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RECIPE: Gina Kaufmann's Uncanned Green Bean Casserole

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I wasn't introduced to green bean casserole until I was in my twenties. 

The dish won me over immediately, and I wanted to make it for my family one Thanksgiving. But dumping canned soup, canned green beans and a tin of crunchy fried onions into a casserole dish felt like cheating — as far as "cooking" goes. Particularly on a holiday that's about celebrating the season's bounty.

So I made a from-scratch version.

Inspired by Peggy Lowe's story on the history of the green bean casserole, I've revisited and refined my recipe. It's close enough to the original to please traditionalists, but with the fresh, local flavors needed to satisfy the foodie at your table.

Especially if that foodie is you.

The recipe serves 8. It begins with cream of mushroom soup.

This is the most time-consuming part of the whole operation, but you can prepare it ahead of time and store it in the freezer, a helpful time-saver on Thanksgiving Day.

Ingredients:

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  • 8 tablespoons butter (6 for sauteeing mushrooms, 2 for the creamy soup base) 
  • 1 or 1.5 pounds of mushrooms, cut in thick slices (button are fine, but feel free to get fancy with shitakes and/or portobello; I used a combination)
  • 1 stalk of celery, diced
  • 1/3 yellow onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced or sliced
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • black pepper, nutmeg, salt and cayenne to taste
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 3/4 cups half & half
  • A splash or 2 of local apple cider

Melt 4 tablespoons of butter in a pot on medium-low heat. Add onions, garlic and celery and sautee until the onion appears translucent and the butter becomes fragrant. Add the mushrooms and stir frequently.
The mushrooms should release fluids as they cook, making the buttery base more watery, like a stock. When the mixture becomes soupy, add thyme and a splash or two of apple cider.

Many recipes call for a dry white wine, but the purpose of the white wine is to add acidity and depth of flavor. Apple cider provides both, but with the added benefit of adding a hint of the local fall harvest. Plus, you've only used a splash ... so now you can serve the rest hot with dessert. 

Continue stirring for about 5-10 minutes, then set aside.

In a small saucepan, heat the remaining butter over medium-low heat. Slowly sprinkle the flour into the mixture, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. It's important to add the flour very gradually so that the soup ends up thick, but not lumpy.

When all the flour's been added and the mixture is smooth, stir in the half-and-half and bring to a boil, adding salt, black pepper, nutmeg, and cayenne to suit your own taste. If there are kids at your Thanksgiving feast, go easy on the cayenne.

Add the creamy base to the mushroom pot and stir well. 

Now for the green beans.

This part is easy.

  • 1 or 1.5 pounds fresh green beans, sliced in half lengthwise
  • 2 1/2 cups water

Basically, steam your green beans to soften them, because nobody likes a squeaky green bean. I also recommend slicing them in half lengthwise, so that they fold nicely on your fork and mix more thoroughly with the cream of mushroom soup.
If you don't have a steamer, a metal colander placed atop a saucepan of boiling water works pretty well.

When your green beans are soft, you can add them to a casserole dish, along with the cream of mushroom soup. 

A note on the fried onions.

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If you do make fried onions, slice 'em thin.

If you're used to French's fried onions on your green bean casserole, the truth is, they do not have much onion taste. Real onions obviously do!

I'll be honest. A whole layer of real fried onions on my casserole was too overpowering for my taste, and I regret adding them at all. I'll be leaving them off when I serve this dish to my own family on Thanksgiving. The taste of the casserole is essentially unchanged by the omission. 

For serious onion-lovers among you, I'm going to recommend a recipe from a food blogger I absolutely trust.

But I might even go a step further and suggest that you stick with tradition on this one, and get the pre-packaged tin of French's fried onions if this component of the casserole is a must for you. Because its function is one more of texture than taste. 

Hey. A little compromise never hurt anyone.

Should you choose to add onions, fresh or from a tin, layer them thinly on top of the other ingredients.

Cook at 350° for 40 minutes.

Like all casseroles, this one is even better in leftover form. Bon appetit!

People don't make cameos in news stories; the human story is the story, with characters affected by news events, not defined by them. As a columnist and podcaster, I want to acknowledge what it feels like to live through this time in Kansas City, one vantage point at a time. Together, these weekly vignettes form a collage of daily life in Kansas City as it changes in some ways, and stubbornly resists change in others. You can follow me on Twitter @GinaKCUR or email me at gina@kcur.org.