I’ve never really considered Thanksgiving dinner to be “The Meal of the Turkey”, like so many do. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a well-cooked bird. Especially when it smokes all day on the Big Green Egg after having soaked in a sweet-salty brine for the twelve hours prior. I always take a modest piece, allow my cranberry juice to run underneath and turn the flesh a rosy pink, then cut it into small bites that I bury amidst forkfuls of fluffy mashed potatoes. Its an enjoyable piece of the Thanksgiving tradition, one that I gave up the year I was a vegetarian and admit that I did miss, although not as much as I would miss some of the accompaniments were I to ban cranberries, or potatoes, or pie (heavens what a tragedy that would be!) from my diet.
When I stand at the buffet table and survey the offerings laid out before me on Thanksgiving Day, it is all of the other “supporting” or “side” dishes that I get really excited about. The homemade rolls, the roasted vegetables, the tart-sweet cranberry sauce, the stuffing composed of spicy sausage and earthy sage, the fact that I can choose to pile two different types of potatoes on my plate - one sweet with a topping of pecans (recipe to come) and the other mashed with chunks of celery root. And of course, the green bean casserole. My absolute favorite dish on the table (aside from the desserts, which are a whole other story).
For most of my life the green bean casseroles of Thanksgiving came from the recipe on the back of the French's French Fried Onions container. It is quick, simple and perfectly delicious. When I told my momma that I'd found a wholly from-scratch recipe in the New York Times that I was planning to test out before the big day she simply asked "why?!?", assuring me that my readers wouldn't want to abandon the tradition of mixing Campbell's cream-of-mushroom soup with frozen green beans and popping the foil top on the red and white cylindrical canister filled with crunchy bits of onion. Why would you stray from a recipe that has proved itself reliable year after year? Because, friends, this version is even better.
It seems tedious, I know, to make your own cream-of-mushroom soup for this casserole when you can simply whip out a can opener and have what you need in a mere 30 seconds. And maybe frying up your own crunchy onions seems like too much trouble as well when somebody has already packaged them up and made them available at grocery stores across the world. But with a little forethought (the mushroom soup can be made up to 24 hours in advance) and only 60 seconds to fry your onion rings, you'll have a dish worthy of supporting the star of the show. Just don't be surprised if the turkey gets upstaged...
1 lb button mushrooms, sliced (I used baby bellos)
2 small red onions, chopped
4 oz butter (1 stick)
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup vegetable stock
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 lbs green beans, trimmed
1/4 cup sliced toasted almonds
1/2 cup fine dry bread crumbs (I used panko)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
6 pearl onions, thinly sliced
In a food processor or blender, combine 1/2 the mushrooms and both onions. Blend until a smooth paste forms, and set aside
In a large, wide saucepan set over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the remaining mushrooms and turn the heat up to high. Cook while stirring often, until the mushrooms release their liquid and start to crisp at the edges.
Add garlic and thyme and stir for about 30 seconds. Add mushroom-onion paste and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook, stirring constantly, for about 10 minutes. Add cream and stock, and salt and pepper to taste. At this point the mushroom mixture may be cooled and refrigerated for up to 24 hours.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil, and fill another bowl with ice water. Drop the green beans in the boiling water and cook until bright green and just tender, about 60 seconds. Drain and immediately plunge the beans into the ice water. Drain well.
Preheat oven to 375*. In a large bowl combine green beans, mushroom mixture, almonds and 1/4 cup of the bread crumbs. Transfer to a 9 x 13 baking dish and pack down the mixture to level it. Sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 cup of bread crumbs.
Bake, uncovered, until beans are tender and top is lightly golden, 35-40 minutes. If you wish, place under the broiler for the last couple of minutes to really crisp the top.
To garnish, heat oil in a non-stick skillet until it shimmers. Place flour in a mixing bowl and season with salt and pepper. Add sliced pearl onions, toss to coat and fry in oil until golden, 30-45 seconds. Drain on paper towels and sprinkle on finished casserole.
In Other News...
Remember this pie?
Well, I've submitted it in the Bon Appetit Blog Envy Bake-Off, which Bon Appetit actually invited me to participate in! Exciting stuff, and you all can help me to make the finalists list if you visit this page and vote for my recipe in the pies/tarts/pastries category. Any support you can send my way is much appreciated! And if you're looking for a unique and delicious holiday dessert, my Plum Pie with Lemon Almond Crust could be just what you're looking for...