CSA 2010 Epilogue
I made this a couple of months ago when I was still getting pounds of gorgeous, fresh, gigantic green beans from Needle Lane Farms every week. However, it would be tasty even with far less gorgeous beans. Really, the entire point of green bean bean casserole is to disguise green beans that have been rendered essentially flavorless by canning by drowning them in a mushroom-infused béchamel and topping them with crispy fried onions (a combination that could make just about anything taste good). I threw this version together one night when I had some milk and mushrooms on hand, and I was sick of eating all those gorgeous, fresh green beans sautéed with garlic or steamed and dressed with oil and vinegar. I wanted something less summery, less virtuous, and frankly, a little less like green beans.
The title of the entry isn’t meant to imply that the can-based version is bad. I love the recipe Dorcas Reilly came up with when she was the head of Campbell’s Test Kitchen in the 1950s. It may have been a naked ploy to get people to buy more Campbell’s products, but marketing alone couldn’t have turned it into a holiday classic. Reilly and the test kitchen came up with dozens of recipes, most of which would now be candidates for the Gallery of Regrettable Food. But even though green bean casserole is a quintessential 1950s mush-from-cans kind of recipe, it’s also essentially a classic gratin. I can’t think of a better way to make lifeless canned vegetables not just edible but delicious than to submerge them in a savory, roux-thickened milk sauce (which is all Campbell’s condensed cream soups really are). The basic formula—condensed cream soup + canned vegetable + crunchy topping—would probably be pretty tasty no matter what flavor of soup, kind of vegetable, or crunchy topping you used. Cream of onion with canned peas topped with bread crumbs. Cream of celery with canned succotash topped with crushed saltines. It may never be a culinary revelation, but it’s hard to think of an easier, faster, or tastier way to make a vegetable dish from a handful of ingredients that keep indefinitely in your pantry.
The one real benefit to making a dish like this from scratch—aside from trying to use up CSA produce—is having the ability to customize it. Personally, I like just enough nutmeg in my béchamel to make it a little spicy. I like my mushrooms minced so finely I will never have to bite into one. I like my green beans with a little structural integrity but soft enough to cut with a fork. And for the topping, I’ll take fried shallots over French’s onions any day.
Have It Your Way
Some other variations you might consider, especially if you’re catering to a restrictive-eater this holiday season:
Gluten-free: Substitute rice flour for the wheat flour OR instead of starting with a roux, heat the butter and milk to a simmer and then whisk in a slurry made from 2 T. arrowroot powder or cornstarch combined with 2 T. milk or water and cook for a few minutes, stirring constantly, until thickened.
Mushroom-free: Leave out the mushrooms. Instead, add an onion cooked to a deep golden brown in 4-8 tablespoons of butter over low heat (which should take 30-50 minutes to get it really deep French Onion Soup brown), or any kind of cured pork product (guanciale or pancetta if you want to be trendy), or 4-5 tablespoons of nutritional yeast, or a cup of shredded, sharp cheese to the hot milk.
Lower-carb: Substitute cream and/or nut milk for the whole milk (1/2 cream and 1/2 cashew milk might be good) and thicken the sauce with a cup of shredded cheese, 2 tempered eggs, or 1/2 t. guar gum or xantham gum sprinkled over the heated milk while whisking.
Lower-fat/lower-calorie: Omit the butter and flour and use skim milk instead of whole. Heat the milk almost to a simmer and then add a slurry made from 4 T. arrowroot powder or cornstarch combined with 4 T. milk or water, stirring constantly. Cook for a few minutes, still stirring, until thickened.
Pork It Up: Fry up about 1/2 lb bacon or salt pork until the fat is rendered and the meat is browned. Drain the meat on paper towels and use about 4 T. of the rendered fat as the basis for the roux (reserve the rest for another use). Dice or crumble the cooked meat into small pieces and mix it into the casserole before baking.
French It Up:
Waste some pricey Use haricots verts and call it “haricots verts gratin” instead of “green bean casserole.” (That’s AHR-eee-ko VEHR GRAH-tin).
Quicker: If you want homemade taste without having to fuss with fresh green beans, use frozen green beans—steam them on the stovetop or microwave just until thawed while you’re making the white sauce.
Recipe: Fresh Green Bean Casserole
- 4 cups fresh green beans
- 4 T. butter
- 4 T. all-purpose flour
- 2 cups whole milk
- 8 oz. shitake mushrooms (or cremini, portabella, porcini, morel—if dried, rehydrate)
- 1/2 fresh nutmeg (or 1/2 t. ground)
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1/4-1/2 cup fried shallots or onions
- 1/4-1/2 cup sliced almonds (optional)
1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Heat 1-2 cups of water in a large pot with a steamer basket if you have one (if you don’t, it won’t make a big difference).
2. Wash and trim the green beans, and cut them into bite-sized pieces. Add to the prepared pot and cook: 2-3 minutes, or just until they’re a bright green (if you want them to be crisp), 5-7 minutes or just until you can pierce them with a fork (if you want them to be tender-crisp), 8-12 minutes or until you can pierce them easily (if you want them to be tender).
3. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a medium skillet. Add the flour and stir to make a smooth paste (or “roux”). Cook for 2-3 minutes or until beginning to brown slightly.
4. Gradually whisk in the milk, starting with a few tablespoons at a time and mixing until the liquid is fully incorporated before adding more.
5. Slice, dice, or mince the mushrooms and add to the flour-thickened milk mixture (i.e. a béchamel). Bring to a simmer and cook for 5-10 minutes. Season to taste with nutmeg, salt, and pepper.
6. Butter a casserole dish, combine the milk mixture and green beans and add them to the dish, and sprinkle the fried shallots or onions and the almonds, if using, on top.
7. Bake 30-35 minutes or until the casserole is thick and bubbling and the onions are beginning to brown.