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Not growing up eating a strictly traditional Thanksgiving meal, I have always remained somewhat bemused by some of the elements and why people cling to them.
The green bean casserole has always puzzled me in particular, as green beans are certainly not in season in November in most of the nation, and definitely not in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, where the first Pilgrims supposedly celebrated the first Thanksgiving with the local native peoples.
But I have been to enough varied Thanksgiving feasts with friends and family, close and less close, to know that this is a holiday when people do feel sacred about their food traditions, which have to be respected and followed if a harmonious meal is to be achieved. Still, after one remote family member by marriage made canned green bean casserole with canned fried onions on top, I determined to find a recipe to both celebrate tradition and be delicious to eat.
I think Thanksgiving is often a meal of big rich heavy flavors—stuffing, gravy, meat, creamed onions, mashed root vegetables, with lashings butter and cream—but green beans inherently are light and clean and almost refreshing. I wanted to bridge the gap.
By blanching the beans in salted water and dressing them, still warm, with a rich and tangy crème fraîche dressing, they become slightly more festive—simple to prepare, clean in flavor, yet at one with all the other parts of a meal that everyone always wants to put a lot of energy and effort into it.
I love to use crème fraîche in place of cream or sour cream because I like the very delicate sour tang with the rich full fat that rounds out of texture and flavor. I add toasted hazelnuts to mimic the fried onions of tradition, and they bring crunch as well as a pleasing buttery flavor contrast. Since green beans aren’t in season anyway, I suggest you use delicate and thin haricots verts instead of meaty green beans: They will be more delicate and tender, as well as a little sweeter, than overly large fall green beans (at least in New England, the original home of Thanksgiving!).
I couldn’t decide if casserole had to be baked or could be called casserole just on the basis of the dish it's served in, but in the end decided that yes, it could just be the serving platter. And the green beans are delicious enough that no one will miss the canned fried onions!
- 3/4 cup crème fraîche
- 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
- 1 tablespoon whole grain mustard
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup chopped chives
- 1/2 cup raw hazelnuts
- 2 pounds haricots verts, trimmed
Our kind of "casserole" dish:
Do you serve green beans on Thanksgiving? Sautéed, roasted, blanched? Tell us in the comments below.