutes until flour has had time to cook, and roux forms and begins to have that nutty roux smell. Be careful not to burn.
Add chicken stock and stir until completely incorporated. Add cream and do the same. Add salt and pepper. Continue stirring until thickened and the consistency that undiluted Cream of Mushroom soup in the can would be if heated. If it is too soupy, you can dissolve another tablespoon of flour in some hot tap water and add and stir till it thickens up. If it is too thick, you can add a little more chicken stock until you’re pleased with your result.
Step 3: Combine
Mix sauce and beans (and slivered almonds, if you decide to add) in a large bowl until every bean is well covered, and place in well-buttered casserole dish. Pyrex 9″ by 13″ or similar should work.
Cover with fried onions right out of the cans.
Bake in a 350º oven for 30 minutes until sauce is bubbly around the edges and onions are browned.
Watch with wonder as this vegetable dish is the first to go!
© 2016, George Thomas Wilson. All rights reserved.