You hear that? The whir of the electric can opener breaking into a fresh can of mushroom soup. Ok, fresh is being way too generous. But fresh or not, popping open a can of mushroom soup always says casserole to me. To be honest, I don’t know what else it’s used for. I’m certainly not going to pour a bowl of condensed mushroom soup and hunker down on it. But as much as I love the much-needed creaminess canned soup brings to the table, I can’t help but think there’s a better more organic way to achieve that texture.
With that in mind, I took my family’s broccoli casserole (and by my family’s I’m sure I mean Campbell’s recipe on the back of the can) that we make every Thanksgiving and Christmas and flipped it. Gone are all the traditional players found in a broccoli casserole – canned soup, pre-shredded cheddar cheese and crushed Ritz Crackers – replaced with a sharp yet creamy béchamel sauce and panko breading. Sounds highfalutin, I know, for what’s supposed to be a warm and inviting dish. But trust me. When you take your first spoonful of this dressed up broccoli casserole you won’t feel shy about unbuttoning that top button of your pants and finishing a plate or two.
5 cups fresh broccoli florets
3 tablespoons butter
1 cup diced onions
2 tablespoons shallots (1 shallot)
1 ½ tablespoons garlic (3 cloves)
salt and pepper to taste
Béchamel (Cheese Sauce)
1 stick butter
½ cup all purpose flour
3 cups room temperature milk (divided in half)
2 cups sharp white cheddar cheese
1 cup fontina cheese
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon lime juice
½ cup sour cream
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup panko bread crumbs
3 tablespoons butter melted
Make the broccoli mixture
- Blanche the broccoli: Prep a large mixing bowl with ice water and set aside. Fill a large stock pot with water and a generous portion of salt (about 2 teaspoons). Bring to a boil. Blanche the broccoli in batches by cooking the florets in the boiling water for about 3 minutes and shocking them in the mixing bowl filled with ice water. Repeat until all florets have been blanched. Drain the broccoli and place them in a large mixing bowl.
- Using a food processor, roughly chop half of the blanched broccoli florets. Return the chopped florets to the rest of the broccoli in the large mixing bowl. In a large sauté pan melt the butter over medium heat. Once butter is melted add the onions, shallots and garlic and sauté the mixture until fragrant, about 5-6 minutes. Three minutes into the sautéing, add salt and pepper to taste. Next, add the broccoli to the pan and cook for another 3 minutes. Set mixture aside in a large mixing bowl to cool while you prep the béchamel.
Make the béchamel
- In the same stock pot you used for the broccoli, melt the stick of butter over medium high heat. Add the flour and whisk until frothy, about 1 minute. Next, add 1½ cups milk to the pot and whisk for about 5 minutes. Add the remaining 1½ cups milk to the pot and whisk for another 10 minutes.
- Add the cheese and stir the mixture until the cheese is melted, about 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and add the vinegar, lime, cayenne and salt and pepper to taste. Stir to combine.
- Pour the cheese sauce into the bowl of broccoli mixture. Stir to combine. Pour into the greased casserole dish. In a separate small mixing bowl combine the panko breading with the melted 3 tablespoons of butter. Sprinkle the panko on top of the casserole dish. Place casserole dish into the oven and make for 35-40 minutes until bubbly and brown.