Last week, there was an article in the NY Times about green bean casserole. Of course, this is a popular dish around holiday time, but it’s also a dish with which I’m very familiar given that I grew up in the land of can of soup casseroles. When I first moved to Texas many years ago, I was asked by a friend about my home state. As soon as I mentioned Illinois, she said ‘oh, that’s where every recipe has a can of soup in it.’ I almost fell over giggling because that was pretty accurate, at that time anyway. For the first Thanksgiving dinner that I prepared myself, I was determined to include a homemade green bean casserole sans cans of soup. I chopped mushrooms and sauteed them, made a bechamel sauce, cooked fresh green beans, and it all worked fine. That first time, I left the crunchy onion component out of the equation, but it was otherwise a fine made-from-scratch rendition. So, when I read this article about Joaquin Baca who created a homemade green bean casserole for his restaurant, I had to try his version.
First, lots of mushrooms were sliced, and half of them were pureed with red onions to form a paste. The other half was sauteed in butter. Once browned, garlic, thyme, and then the mushroom onion paste were added to the sauteed mushrooms. Then, cream and stock were added, and that mixture was set aside. That part of the recipe could be made in advance and refrigerated until needed. Green beans were cooked in boiling water and then shocked in ice water. When drained, they were added to the mushroom mixture with sliced almonds and breadcrumbs. That was then transferred to a baking dish, and I took inspiration from the article for my pan choice. At the restaurant, Baca serves his individual casseroles in small cast iron skillets, so I baked mine in a larger cast iron skillet. It was topped with more breadcrumbs before being placed in the oven. While it baked, I fried some sliced shallots, rather than the suggested pearl onions, to sprinkle on right before serving. My shallots got a little too brown, but they were crispy and delicious just the same.
We both liked this casserole a lot. It’s an inspired way to eat vegetables, that’s for certain. The crunchy sliced almonds are a nice addition that I didn’t include in my green bean casseroles in the past. However, the one thing that Kurt and I both noticed was that the breadcrumbs mixed into the casserole left it grainy when we would have preferred it smoother. The breadcrumbs on top were fine, but next time I would skip adding them to the mixture with the green beans. Other than that, this was an amazing, rich but fresh-tasting casserole that far surpassed anything with a can of soup in it.