Monday, December 26, 2011

Neo-Classic Green Bean Casserole

I'm baaaaack! Having successfully completed my first semester of PhD School (as we like to call it), I'm now on break for a few weeks, which allows me to feel totally justified in rattling some pots and pans. This is A Good Thing, since A. I love to cook and have really missed it, and B. Christmas dinner happens at our house. So, like this multi-tasking lady about to baste what appears to be a levitating Tofurky, I donned my pearls, cocktail dress, and festive holiday apron to reassert Absolute Sovereignty over the domestic space. (Except that my festive apron reads, "Come, woo me, woo me; for now I am in a holiday humour, and like enough to consent." It's also a full rather than half-apron, because I am a slob.)

This year's menu included maple glazed carrots, roasted potatoes, mushroom gravy, Field Roast in puff pastry, and - something new! - green bean casserole. Now, having grown up in these great United States, I could hardly have reached adulthood without being aware that many people consider this an indispensable part of a holiday meal, but it never appeared on the table when I was growing up. (Ditto for those canned sweet potatoes with marshmallows on top.) In fact, until yesterday, I'd never even tasted green bean casserole because, with all due respect to the makers of Campbell's Soup, French's Fried Onion Rings, and whatever other packaged foodstuffs comprise this seasonal delicacy, it sounds kind of gross.

So obviously I had to make it, right? But what I had in mind was a sort of bionic green bean casserole. I wanted to make it better than it was: better, healthier, less...canned. I hunted around online a bit, and finally settled on two recipes as general models: one from Martha Stewart and one from someplace I've already forgotten, which doesn't really matter since I'm constitutionally incapable of following a recipe to the letter anyway. Basically I got some ideas for proportions, cooking times and temps, etc., and then made it taste the way I wanted. And guess what? The way I wanted turned out to be excellent! So excellent, in fact, that what started as a quixotic, semi-ironic twist on an American "classic" will very likely be making future appearances on my own British/Greek/Canadian holiday table. And not a can opener in sight. God bless America, and God bless us, every one! (NB that the sweet potatoes with the marshmallows will in all likelihood remain unexplored territory, because I mean damn.)

Neo-Classic Green Bean Casserole

The Filling
~ 2 lbs. green beans, trimmed and snapped in half
~ 2 tbsp. Earth Balance or other vegan margarine
~ 1 large onion, diced
~ 1 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 1 lb. mushrooms, sliced (I used baby bellas)
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, sage, marjoram
~ 1 tbsp. vegetarian Worcestershire sauce
~ 2 tbsp. flour
~ 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
~ 2 cups mushroom gravy (homemade is always good, but Imagine brand is vegan if you can't be arsed)

~ Preheat the oven to 400 degrees fahrenheit and coat a 9 x 13" casserole with cooking spray.
~ Prepare an ice bath by filling a large bowl with cold water and ice cubes; set aside.
~ In a large pot, bring 4 quarts of water to a boil. Add 1 tablespoon of kosher salt and the beans, return to a boil, and cook 5 minutes, until they are bright green but still retain a bit of crunch.
~ Drain the beans in a large colander and transfer immediately into the ice bath to stop them from cooking. (This is called "shocking," and I imagine it must be as applicable to the green bean experience as it is for those crazy feckers who go skinny-dipping every New Year's Day.)
~ Drain the beans again and set aside.
~ In a large, deep skillet, melt the margarine and sauté the onions over medium heat about 4 minutes.
~ Add the garlic, mushrooms, the seasonings, and the Worcestershire sauce. Cook another 6 minutes or so, until the mushrooms have given up their liquid.
~ Add the flour and the nutritional yeast, stir to coat, and pour in the gravy.
~ Add the cooked green beans, combine thoroughly, and remove from heat.
~ Transfer to your prepared casserole and make:

The Topping
~ 1 medium onion, chopped
~ 2 tbsp. flour
~ 1/4 cup canola oil
~ 1 cup panko crumbs
~ 1/4 cup vegan parmesan (optional, but nice)
~ 1 tsp. each: paprika, parsley

~ Toss the onions with the flour to coat.
~ In a skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat and fry the onions in batches, turning frequently, until crisp and golden (not brown!). Remove to paper towels to drain and cool.
~ In a food processor, combine the drained, cooled onions with the remaining ingredients; pulse a few times until blended.

And now....
~ Sprinkle the topping evenly over the green bean mixture, cover with foil, and bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes, until bubbling.
~ Remove the foil, raise the heat to 425 and cook another 5-10 minutes, until the topping is lightly browned. (Watch to be sure it doesn't burn.)
~ Remove from the oven and allow to rest a few minutes before serving.

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