‘Tis the season. For a lot of things, actually. I hear talk of comfort food and big cozy sweaters, fires in the fire place and hunkering down to watch old movies and read a good book.
And with all this rain, cooling temperatures, it’s also the season of wild mushrooms. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve eaten various types of the seasonal delicacy in recent weeks, but they include a wonderful spinach salad with wild mushrooms and goat cheese at FareStart, a kind of ragout of chanterelles at a dinner meeting held at Lisa Dupar’s Pomegranate, and a roasted corn soup with wild mushrooms at Barrio. It’s always time to celebrate when the price of chanterelles begins to approach that of cultivated mushrooms, a sure sign the bounty is here. So we’ve had them at home, as well, sautéed with chard and garlic, or added to a rice pilaf.
But ’tis THE season as well. The holiday season. The one that has us all starting to dream up menu plans and flip through magazines for ideas. Thanksgiving is hands-down my favorite holiday of the year, not to mention one of my favorite meals. And it’s one that I love to keep traditional. No standing rib roast or salmon fillet or crown of pork. It’s always turkey, or on rare occasion maybe Cornish game hens, as I did on the grill one year. Stuffing, absolutely. Potatoes? Yes, mashed and rich. A bright crisp salad. Something pumpkiny for dessert.
Only thing missing is a green vegetable. And the most quintessential side dish at this time of year is the famous green bean casserole. Nostalgic, beloved, but who today can stomach the canned provenance of the original’s ingredients? I know I can’t. Which is why, in the course of developing recipes for my Wild Mushrooms cookbook, I came up with a from-scratch version. (That cookbook is out of print, but the recipe is included in an ebook Main Courses as a vegetarian option, from my Northwest Cookbook eseries.) Simple white sauce. Lots of fresh wild chanterelle mushrooms. Savory leeks. Crisp green beans. And a chanterelle/bread crumb topping. Still a little nostalgia in there. But with a whole lot more flavor! (Go ahead and use those crunchy canned fried onions if you just can’t imagine this recipe without them.)
Green Bean and Chanterelle Casserole
from Wild Mushrooms, in the Northwest Homegrown Cookbook Series
1 1/2 pounds green beans, trimmed
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 leeks, white and pale green parts only, split, cleaned and sliced
1 pound chanterelles, brushed clean, trimmed and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup dried bread crumbs
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups whole milk
Pinch freshly grated or ground nutmeg
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the white sauce, melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour and cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture foams up and begins to smell slightly nutty, 2 to 3 minutes (the flour should not brown). Slowly whisk in the milk and cook until the sauce thickens, whisking often to avoid any lumps or sticking, 6 to 8 minutes. Take the pan from the heat and whisk in the nutmeg with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Generously butter a 12-inch oval baking dish or other 2-quart baking dish. Bring a large pan of salted water to a boil, add the green beans, and cook until they are bright green and nearly tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Drain well.
Melt the butter in a sauté pan or large skillet over medium heat. Add the leeks and cook, stirring, until tender and aromatic, 2 to 3 minutes. Set aside about 1/2 cup of the chanterelles and add the rest to the skillet. Cook, stirring often, until the mushrooms are tender and any liquid they give off has evaporated, 5 to 7 minutes. Take the skillet from the heat and stir in the white sauce, white wine, and salt and pepper to taste. Add the beans and stir to evenly coat them in the sauce, then transfer the mixture to the prepared baking dish.
Pulse the bread crumbs and reserved chanterelles in a food processor to a fine crumbly texture. Scatter the mixture over the green beans and bake until bubbly-hot and the topping is nicely browned, 30 to 40 minutes. Spoon onto individual plates to serve.
Makes 6 to 8 servings