~It's Not Easy Being 60: The Green Bean Casserole~
Newsflash: The iconic green bean casserole turns 60 years old this year. Depending upon who you talk turkey to, the subject of "green bean casserole" will garner one of two responses: a loving look of childlike glee or a loathsome adult eye roll. In the event you are talking turkey to me, you'll get a unknowing shoulder shrug because the only thing I have in common with the green bean casserole is we were both born in 1955 -- I in a hospital in Palmerton, PA, and, the casserole in a Campbell's Test Kitchen in New Jersey. I've never made it or tasted it!
A bit about the original green bean casserole: The classic recipe consisted of five pantry-staple ingredients + "a dash of pepper": canned green beans, canned cream of mushroom soup, canned fried onions, milk and soy sauce (which surprises me because I would have guessed Worcestershire sauce). It is a true representation of 1950's style American 'cooking from cans and boxes' -- open the cans and/or boxes, mix everything together in one casserole and bake it.
"Ho, Ho, Ho!" ~ The Jolly Green Giant
I'm not here to criticize. Too many people love the tradition of this iconic casserole on their Thanksgiving table for me to do that, and, I am all about tradition -- while I like green beans in general, I've just always been a Brussels sprouts kinda gal on Thanksgiving. That said, if I'm going to make and taste a green bean casserole for the first time, I'll pass on all the canned stuff and create a version that, who knows, might become a tradition on my own Turkey Day table.
While the goal is to keep it simple, it goes without saying, I'm starting with fresh green beans -- blanched until crunch-tender. After that, just enough bacon (pancetta would be nice too) to add a bit of smoky flavor, sauteed with earthy mushrooms and the mandatory onion. The sauteed mushroom mixture combined with a creamy, nutmeg-kissed Gruyere cheese sauce, made with real cream, replaces the "cream of mushroom soup" -- a nice touch, don't you think?
2 pounds fresh, whole green beans, ends trimmed and discarded, remaining lengths cut in half (Note: When in comes to green beans, I prefer them cut into user-friendly lengths, as I find shoving 4" long green beans into my mouth most unladylike.)
4 strips thick-sliced bacon, cut into small 1/4" strips, 1/3 pound of bacon
2 cups medium-diced white mushroom caps
1 cup small-diced white yellow or sweet onion
4 tablespoons salted butter
4 tablespoons unbleached, all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup whole milk
2 cups heavy or whipping cream
2 teaspoons sea salt
freshly-ground and coarsely-groun peppercorn blend, to taste (Note: I use 60 grinds.)
2 cups finely-grated Gruyere cheese
1 cup panko breadcrumbs, for topping casserole
~ Step 1. In a 3 1/2-quart chef's pan bring 2 quarts of water to a boil. Add 2 teaspoons sea salt and the green beans. When water returns to a boil, adjust heat to a simmer and cook 4 minutes. Remove from heat, drain into a colander and run cold water through beans, tossing them in the colander, until cooled to room temp. Set aside to drain thoroughly.
~Step 2. In the same chef's pan, place the bacon pieces over medium heat and cook for 3 minutes. Add the mushrooms and onions to the pan and continue to saute, using a spatula to keep the mixture moving around in the pan, until the bacon, mushroom and onions are nicely golden around their edges, about 8-9 minutes.
Remove from heat, transfer mixture to a bowl or a plate and set aside.
~Step 4. Pour the milk into the pan, all at once, and, stir or whisk constantly until thickened, less than 1 minute. Add the cream, all at once, followed by the salt and freshly-ground peppercorn blend. Continue to stir or whisk constantly until the cream is ever-so-gently simmering and nicely thickened, about 2 minutes. Turn the heat off but leave the chef's pan remain on the hot stovetop. Add the grated cheese and stir until the mixture is thick and smooth.
Bake on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven for 28-30 minutes. Casserole will be bubbling around the edges and panko will be golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool about 15-20 minutes, to set up a bit, prior to serving.
It's never easy being a generic green bean casserole.
Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; cheese grater; 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/deep sides; colander; large spatula; whisk or large spoon; 13" x 9" x 2", 3-quart casserole
Cook's Note: In the event you are new to roasting a turkey for a traditional Thanksgiving feast, click into Category 15 or 18 of Kitchen Encounters to learn everything I know, plus all sorts of tips and advice, about ~ Roasting Poultry and Making Gravy Too: My Own Techniques and Oration (the long and not so short of it) ~. Gobble, gobble & Happy Thanksgiving!
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2015