Let’s be honest with ourselves and admit that while we appreciate the nostalgic qualities of our ancestors’ vegetable casseroles, and we would never aim to disparage their intuitiveness in the kitchen or their frugality during hard times, soggy beans swimming in canned soup and topped with salty onions really doesn’t delight the palette.
The idea of a green bean casserole is a good one. Take a vegetable and develop a way to enhance and stretch it so that it will feed more people and deliver a richer flavor than the vegetable can offer on its own. Add in some texture and complimentary ingredients. Bake it in the oven so that it melds together and can be served piping hot next to all our favorite meats. I understand the idea.
However, over time the execution has become, in my opinion, a terrible excuse for a side dish. Let’s rescue it, shall we?
I would like to begin by saying I assume that most of us enjoy Green Bean Casserole at Thanksgiving. Although it would be a delight year-round, I seem to never make it outside of the holiday season. With that in mind, we are going to go to some trouble given the elevated occasion. Not much trouble, but a little.
There are three components to a green bean casserole. There are the green beans, the mushroom cream sauce, and the crunchy onion topping.
Good news regarding the crunchy onion topping. We are not messing with the perfection that is French’s Fried Onion Strings. Yes, you can fry your own onions and do all that, but in the end the French’s version provides the familiar taste and crunch that has become the hallmark of all great green bean casseroles.
As for the green beans, we are going to start with fresh beans, preferably the thin French variety called hericort verts. These are widely available in grocery stores and typically come in plastic one-pound packages. If you cannot find them, standard green beans will work fine. Before they go into the casserole, they will need to be cooked to a crisp-tender texture. Since they will continue to cook in the oven while the casserole bakes, they simply need to be cooked until the raw is gone. You can steam them, boil them, or (my personal method of choice) roast them in the oven to your desired degree of doneness. In my family, our desired degree of green bean doneness occurs when they pass the no-squeak test. If you bite into a green bean and it squeaks, it’s not done enough to our liking. Whatever method you choose, do not use canned green beans.
The mushroom cream sauce is where this recipe shines. To begin, we are going to saute some fresh mushrooms until fully cooked and just shy of browning, then we will add a bit of butter to the skillet which will melt and brown, adding a layer of delicious flavor to the mushrooms. We will remove the gorgeous mushrooms and in the same pan build a cream sauce that will put canned soup to shame.
The green beans, mushrooms, and cream sauce are layered into a baking dish. After a bit of covered baking followed by uncovered baking followed by a brief baking with the addition of the onion strings atop the layers of vegetable and sauce, our bubbly, fragrant, heavenly concoction is ready to enjoy.
This is the Green Bean Casserole of your dreams, a reminder that inside every humble side dish lives a beautiful version just begging to be discovered. I hope you enjoy!
Green Bean Casserole
- 2 pounds green beans, ideally the thin French variety called hericot verts
- kosher salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 pound mushrooms, sliced (any variety will work)
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided (4 tablespoons for the mushrooms, 2 tablespoons for the sauce)
- 4 sprigs fresh thyme
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 1/4 cups half-and-half
- 1/2 cup parmesan cheese
- 6 ounces French's Fried Onion Strings
- To begin, you are going to need to cook your green beans. There are a variety of ways to do this including boiling, steaming, microwaving, or, my personal method of choice, roasting them. I lay mine on a sheet tray, drizzle with the smallest amount of olive oil, sprinkle with a bit of salt and pepper, and roast them at 400 degrees until fully cooked. This will take about 15 minutes, or until they don’t squeak when you bite into them. Once the beans are cooked, set them aside to cool.
- Layer half of the green beans into the baking dish of your choice. It needs to be about two quarts in volume. Keep the second half of the green beans on the sheet tray. We will come back for them in a bit.
- Next, we are going to cook our mushroom. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, add 2 tablespoons olive oil and let it shimmer a bit. Add the sliced mushroom. They should sizzle when they hit the pan. Add 1 teaspoon salt and shake them around in the pan to make sure they are all evenly distributed. The mushrooms will go through three phases while they cook: steam, dry, brown. First they will release their water and the pan will have a lot of liquid that will turn to steam. Allow the mushrooms to continue cooking until the pan is dry.
- When the pan is dry, add 4 tablespoons unsalted butter along with the fresh thyme and allow it to melt into the pan with the mushrooms. Shake the pan and move the mushrooms around a bit. We are now going to brown the butter and allow the mushrooms to continue to darken. Once the bottom of the pan is beginning to take on a golden hue and the mushrooms are looking beautifully browned and smelling amazing, remove the pan from the heat. Pour the mushroom, butter, thyme mixture on top of the green beans waiting in your baking dish. Set the pan down (but do not wash it!), and layer the second half of the green beans on top of the mushrooms.
- Now, let’s make the cream sauce.Into the mushroom pan, over medium heat, melt two tablespoons unsalted butter. Once it has melted, add the flour and whisk constantly for about 3 or 4 minutes until the roux is a deep nutty brown color. Whisk in the half-and-half, carefully scraping up the bottom of the pan and using your whisk to break up any lumps. Add 2 teaspoons Kosher salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Bring the sauce to a simmer, making sure the entire mixture is bubbling. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the parmesan cheese.
- Pour the cream sauce over the layers of green beans and mushrooms, spreading it around evenly on top. It will sink down into the crevices of the vegetables as it sits.
- If you are serving the Green Bean Casserole immediately…Cover the dish tightly with foil and bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and continue to bake for 20 minutes until the sauce is bubbling and the edges browning. Add the fried onions on top and bake for 5 more minutes. Allow the dish to cool for at least 10 minutes before serving.
- If you are making this ahead…Cover the dish tightly with foil and store in the fridge for up to two days. When you are ready to bake it, keep in mind that a cold dish requires longer cook time. Bake covered at 375 for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and continue baking for 30-40 minutes until the sauce is bubbling and the edges are brown. Add the fried onions on top and bake for 5 more minutes. Allow the dish to cool for at least 10 minutes before serving.