Friday, August 5, 2011

Natural & Healthy Green Bean Casserole

Retro-style Plate with Green Bean Casserole
Green Bean Casserole, both Creamy & Crunchy

Recipe by Robin

My Mom used to make this dish with frozen green beans, Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup, and canned crunchy-fried onions, dubbed “Boonga” by my sister Diane and I.  Making the no-processed-foods version of this recipe makes me appreciate why my Mom and other 1960s cooks were excited by the simplicity of opening two cans and defrosting a package to make this. Each of the three parts of this casserole requires time and talent, and preparing the three parts so they will all be ready simultaneously requires some finessing.

Bowls of Breadcrumbs, Pan of Golden Onions & White Sauce Ingredients
Beans & Topping Done, Now for White Sauce
Which makes this a perfect recipe for family participation in the kitchen. Creating in the kitchen with your sisters, husband and/or kids before a family gathering makes for good conversation and treasured memories if approached as a relaxed process. The short baking time and wealth of fresh green beans makes this casserole appropriate for summer BBQ fare, and of course this is a Thanksgiving classic. You can prepare the casserole the night before and store it in the fridge, but don’t add the onion and breadcrumb toppings till just before you bake it.

Bowls of Toasted Breadcrumbs & Golden Onions, Pan of White Sauce with Mushrooms
All Parts Done, Now for Assembly
I would divide up the labor as follows: Person 1 makes the topping, slicing the large onion and frying it up to golden brown. Then s/he grinds up the bread to make crumbs, and toasts the crumbs. Person 2 (the easiest job, perhaps a child) washes the green beans, snaps off their ends and breaks them into consistent lengths. Then s/he steams them and plunges them into cold water, and drains them. Person 3 chops onion, garlic, and mushrooms, fries them up and makes the white sauce. This last is the most labor-intensive and skilled task. Of course, a classic division of labor (in America, that is!) would be for Person 1 to play prep-cook, chopping, measuring, and prepping everything for Person 2 to put together. All can participate in the layering the parts into the casserole dish. Divide/subdivide the steps up so they suit your family!

I’ve seen many recipes that say this casserole takes 45 minutes to prepare before it bakes. Note that such recipes have ingredients that are already prepared: large onion thinly sliced, minced garlic, diced mushrooms, etc. If you have to do all the slicing and dicing, and everything else yourself, plan on 1 ½ hours to be sure it’s served on time.  Seriously. I tested this twice.

Hand Spreading Onions Over Top of Casserole
Adding the First Topping
Real Green Bean Casserole
Serves 6

For the topping:
1 large onion, thinly sliced
2 tsp. olive oil
1 – 2 slices of wholegrain bread
½ tsp. salt

For the base layer:
1 pound fresh green beans
1 tsp. paprika
½ tsp. dry thyme
¼ cup finely chopped onion
1 clove garlic, minced
½ lb crimini mushrooms, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 - 2 tsp. olive oil
3 tbsp flour
1 tsp. paprika
½ tsp. dry thyme
½ tsp. salt
a few grinds of pepper
2 cups nonfat milk

Be sure that all veggies are washed, chopped, and sliced as specified in the ingredient list above.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Sauté sliced onions in 2 tsp. oil 20-30 min till golden, stirring frequently. Remove to container and set aside when golden. You will use same pan to make white sauce (I use my electric frying pan).

Trim and break green beans into 1 – ½ inch pieces. Steam 6 minutes. Plunge into cold water and drain to stop cooking process. Drain and set aside.

Hand Sprinkling Breadcrumbs on Top of Casserole
Adding the Second Topping
Whirl the bread in the blender to make 1/3 – ½ cup crumbs. Add salt and whirl again. Spread breadcrumbs on a baking sheet and toast, stirring once, until lightly browned, about 5 - 6 minutes. Watch them carefully as there is a thin line between golden and charred. They will still bake for a bit when removed from the oven, so stir them around once when they come out of the oven.

Add 1 tsp. oil to skillet and heat up. Add finely chopped onion and garlic, cook for 2-3 minutes. Add mushrooms and cook for  about 5 minutes, until they release their juices. Sprinkle flour, paprika, thyme, salt, and pepper over vegetables, and stir to coat mushrooms. Cook for 1 minute. Gradually stir in nonfat milk, stirring to incorporate flour. Increase heat to medium and stir constantly until sauce thickens, 6-8 minutes. Add steamed green beans and stir to distribute white sauce evenly over beans.

Spread green beans and white sauce in a 1 ½-2 quart casserole dish. Top with golden onions and finally with bread crumbs.

Place into the oven and bake until bubbly, approximately 15 - 20 minutes. Remove and serve immediately.

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