Category Archives: casserole

Fresh Green Bean Casserole: Look Ma, No Cans!

right out of the oven, the sauce is pretty loose, but it thickens as it sits or after being refrigerated

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 you can deep-fry your own shallots, or if you have access to an asian market, you might be able to get them in large quantities for cheap; also great for topping bagels and encrusting basically anything savoryclassic. 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:

Vegan/Lactose-free: Use a non-dairy milk (Chocolate & Zucchini reports having good success with oat milk in a similar casserole) and substitute vegetable oil or shortening for the butter.

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.Happy Thanksgiving! 

Recipe: Fresh Green Bean Casserole

Ingredients:green beans seem so simple, but all the trimming is such a pain in the ass; this is the main argument for using frozen/canned: it is so much quicker

  • 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)

Method:

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).

steamingdrainingrouxbechamel with mushrooms  

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.

beans & bechamel, ready to top & bake This is comfort, reborn as sophistication. But without losing the comfort part.

The CSA 2010 Files: Swiss Chard Gratin

This is kind of "greens for people who hate greens."

Greens Fatigue

Since greens are one of the first crops you can harvest, the first weeks of most CSAs involve lots of them. In addition to the nettles, we’ve had lambsquarter (another “weed”), collards, chard, a variety of chois, and 1-2 bunches of kale every week.

I usually just sauté them with some garlic (and sometimes ginger or onion or a hot pepper) until they’re wilted and then I dress them with something acidic (lemon, white wine vinegar, rice vinegar) and something umami (tamari, crumbled bacon, grated parmesan). Salt and pepper to taste. That varies from great to mediocre. Sometimes the mild bitterness of the greens marries perfectly with the salty, rich, bright, savory accompaniments and it seems like exactly the kind of fresh, simple, delicious, nutrient-rich food that I joined a CSA to enjoy. Other times, it doesn’t matter if the greens are cooked in rendered bacon fat and topped with msg, it just tastes virtuous, and I mean that in the pejorative sense. I think chard definitely wins for "prettiest" of the cooking greens.

So this week, faced with two bunches of chard—one we didn’t manage to eat last week and another from the new box, I decided to try a classic preparation I’d heard of but never tasted.

Nothing Garlic, Butter and Cheese can’t fix

A gratin is just a casserole. It usually involves vegetables, pasta or meat tossed in a classic béchamel or flour-thickened milk sauce and topped with breadcrumbs and grated cheese. According to Wikipedia, the name comes from the French verb “gratter” meaning “to scrape,” which refers to the scrapings or gratings of bread or cheese that form the upper crust. Fun food idiom trivia: le gratin has the same metaphorical significance as “upper crust” in English. 

Baked mac & cheese is a gratin. So is the classic green bean casserole people make for Thanksgiving, even though most people let Campbell’s make the white sauce (which is basically what any flour-thickened cream soup is). But ironically, potatoes au gratin isn’t—or at least not the ones I’ve had, which are basically just potato slices in white sauce, or like a gratin without le gratin.

Chard gratin is about what you’d expect if you substituted the pasta in baked macaroni and cheese or the green beans in green bean casserole with cooked leafy greens—it’s creamy and savory and rich. It seems like a winter dish, especially because it requires that you turn on the oven, which I admit is sort of a drag in July, but it turned out to be exactly the sort of thing I was looking for to mix up my summer greens routine.leftovers for breakfast the next morning. daytime lighting is just so much nicer, even though it's less gooey and oozing because it's cold here

You could use any cooking green you like (epicurious has a nice visual guide to some of the more common ones). I can’t tell much of a difference between them after they’ve been wilted. Sure, some of them are a little more or less bitter and some stay chewier after cooking, but I wouldn’t want to have to identify them in a blind taste test. I assume the reason chard gratin is so much more common than spinach gratin (798000 google results compared to 164000) even though the latter is the more popular green by far is because casseroles are a handy way to use the stems as well as the leaves, and that’s just not an issue for spinach. Sadly, the stems don’t retain much of their spectacular color after cooking, but they are tender and mildly-flavored so it’s a shame to throw them away. They melt right into the casserole along with the softened onion and leaves.

