By Himanee Gupta-Carlson
Did you know … that the green bean casserole was a home economist’s creation?
Home economist Dorcas Reilly was working for the Campbell’s Soup Co. test kitchens in New Jersey in 1955 when she received a phone call from a reporter seeking a recipe for a vegetable side dish. According to a piece prepared by Peggy Lowe for Harvest Public Media (a public radio group that reports on food and agriculture), Reilly wanted to develop a dish that home cooks could easily prepare. Reilly considered corn, peas, and lima beans as the central ingredient before settling on the concoction she initially called “green bean bake.”
The casserole has become America’s “love it or loathe it” dish, as Lowe describes it. It’s estimated that it appears on 30 million Thanksgiving tables. Food historian Sandy Oliver has further found that it accounts for about 50 percent of the sales of French-fried onions between Thanksgiving and Easter.
The dish itself consists of the following ingredients: cooked green beans (often frozen or from a can), French-fried onions (from a can), milk, soy sauce, a dash of black pepper, and the classic kicker, a can of condensed Cream of Mushroom soup.
Wait, you might be wondering. What’s the deal with the cans? Is it possible to make the dish fresh, using ingredients available at the Saratoga Farmers’ Market?
Well, I froze a few bags of fresh green beans this summer when beans were at the peak of their season because I knew that this particular vegetable would likely disappear from vendor stalls sometime in October. However, one can substitute fresh mushrooms from such farmers’ market vendors as the Mariaville Mushroom Men and shallots or onions from such vendors as the Gomez Veggie Villa, Denison, and Pleasant Valley Farm, and buy milk from Battenkill.
To adapt the Campbell’s canned classic to something fresh (and perhaps more flavorful), try this:
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
2. Trim green beans and cut into 1-inch pieces. If you did freeze them (like I did), let them thaw and drain out as much moisture as possible in a colander.
3. Thinly slice onions or shallots and get out an oven proof skillet or frying pan. Fry onions in oil until crisp. Remove from oil and place on paper towels to drain dry.
4. Add additional oil (or butter or bacon fat) to pan in which you fried the onions. Saute thinly sliced mushrooms with a dash of black pepper. When mushrooms are soft, remove.
5. After you have completed these three steps, make a roux. Add a couple of teaspoons of flour to the remaining oil and over a very low heat whisk into a paste. Add milk (or a bone broth) to the pan slowly, stirring, until you have a thick sauce. You’ll need about 1-2 cups of milk or broth to accomplish this part.
6. Return mushrooms and green beans to pan and stir gently until coated.7. Top with crisped onions and grated cheese, if desired.
8. Place pan in oven and baked until warmed through and brown and crispy on top.