Thanksgiving: Broccoli Cheese Casserole
This year for Thanksgiving (yes, I’m finally getting around to the Thanksgiving posts), we initially decided we would be making “green bean casserole that doesn’t suck”. Two years in a row we have made green bean casserole that does suck, and for some strange reason for the third year we decided maybe we should do something different. Who knows – maybe we’re just tired of not wanting to eat our greens?
I looked around for alternative recipes and actually found a few that looked promising, but then I found this recipe in my new Joy of Cooking cookbook (there’s a story behind that – I promise I’ll tell you later) and thought maybe the solution to green bean casserole that doesn’t suck was to skip the green beans! We all love broccoli (and anyone who doesn’t should learn – it’s the vegetable of champions), and we definitely all love cheese, so really how could we go wrong?
Fortunately, I decided to sit down with the recipe before I tried to make it day-of. Because I think if I’d had to go through this for the first time during all of the insanity that day, I would probably just have screamed and given up then. Let me tell you a little bit about this recipe, and about Joy of Cooking (which I do love, and which as excellent, reliable recipes, but which I’ve said before has a little something strange going on in the layout department). To their extreme credit, I do absolutely understand what they’re trying to do. It’s just that few things get in the way (for me) of a successful recipe more than having to turn pages. And, well, there’s quite a lot of page turning here.
See if you can follow me:
The recipe for Broccoli Cheese Casserole is on page 261, and it’s about 2 inches long. It looks very simple, and pretty quick. Kinda sucks you in, you think, awesome, I can definitely do that. Then you read into it a bit more. First step: preheat the oven and butter the dish, then pour in bread crumbs. Okay, that’s simple. Second step: Fold in steamed broccoli (page 260), and Mornay sauce (page 551).
Wait, what? Okay, so backwards, now. Turn the oven off, flip back a page and figure out that steaming broccoli really is just steaming broccoli, except that the recipe in the book actually references about three more ways to make steamed broccoli (toppings and such), and I’m pretty sure my casserole is just supposed to be straight-up-steamed. Or does it want the lemon juice? I know it can’t want the bread crumbs, because those come later in the casserole recipe, so really just steamed, right? Then why does it reference a recipe for steamed broccoli? Anyway, okay, just steamed.
But what about this Mornay sauce? Flip, flip, flip. Okay, Mornay sauce (page 551) – just a cheese sauce. Alright, but now I have to make that, too, and there are choices here, too – 1 cup? 1 1/2 cups? (Flip, flip, flip.) The casserole recipe doesn’t say! The 1 1/2 cup recipe says “good with broccoli” so it’s probably that one, right? Okay, we’ll just go with that. Wait – the first ingredient in Mornay sauce is “White Sauce I” (page 550). You have got to be kidding me. And for White Sauce I it recommends scalding the milk (page 997) and several variations on what to scald it with.
So now I’m scalding milk to make a white sauce to make a mornay sauce and I’ve completely forgotten what I’m supposed to be doing with all of this between all of the flipping back and forth and reading one recipe referencing another recipe referencing another recipe with possible variations that may or may not apply to the recipe I was originally making. Which is why when I got down to it, I decided to just do all the flipping up front, and I typed up the whole thing, with all the ingredients, and all of the steps in the proper order, and then printed that out to use for the actually cooking process. [And then, because I’m me, I faked it anyway, and skipped steps and left things out (just the scalding) and used the wrong pan.]
Now as I said, I completely understand what they’re trying to do. The broccoli casserole recipe takes up 2 inches of cookbook. Every other recipe referenced is used in many other recipes in the book, and if they had to write them out each time this would be a 5000 page cookbook instead of just 1200 pages. However, frankly, when I’m cooking something, I don’t have the time or the mental capacity to keep track of which page what recipe is on, much less where in that recipe I was before I had to flip pages, much less figure out which variation of a recipe I’m supposed to be using. And some things, like steamed broccoli, would absolutely work better as a one step process that says “steam broccoli”.
Anyway, end rant, because in the end, once I’d written it all up and put it in a format that my organizationally craving brain could follow, the casserole turned out like a charm. It was certainly not a green bean casserole that sucked, and it was actually quite delicious. The bread crumbs were crispy, the cheese was cheesy, the broccoli was perfectly cooked (not too soggy), and everyone had seconds.
It’s been long enough that you may not remember, but my Thanksgiving was a bit more stressful than I’d had in mind (but still excellent), so there aren’t very many (or very good) pictures of the casserole. You’re really just going to have to take my word for most of it. But I highly recommend trying it, with the caveat that you absolutely need to read the recipe all the way through first.
Broccoli Cheese Casserole
Consolidated from Joy of Cooking
- 2 lbs broccoli
- ½ tsp salt
- lemon juice
- 1 cup milk, scalded
- 1 thick onion slice
- 2 whole cloves
- 1 bay leaf
Casserole & Au Gratin
- 2 Tbsp breadcrumbs
- dry breadcrumbs
- paprika (about ½ tsp per cup)
- dots of butter
Mornay Sauce (white cheese sauce):
- 2 Tbsp butter
- 2 Tbsp all purpose flour
- salt and pepper
- ground nutmeg
- 1 tsp fresh lemon juice
- 1 cup grated cheddar cheese (4 oz)
- ½ tsp salt
- 1/8 tsp paprika
- pinch of ground red pepper
- ½ tsp dry mustard
- Cut the thick ends off the broccoli, then cut the florets and stems into smaller chunks.
- Steam broccoli until barely tender, 5-10 minutes.
- Remove from pot and season with salt and lemon juice.
- While broccoli is steaming, prepare Mornay sauce: Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium low heat.
- Whisk in flour until well blended and smooth, about 1½ minutes; remove the pan from heat (this is the roux).
- (If you choose, scald the milk – Rinse a small saucepan with cold water, then add milk, onion slice with cloves stuck in, and bay leaf; heat until tiny bubble form around the edges of the pan.)
- Slowly whisk milk (scalded if you chose – remove onion, cloves and bay leaf) into roux.
- Return the pan to heat and bring to a simmer, whisking constantly to prevent lumps.
- Continue to cook, whisking, until sauce is smooth and hot and has thickened, 1-2 minutes.
- Season to taste with salt, pepper, nutmeg and lemon juice.
- When white sauce is smooth and hot, reduce heat to low and stir in grated cheese.
- Season with salt, paprika, red pepper and mustard.
- Stir until cheese is melted; remove from heat and set aside.
- Position a rack in the upper third of the oven.
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
- Butter a shallow 2-quart baking dish (or whatever you have on hand – I clearly did not use a 2-quart baking dish).
- Sprinkle dish with 2 Tbsp dry breadcrumbs.
- In a large bowl, gently fold together broccoli and Mornay sauce.
- Spread the broccoli mixture evenly in the baking dish.
- Cover with more breadcrumbs, butter and sprinkled paprika evenly over broccoli.
- Bake until bubbling around the edges and browned, about 20 minutes.