I scanned a few recipes and then basically improvised based on what I had on hand. Precise instructions available below the jump, but here’s the short version you should feel free to adapt/improvise on at will: Blanche 2-3 bunches of chopped greens in boiling water, stems first for 2 minutes if using and leaves for another 1-3 depending on how hearty they are (spinach only needs a minute, kale or chard will take 3 to soften fully). Drain well. Then, sauté a fistful of chopped onions and/or garlic in some kind of fat, stir in a couple of tablespoons of flour and then gradually whisk in about a cup of milk. Season with salt and pepper and a little grated nutmeg, stir in some grated cheese if you want it, and add the well-drained greens. Spoon the mixture into a buttered baking dish, top with buttered breadcrumbs mixed with some herbs and grated parmesan, and bake (350-400F) until golden and bubbling (about 20 minutes).

To make it more like a main than a side, add some cooked pasta or a protein like leftover cooked meat, diced seitan, reconstituted tvp, or canned crab or tuna along with the cooked greens. You could also throw in some other vegetables, steamed or blanched unless they’re tender enough to eat raw. Following from the Thanksgiving classic, you could make a semi-homemade version by using a can or two of cream soup (probably onion and/or mushroom) instead of making a white sauce. Actually, with the green bean casserole in mind, I might try adding some crispy fried shallots to the topping the next time I make this. Which, if the CSA keeps up the current pace of the greens, will probably be very soon. 

Recipe: Swiss Chard Gratin

Ingredients:

  • 2 bunches Swiss Chard, leaves and stems (or another hearty green)
  • 2 cups water
  • 4 T. fat, divided plus more for greasing pan (butter, lard, or your preferred oil will all work fine)
  • 1 large onion
  • 3 garlic scapes (seasonally-available green curly garlic tops) or 1-2 cloves garlic
  • 1 cup milk (may sub oat milk or another vegan milk if desired—per Chocolate & Zucchini)
  • 1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup (2 oz) shredded cheddar (or gruyere or fontina or emmenthaler)
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan, divided
  • 3/4 cup breadcrumbs
  • 2 T. chopped flat-leaf parsley (or another herb or combination of herbs)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Method:

1. Preheat the oven to 400 F. Put the water in a large pot with a pinch of salt, set over high heat, and cover.

2. Remove the leaves from the stems of the chard by holding the stem in one hand and stripping the leaves upwards with the other. The stem should naturally break off where it’s small enough to include with the leaves.

check out how much vegetable matter you have to toss if you don't cook the stems 

3. Chop and rinse the stems well and add to the water, which should be boiling (if not, either you’re speedy or your stove is slow and either way, wait ‘til it is boiling before putting the leaves in). Cook the stems for about 2 minutes before adding the leaves. Then, boil/steam the leaves for about 3 minutes more (less if using a softer green like spinach—you just want it to just wilt, not dissolve). Drain the greens well.

4. Heat 2 Tablespoons of fat over medium heat in a large skillet or pot while you dice the onion and mince the garlic. Sweat the alliums until translucent and beginning to brown (5-10 minutes).

scapes! browned onion and garlic

5. Meanwhile, melt the remaining 2 T. fat if solid and combine with the breadcrumbs, 2 T. parmesan, the parsley, and salt and pepper to taste.

flat-leaf (Italian) parsley breadcrumbs, butter, parsley, parmesan, salt and pepper

6. Sprinkle 2 T. flour over the onions and stir. Cook for 1-2 minutes or until golden brown.

onions sprinkled with flour after the first addition of milk--stir well after each addition to make sure the flour blends in smoothly so the sauce isn't lumpy

7. Add the milk a few tablespoons at a time, stirring well after each addition. This should form a very thick, creamy sauce.

8. Grate some nutmeg over the mixture (or add pre-grated nutmeg), and add the cheddar, 2 T. parmesan, and salt and pepper to taste.

basically a condensed version of onion soup; with cheeses and greens

9. Add the drained greens to the white sauce and stir well to combine.

10. Grease a medium-sized baking dish. Spread the greens evenly in the dish and top with the breadcrumb mixture.

11. Bake 20-25 minutes or until the dish is bubbling and the breadcrumbs are beginning to brown.

I started with 1 cup breadcrumbs and that was too much--I put 3/4 cup above, but 1/2 cup would probably be plenty hot out of the oven, still bubbling at the edges