An updated green bean casserole for your Thanksgiving table

Growing up, I always had the green bean casserole straight from the back of the cream of mushroom soup can. It's one of my favorite memories, and I had to laugh when I interviewed several Chattanooga chefs for a story for Chatter magazine about their favorite Thanksgiving dishes and found that several of them said green bean casserole made with canned soup and canned onions is their favorite side dish, too.

(READ MORE: Several Chattanooga-area chefs dish about their favorite Thanksgiving meal and memory)

But there are those out there who simply cannot think about using canned anything for their Thanksgiving meals. I used to be in that camp and found a made-from-scratch version that was quite similar to that of my childhood. After some trial and error, and a little tweaking of the original, I found that it passed muster. In fact, even one of my grandkids who won't eat anything green actually liked them. A Thanksgiving miracle.

The key to this homemade version is to create layers of flavor, beginning with sauteeing onions in a good amount of butter in order to caramelize them. Once the onions are tender and golden, the fresh mushrooms are added to the pan before adding the garlic — the ultimate flavor enhancer that brings a tasty punch to the sauce.

(READ MORE: Make onions the star of the meal)

The cream sauce is made with half-and-half, with cornstarch as the thickening agent. It is a simple cream sauce, but the caramelized onions, mushrooms, garlic and spices make it taste quite savory.

It's the green beans, though, that are the star of this show, and since you're making it from scratch, fresh beans are the best. In a pinch, canned are OK. Steam or boil the green beans to an al dente stage. You want them to be cooked but not mushy.

Though this green bean casserole has those delicious caramelized onions in the cream sauce, you still need more for the topping. The original recipe called for making crisp onions from scratch, but why mess with tradition? French's does a fine job of making good crisp onions that add a nice salty crunch. So if you insist on making your green bean casserole from scratch this year, it's hard to beat this recipe.

Green Bean Casserole

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided

1 large onion, chopped

8 ounces sliced fresh mushrooms

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons cornstarch

2 1/2 cups half-and-half

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 pound green beans, trimmed

2 cups French's fried onions

In a large skillet, heat 4 tablespoons of butter over medium-high heat. Add onions, and cook until tender and caramelized, 7-8 minutes, stirring often. Add mushrooms, and cook for 4 minutes longer. Stir in garlic, and cook for 1 minute. Transfer the mixture to a bowl.

After the onion-mushroom mixture has been removed, use the same skillet. Heat skillet to a medium heat, and add remaining 4 tablespoons of butter. Add cornstarch and begin to quickly whisk the mixture. Let cook, whisking often, for about 2 minutes. Stir in half-and-half, salt and pepper. Cook for 4-5 minutes until mixture thickens. Taste and check for seasonings.

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add green beans, and cook for 6-7 minutes to al dente.

Add onion-mushroom mixture to cream sauce, and stir. Add green beans, and stir to coat. Pour into a 9- by 9-inch baking dish. Bake for 25 minutes or until bubbly. Remove from the oven, and cover with fried onions. Bake for 5 minutes longer. Makes 6-8 servings.

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