April may be the cruelest month according to poet T.S. Eliot, but for Don, it’s a food fiesta. Every April, we clean out the deep freeze, defrost and scrub it, getting it ready for the new market season ahead. Everything’s gotta go. Nothing is wasted, and for Don it’s sort of like when you were little and the electricity went out and you had 10 gallons of ice cream beginning to melt.
Here’s Don: “Look! Another package of ham hocks!” “Did you forget about these ribs?!” “Pork chops…who knew they were buried beneath those green beans!” Yes, meat extravaganza doesn’t even cover the giddiness. But for me, it was all about that one-pound bag of green beans.
I also had one 16-ounce jar of frozen lemongrass stock and a few tablespoons of frozen ginger that were squished in a corner from who knows when. Ok, sounds Asian. Then I went through the storage stuff–some really must-go garlic, one cup of overlooked dried mushrooms. So Asian.
No, Don wanted a green bean casserole—you know, Campbell’s Soup and canned crunchy onions with—Oh look! Another pack of bacon. I was not going to go that far. But I was willing to make a casserole instead of a stir fry. I gathered up some more aromatics—carrots, fennel, onion—and set to work.
A green bean casserole needs a basic sauce, right? So I decided to get very basic, going all the way back to classic French white sauces, in this case a velouté. A velouté is similar to a béchamel (Remember my tuna pot pie?), except that stock is substituted for cream and oil can be used for butter. Typically, the stock is chicken or veal, but I had lemongrass—wonder if that would work? Of course—vegan velouté!
So this sort of wonky casserole is the poster child of freezer clearout—kind of Asian, with French accents and totally American green bean comfort food. But the important thing is that it is really good, perfect for a cool and rainy spring day.
No lemongrass in your freezer? No worries. You can use the stock that you drain off those dried mushrooms or substitute vegetable stock to keep this dish vegan, or you can go more traditional and use chicken. I have a favorite recipe for chicken stock from the Culinary Institute of America that is the basis for my mole. We do not discuss veal in our house, and I’m not going to discuss it here. So let’s get cookin’.
- One quarter-cup olive oil
- Diced aromatic vegetables: one half-cup yellow onion, one half-cup diced fennel, four large cloves garlic, two tablespoons fresh/frozen ginger (or whatever mix works for you—maybe some celery and no ginger?)
- One teaspoon fine sea salt
- One quarter-cup all-purpose flour
- Two cups hot stock
- One tablespoon toasted pure sesame oil
- One-half teaspoon white pepper
- Two to three tablespoons olive oil or light sesame oil
- One cup fresh mushrooms such as portabella or shitake, washed dried and chopped. Or one cup dried mushrooms, rinsed, soaked overnight and drained (Be sure to reserve the stock for future use, even if you don’t put it in this casserole!)
- One pound green beans, either flash frozen or fresh (Fresh green beans will need to be parboiled for about five minutes, then shocked in an ice bath and drained well in order to become adequately tender during baking.)
- One cup chopped yellow onion
- One cup chopped fennel
- Two large cloves garlic, minced
- One cup chopped carrots
- One to two tablespoons mirin, sake or dry white sherry
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Fresh scallions/green onions, minced
- Heat your chosen stock in a saucepan next to your large chef’s skillet, which you will use for the velouté. The stock should be simmering and hot but not boiling.
- Heat the oil in the large chef’s skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion, fennel, garlic and carrots. Season with salt and sauté, stirring occasionally until the vegetables are soft and shiny but not browned, about 15 to 20 minutes.
- Now add the flour stirring constantly with a whisk to create a classic roux. It looks like a mess, but keep at it. After about five minutes, it will cream out a bit and you can begin adding the stock.
- Ladle your stock into the skillet a little at a time, whisking constantly. Think about how you make risotto—same sort of thing—takes about 10 to 15 minutes for this step. Eventually, a velvety smooth stock will emerge. Once all the stock is incorporated, allow the mixture to cook at a low simmer for another 30-45 minutes, whisking often. You want to make sure the flour is thoroughly cooked and incorporated and the sauce is smooth and flavorful. During this time, you can add the pure toasted sesame oil and the white pepper. Also consider an herb sachet or other seasonings of choice. Be sure you taste test a couple of times to achieve the desired flavors and texture.
- Once the sauce is done, strain it using a fine mesh stainless steel strainer over a large measuring cup or small mixing bowl—whatever works best for you. You should end up with about a cup and a half of sauce. Discard the vegetables and set the velouté aside.
- Wash out your chef’s skillet or grab a clean one, if you have two. Heat the olive oil to a shimmer and add the onion, fennel, garlic and carrots. Sprinkle generously with sea salt and sauté on medium-high heat for about 20 minutes. This time you want to encourage a little browning and caramelization to develop flavor for the casserole.
- Add the mushrooms and sauté for about 10 minutes. Add the mirin to deglaze the pan. Now add in the green beans and season with a final sprinkle of salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Heat everything through.
- While everything is heating, preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease a 9 X 13 casserole dish with coconut oil, butter or whatever you typically use.
- Pour the vegetable sauté into the casserole and spread it out as evenly as you can. Pour your velouté sauce over the top so that it, too, is evenly distributed. Top with minced scallions, if desired. Note: sometimes the sauce develops a thin skin on its surface as it cools; just whisk this back in before pouring over the vegetables.
- Bake for 30 minutes, or until bubbly and hot. Serve immediately.
I am being generous on time here--I find the dish works better if you don't rush. So plan for at least the hour and a half--give or take 10 minutes either way.
Don did crumble cooked bacon on his serving and thought it was delicious, so if you must....
Okay, so I know the velouté sounds tricky and does take your full attention, but it is not as intimidating as it seems. Here’s what you are looking for:
So I bet your freezer cleanout isn’t identical to mine. Who cares! Maybe you have a pound of peas, or some asparagus spears or broccoli fouettés. Maybe you’d like to include some of that meat, some chicken stock and bacon crumbles. (Don is right behind you on the bacon crumbles.) Go for it! Just follow the basics for the sauce and the aromatic veggies, and the rest is up to you and your version of Green Bean Casserole Magnifique! Let us know how it turns out.