His knock at the door caught me by surprise–and yet it shouldn’t have.
“Here they are,” neighbor Ray proffered a rumpled brown bag and shrugged. “I’m a little behind this year. I was so concerned with getting my tomatoes in early, these got planted later than usual.”
Ray’s famous green beans. My yearly allotment! It’s become a June tradition, the gift of these young and slender haricots verts, just picked from his backyard garden. They are special. Each year, I strive to prepare them in a way that both honors their nature, and the modest, generous gardener who grew them.
Of course, they are sweet and delicious on their own, gently steamed and buttered.
So, how to do the beans justice this time?
No doubt many of you recall the green bean casserole from the way-back machine that has shown up on the tables of umpteen potlucks, church suppers, family Thanksgiving dinners. It’s the one made from many canned items: french-cut green beans, cream of mushroom soup, crispy fried onion bits. (We used to call this a “dump-and-go” casserole.)
The idea is good, certainly easy to prepare, although it results in a mushy, rather sodium laden dish.
What if it were remade, in a fresh, and more deconstructed style?
That was my notion, to update the old green bean casserole.
I’d cook the green beans quickly–blanche ’em in boiling water seasoned with salt and a few slivers of garlic. I’d oven roast sliced onions to a crisp. Rather than smother the beans in a thick sauce, I’d layer them–show off those pretty pods!
It all hinges on making a mushroom veloute–
—using meaty shiitake mushrooms.
There’s no dairy in this dish. I know; it sure looks like there is. The rich flavor of the shiitakes is further deepened with mushroom broth, which becomes a creamy sauce when cooked in a bit of flour. If you want to be extra-fancy, you can enhance the sauce with a splash of sherry or marsala wine. But, staying true to the standard–but renewed—casserole, it’s not necessary.
Enough said–I’m a bit behind myself, in posting!
Presenting Ray’s Green Beans, June 2012 edition
UPDATED GREEN BEAN CASSEROLE
2 lbs. fresh young Green Beans
1 clove Garlic, sliced
1/4 t. Sea Salt
Place beans into a pot of simmering water that has been seasoned with salt and garlic. Cook for about 2-3 minutes. Test a bean–it should be “tender-crisp.” Plunge into icy water, to stop the cooking process, and set the bright green color.
2 T. Butter (or use olive oil, if preparing vegan)
8 oz. Shiitake Mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
1 bundle Scallions, white and green parts chopped
Salt and Black Pepper
2 Tablespoons All Purpose Flour
2 c. Mushroom Broth
a few fresh Thyme leaves
Saute mushrooms and scallions in butter. Season with salt, pepper, and thyme, if desired. When the vegetables are softened (after 5 minutes or so) stir in the flour. Allow the flour to coat the mushrooms and scallions, and cook. Keep stirring, scraping up the browned bits.
When you can no longer see any traces of white flour, pour in the broth. Keep stirring until the mixture becomes creamy. Taste for seasonings, and adjust if needed.
1 small Onion, thinly sliced
Olive Oil and Sea Salt
Lightly coat onion slices in olive oil. Lay out on a baking sheet pan and sprinkle with sea salt. Roast in a hot (400 degree) oven for 10-12 minutes, until golden brown and crispy. Remove and allow to cool.
Coat the bottom of a casserole dish with warm mushroom veloute. Place a layer of blanched green beans. Spoon more sauce over the beans and repeat layers. Finish the top with oven-crisp onions.
Bake until thoroughly heated in a 325 degree oven (about 15 minutes) and serve.
This can be made up ahead of time, refrigerated and then baked for about 30 minutes.