The same yet different: Green Bean Casserole

[12 Dec 2007 | By | 5 Comments]

Man, it is almost Christmas and I am still trying to perfect a Thanksgiving dish! My poor family has eaten the infamous Green Bean Casserole at least a half a dozen times, if not more, in the last few weeks. I wanted to get it right. And Thanksgiving didn’t wait for me: it came, it went—and I kept cooking green beans.

I was intent on finding a new version of this old favorite. And despite the fact that I am wedged between holidays, with a million things to do, these green beans were worth the fuss.

Thanksgiving is lovely for all its familiarity: the same side dishes, the familiar faces, even the same conversations (updated for this year, of course). I love Thanksgiving and all of its sameness. But this Thanksgiving wasn’t about sameness for our little family.

This year we were suctioned out of what is the same and abruptly—and curiously—inserted into novel Thanksgiving territory. Instead of the extended family and the recipes that have been passed down our own family line, we enjoyed Thanksgiving with families from New Orleans, from Portland, OR from Seattle, WA, California and Hawaii. My humble, little family was inserted into a much larger and just-being-established family by way of my dear friend’s Thanksgiving & Wedding Extravaganza. Because THAT is what it WAS. No one will deny it.

It was as novel and Thanksgiving as a balance could strike. My friend loves Thanksgiving; it has long been her favorite holiday. And marrying her soul mate is nothing if not reason to be thankful. So there we were—the whole lot of us—on the coast of Oregon in a little town on the 4 mile wide mouth of the Columbia River. Where inland meets ocean, where frigid air meets unnaturally bright sun. We cooked and toasted and drank and danced; we had Thanksgiving, then a wedding. It felt like Mardi Gras. And yet, with so much extended family from New Orleans, what better way to celebrate? Why limit festivities and yards of food to just one day? Night poured into day, breakfast just shy of dinner, libations and laughter and touring and tasting continued around the clock.

It was the same: there was lots of food, lots of family, lots of conversation. Yet is was different: unfamiliar food, different families, new conversations. And on the ride home, my son remarked that although it was really fun, it just wasn’t the same. And the side dishes that he has grown to love were not present. And so, when we came home I made him his sweet potatoes, and no less than six times: the Green Bean Casserole.

I wanted to keep the sacred casserole the same comfortable dish it has always been; yet, something inside me likes to change things, if just a little. Update them, evolve them a bit, or more likely poke at their credibility as a beloved standard. I have loved the Green Bean Casserole my whole life. I have made it when invited to Thanksgiving dinners; and when serving the dinner myself I make sure it is assigned and placed appropriately at our table. No doubt layers of grandmothers—since the time of Campbells Mushroom Soup—made this dish. And yet, I wonder.

Instead of the Campbells, I made—from scratch—the ‘creamed mushroom soup’ that goes into the casserole. And in the end, I kept the same French beans and the same topping we are used to; and the casserole retained its sameness. (My inspiration for this revision came from Alanna, author of A Veggie Venture. Though mine looks different from hers, this is surely a tribute):

Green Bean Casserole
8 ounces sliced mushrooms
2 T butter
4 garlic cloves, minced
kosher salt, coarse pepper
1/4 cup flour
optional: 1 T finely minced rosemary
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
1/4 cup sherry
3/4 cup half and half
3 cans french sliced green beans
fried onions, canned

Butter in skillet over medium. Add garlic and mushrooms, salt and pepper, and sautee until mushrooms release liquid, about 6-8 minutes. Add flour (and rosemary if using) and stir for 1-2 minutes; add broth and simmer 5-6 minutes. Add half and half and simmer 10-15 minutes. Open cans of beans, drain. Off heat and stir in beans. Put in 8×8 pan, and cover with 1 1/2 cups (or so) fried onions. Cook at 400 for 20 minutes, serve.

Here, a view from our Astoria, OR:

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  • Cynthia said (12 December 2007 at 1:15 pm):

    I like the idea of this casserole with your own homemade sauce.

  • janelle said (13 December 2007 at 5:26 pm):

    Cynthia: I was happily surprised with the updated version that had all the old familiarity yes none of the canned soup:). It took me too many rounds to figure it out:). No beans for us for awhile!

  • Lydia said (13 December 2007 at 5:45 pm):

    Green bean casserole was never part of the holiday meal tradition in my family, and when I finally did taste it, it was the canned mushroom soup version. I’d love to try this, with the homemade cream sauce!

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