Cathy Erway

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The processed food industry has shaped our holiday meals in more ways than we’d probably like to admit. On Thanksgiving, in particular, you can find nearly every aspect of the feast inside a can or box in the supermarket: from cranberry sauce, gravy, pie fillings, stuffing, and canned pumpkin to instant mashed potatoes. But how satisfying are these substitutes for truly homemade comfort food?

Since we’re all about going without processed food here at Grist (for our health and the health of the planet), we decided to put some classic Thanksgiving dishes to the test by making them without any canned or instant fixes. First up is the green bean casserole, traditionally made with a can of condensed mushroom soup. This dish was popularized in the 1950s, just as Magic Chef ovens, Corningware casserole dishes, and the all-American Campbell’s soup were gaining popularity.

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Cathy ErwayNo Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom here!

For this recipe, I’ve combined fresh green beans (thick ones, not haricots verts, which — while dainty — won’t hold their shape when baked) with a creamy sauce made with fresh mushrooms. I’ve sliced crimini mushrooms and browned them to bring out their flavor, then tossed them with a mixture of crème fraiche (a tangy, cultured dairy product) and an egg to naturally thicken and help bind the sauce. Finally, instead of a sprinkle of “cocktail onions,” a mysterious fried product in a canister, I’ve layered caramelized onions on top of the casserole before baking (where they’ll crisp up). The resulting casserole is savory and full of umami. It should satisfy those who are used to eating the ready-made version, while also tasting fresher and more vibrant.

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Green bean casserole with mushrooms, crème fraiche, caramelized onions, and parmesan
Makes 6-8 servings.

2 pounds green beans, stems trimmed and halved to roughly two-inch pieces
6 ounces crimini or button mushrooms, sliced
1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
8 ounces crème fraiche (substitute with sour cream)
1 egg
1 cup grated Parmiggiano-Reggiano
salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon neutral oil (such as canola)

Cathy ErwayThe casserole, pre-bake.

In a wide, large skillet, heat the canola oil over a low flame and add the onion slices. Let them cook, stirring occasionally, until most are soft and slightly golden in color, 20 to 30 minutes. Keep an eye on them and reduce heat if onions are turning crispy and brown.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Heat a pan over a high flame and add the butter. Once it has begun bubbling, add the sliced mushrooms. Sauté mushrooms, stirring occasionally, for two to three minutes or until lightly browned. Season them with salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat and let cool.

Beat the egg and combine it with the crème fraiche. Stir in the grated Parmesan and a pinch of salt and pepper. Toss the green beans and cooled mushrooms with the mixture to coat thoroughly. Place into a casserole dish and arrange the caramelized onions evenly across the top. Bake for 30 minutes, or until the onions are just a little crisp and browned on top. Let cool at least five minutes before serving.