A childhood favorite grows up

Summer may be the season of bounty, but for me Thanksgiving marks the unofficial start of the cooking season. What better way to pass those days when it’s too cold to leave home than to cook some long and complicated recipe you’ve been dying to try? It just might be the best way to look productive while still wearing your pajamas.

Anyway, to date most of my cooking fantasies have simply been dancing around my head like sugarplum fairies. However, this year Chicky put the kibosh on any holiday recipe ideas that veered from the very same Thanksgiving dinner that my mom (and her mom before her) has been making for 25 years. No roasted brussels sprouts, cornbread stuffing or smoked salmon hors d’oeuvres…

I scored a mini-coup with my chocolate pecan pie and the addition of a grown-up version of green bean casserole. My mom and step-dad are crazy about green bean casserole- it makes an appearance on her dinner table at least once a week, complete with canned soup and those strange fried onions that appear to have only one use (anyone else know what to do with those onions?).

A few years back I read a story about “Grown Up Green Bean Casserole” and for obvious reasons, it stuck with me. After getting the go-ahead from the family, I scoured the internet for recipes, and settled on this beauty from Cook’s Illustrated, which I doubled with no trouble. The recipe says it serves six to eight, though seven people nearly polished off a double batch at Thanksgiving… take that for what it’s worth.

“Grown Up Green Bean Casserole”
(from Cook’s Illustrated)

2 quarts water
1 tablespoon table salt
1 pound fresh green beans, ends snapped, snapped into bite-size pieces

For the sauce:
8 ounces baby portabella mushrooms (I got the pre-sliced ones)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon fresh garlic, minced
1 teaspoon kosher salt or to taste
Generous grind of fresh pepper or to taste
1 1/2 tablespoons flour
3/4 cup chicken stock
1 tablespoon dry sherry
3/4 cup half & half or heavy cream (don’t use fat-free half-n-half; it won’t thicken)
Salt & pepper to taste

2 slices good whole grain bread
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2.8 ounce can of French fried onions
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Bring the water to boil in a large pot. While it comes to a boil, add the salt and beans to the boiling water. Cover and cook for 6 minutes or until crisp-tender and still bright green. (Be sure to cook the beans to your desired level of doneness; from here on, they will reheat but won’t cook more.) Drain beans in a colander, then plunge into ice water to stop the cooking. Drain a bit in the colander again.

Clean the mushrooms; break off and discard the stems (though I used them and thought they tasted fine). Chop into pieces. Melt the butter in a skillet. Add the mushrooms, garlic, salt and pepper. Stirring often, cook until mushrooms begin to soften and exude their liquid, about 6 minutes. Stir in flour and cook a minute. Add the chicken stock and sherry; bring to a simmer. Add the half & half, simmer until sauce thickens, about 10 – 15 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Stir into the cooked beans.

In the food processor, process the bread, butter and seasonings in about 10 quick pulses. Stir in the onions — but don’t process. If making ahead, transfer to a storage container and refrigerate.

TO BAKE RIGHT AWAY Preheat oven to 425F. Transfer hot bean mixture to a greased quiche pan or baking dish. Top beans with topping and bake uncovered for 15 minutes.

TO BAKE LATER Transfer bean mixture to a greased quiche pan or baking dish, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Return to room temperature. Remove plastic wrap. Heat in 425F oven uncovered for about 10 – 40 minutes until hot and bubbly. (Ten minutes is enough for a shallow dish like a quiche pan. Allow more time for a deeper dish.) Add topping and bake for another 15 minutes.


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