Savory French Green Bean Casserole with Parmesan-Mushroom Cream Sauce and Seasoned, Crispy-Fried Onions

(Serves about 8)

(*This dish is ideal for doing ahead of time, and actually makes things super easy if you do it this way; simply prepare the components a day or two in advance, keep them in the fridge, and then combine them and bake on the day you want to serve it.)

Ingredients:

• Parmesan-Mushroom Cream Sauce (recipe below)
• Seasoned, Crispy-Fried Onions (recipe below)
2 lbs. (32 oz) Haricots Verts (thin, French green beans), cut into 1” pieces
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, for garnish

Preparation:

-Begin by preparing the Parmesan-Mushroom Cream Sauce, and set it aside to cool. (If doing ahead, prepare the sauce and cool it completely, then cover with plastic wrap and place into the fridge to keep until ready to assemble for baking.)

-Prepare the Seasoned, Crispy-Fried Onions, and place them into a paper-towel lined dish to hold. (If doing ahead, just prepare and allow them to cool, then add them into a paper towel-lined ziplock bag kept at room temp until ready to assemble for baking.)

-To cook the cut green beans, place a large pot filled with water over high heat; add enough salt to the water so that it tastes like the ocean (this will help season the green beans), and bring the water to the boil; once the water boils, add in the cut green beans, and simmer them for about 6 minutes, or until crisp tender; once cooked, drain them in a colander, and immediately plunge them into an ice water bath to stop them from further cooking; drain them once again, and place them into a bowl lined with paper towel to dry them as much as possible. (If doing the recipe ahead, you can at this point put the green beans into a container lined with a little paper towel, cover them with plastic wrap or a top, and keep in the fridge until ready to assemble for baking.)

-To prepare the dish, preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and prepare a large baking/casserole dish by lightly buttering it.

-To assemble, add the cooked green beans into a large bowl; next, add the Parmesan-Mushroom cream sauce to the green beans, along with about 1/3 of the Seasoned, Crispy-Fried Onions, and toss gently to combine; turn the green bean mixture out into the buttered baking/casserole dish, sprinkle over the top the ½ cup of grated Parmesan cheese, and place the dish into the oven to bake for about 30 minutes, until bubbly and warmed through; after the 30 minutes, remove the casserole from the oven, sprinkle on the remainder of the Seasoned, Crispy-Fried Onions, and place back into the oven for another 5 minutes to crisp up the onions a little more; finish by sprinkling the fresh thyme leaves over top, and serve while hot.

Parmesan-Mushroom Cream Sauce ingredients:

2 tablespoons olive oil
8 oz. crimini mushrooms, sliced
¾ teaspoon black pepper, plus a pinch, divided use
½ teaspoon salt, plus a pinch, divided use
3 cups milk
2 cups half and half
2 cloves garlic, pressed through garlic press
1 tablespoon all-natural chicken base (I use “Better Than Bouillon” low-sodium)
1 ½ teaspoon Italian seasoning
4 ½ tablespoons butter
8 ½ tablespoons all-purpose flour
¾ cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon soy sauce
• Pinch nutmeg
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

Preparation:

-Place a medium-large, non-stick pot over medium-high heat, and add the olive oil; once the oil is hot, add in the sliced mushrooms, the pinch of salt and pinch of black pepper, and saute for a few minutes until the mushrooms are golden-brown; remove the mushrooms from the pot and place into a small bowl, reserving them for a few minutes; also, reserve this pot as you will use it to prepare the cream sauce in, in a moment.

-Into another large pot, add the milk, the half and half, the remaining ¾ teaspoon of black pepper, the remaining ½ teaspoon of salt, the garlic, the chicken base and the Italian seasoning, and whisk gently to combine; place this pot onto medium-high heat, and allow the milk mixture to come to a gentle simmer; once simmered, turn off the heat.

-Next, place the first medium-large, non-stick pot that you sauteed the mushrooms in, back onto medium-low heat; add in the butter, and once the butter is melted, sprinkle in the flour and stir the two together to form a “roux”, or your thickening agent for the sauce; cook the “roux” for only about 30-45 seconds, just long enough to cook out the raw taste (you want the color to remain very pale), and then slowly begin adding the hot milk mixture into the “roux”, whisking all the while to prevent lumps from forming; once all of the milk mixture is added in, continue to gently whisk the sauce for a moment to ensure that it is well combined, and allow it to gently simmer for another 2 minutes to thicken up a bit; after the sauce has slightly thickened, turn off the heat, and finish the sauce by adding back in the reserved sauteed mushrooms, the grated Parmesan cheese, the soy sauce, the pinch of nutmeg and the fresh thyme leaves, and stir to combine (at this point, you can either leave the sauce as is with the slices of sauteed mushroom, or puree it using a hand-held immersion blender, which I did); next, pour the sauce into a clean bowl/container, and set aside to allow to cool (completely cool, if making ahead), until ready to assemble the dish.

Seasoned, Crispy-Fried Onions ingredients:

• Vegetable or peanut oil for frying (about 3-4 cups)
1 large yellow onion, quartered and sliced as thinly as possible
1 ¼ teaspoon salt, divided use
¾ cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cracked black pepper
1 teaspoon paprika

Preparation:

-Add the vegetable oil to a medium-large pot, and place it over medium heat to slowly bring up to 350 degrees (it's best to use a clip-on thermometer, if you have one).

-While the oil slowly heats up, add the sliced onion into a bowl, and add a ¼ teaspoon of the salt, and toss to coat; next, into a large ziplock bag, add the flour, the remaining 1 teaspoon of salt, the cracked black pepper and the paprika, and toss to combine; next, add in the sliced onions, close the ziplock bag up, and toss the onion slices in the seasoned flour until very well coated; next, remove the onions, gently shaking off any excess flour from them, and place them back into their bowl to hold until the oil is hot for frying.

-Once the oil reaches 350 degrees, take about 1/3 of the flour-coated onion slices and begin frying them (you'll work in 3 batches), gently stirring occasionally to move them around in the hot oil, for a few minutes or until golden brown; remove from oil and drain the crispy onions on a paper towel-lined platter/bowl; repeat until all onion slices are fried, then set them aside and allow them to cool until ready to use in assembly of dish. (If making ahead, store them at room temp in a paper-towel lined ziplock bag.)