Homemade green bean casserole made from scratch – not a soup can in sight! It’s easy, it can be made ahead and it’s utterly delicious. Not only for Thanksgiving either.
Tins, cans and casseroles
Forgive me, my American pals, but the idea of tinned (canned) green beans baked in tinned (canned) mushroom soup is thoroughly unappealing.
I understand. Thanksgiving is as exhausting for you as Christmas is for us over here, in Europe and the UK. There is turkey to desiccate, stuffing to stuff, marshmallows to arrange over sweet potatoes plus, of course, a pie or three.
But you wouldn’t open a tin (can) of turkey spam if such a thing existed to serve for the family dinner, would you? Why then, even though fresh green beans are available all year round would you do that to the bean casserole?
Okay, they might have to be flown in in the dark November and you might care about those issues. But there are frozen beans too! Why not use them, much better nutrient-wise than those sorry specimen courtesy of Del Monte? It sure beats me.
And beans aside, baking them in the gloop full of artificial flavours, emulsifiers, thickeners and sweeteners is a severely wrong idea. At least in my humble opinion.
While I frown upon that, I absolutely approve of the concept of the dish – but only if it’s made with proper ingredients. Green beans baked in creamy sauce with mushrooms? Yes please, can I have some more?
And I assure you making it from scratch is not a challenging project. Certainly not compared to ‘how to roast a juicy turkey’ one.
How to make the mushroom sauce
Kenji Lopez-Alt, whose wonderful cookbook The Food Lab this recipe comes from, has a nifty way of mincing mushrooms: by whacking them with the bottom of a frying pan. It works a treat: all you have to do afterwards is just run the knife across the mushroom mass here and there, and they look like out of a food processor.
The sauce is based on roux, which is flour and butter or oil, which sounds much fancier than it is. But to make things simpler, mushrooms cook first for a few minutes, until the moisture they invariably release has evaporated and they start to brown.
Then the flour is sprinkled over them, making everything clumpy and gloopy, until the stock-cream combination goes in, slowly, whisking the sauce all the while. Just like the white bechamel for lasagne – you wouldn’t put Campbell mushroom into lasagna would you?
When it cooks down and thickens to a pancake batter consistency, it’s ready, bar seasoning. Better to cool it down a little now or else the beans will start cooking in the sauce too early.
How to prepare fresh beans?
I suspect one of the reasons why tinned (canned) beans are in use so much, is that fresh beans need to be blanched prior to casseroling. If you just put them in the sauce and into the oven, they’ll emerge tough as old boots and stringy as an old cello.
But blanching really isn’t a big effort. Especially that apart from simmering them for five minutes in water, you can actually blanch them in the microwave.
Blanching vegetables in the microwave
Guess what: that’s how they do it in posh restaurants. I’ve been doing it for years with spinach, sweetcorn and peas but only reading Kenji’s The Food Lab made me realise it is actually a thing, and what blanching amounts to.
Place the beans, cut to size and rinsed with water so there is some moisture around them, in a microwaveable bowl, cover with damp paper towels and mic them at full power for 2-3 minutes, depending on the quantity. Halfway through you might want to shake the bowl about to distribute the cookedness evenly. Then turn them onto a tray to dry out.
At this stage both the sauce and the blanched beans can be stored in the fridge for several days. Just make sure you cover both with foil or place in an airtight container.
When required, simply toss them together, add the secret weapon ingredient (see below) and bake.
Secret casserole weapon
And the best secret ingredient in this casserole are crispy fried onions or shallots, which you absolutely buy rather than make at home (at least I do). They can be the French's Crispy Fried Onions that you put on hot-dogs, or crispy shallots in tubs bought from an Asian store – both are almost exactly the same.
Some of them are mixed in the sauce with the beans and some sprinkled over baked casserole, making an irresistible, delicious crunchy topping.
So ditch the cans this Thanksgiving and make it from scratch. I promise you’ll never go back to Campbell’s.
Everybody else not celebrating Thanksgiving, try this casserole recipe on any day of the year. It’s super gorgeous, as a side to a roast or on its own, served with mashed potatoes, bread or small-shape pasta.
More green bean recipes
Green beans with Parmesan cream – a creamy casserole of green beans in cheese sauce. The Parmesan cream is easier to make than Thermidor or Mornay sauce and can easily replace either in a variety of dishes.
Green beans with tomatoes, a simple side and a match made in heaven. My favourite recipe for blanched green beans served with sautéed tomatoes and green chilies.
The best way to cook runner beans is to blanch them for 5 minutes, until just tender with a bite, then toss in garlicky butter and Parmesan. Runner beans can be used in a salad or as a side with a main course.
More holiday recipes
Pork, chestnut and mushroom stuffing for turkey or goose, the perfect trimming. But don't stuff the bird - cook the stuffing separately to ensure both cook evenly.
Cranberry sauce with orange juice, the easiest recipe. The cranberry sauce cooks itself, can be made ahead of time and keeps well in the fridge.
Boneless turkey breast fillet butterflied, stuffed and rolled up to a perfect roast joint for holidays. Did I say how easy it was to carve?