Puffball Powder: Green Bean Casserole from Scratch
Puffballs are among the most common mushrooms we find in the Southeast - in grassy yards, meadows, even on the sides of highways. The Giant Puffball mushroom - Calvatia gigantea - can grow up to 35” in diameter!
in 2015 we had a prolific puffball season. I found one the size of a volleyball in a wooded lot in the historic Montford neighborhood of Asheville. After making two large meals of pan fried puffball with a tasty dipping sauce I still had more than half of the thing left! So I sliced the rest into strips and dehydrated them in my oven on the lowest heat, the door held open with a wooden spoon to let moisture escape and keep the temperature from getting too high. When dry, the nearly weightless mushroom pieces filled a half gallon glass jar. They crumbled easily and I realized I could crush them into powder in my hand.
When you open a jar of dried puffball the aroma is surprisingly rich and pronounced. It’s a heady, earthy, deeply mushroomy scent. It’s surprising because the fresh specimen is nearly flavorless, and you treat it as you would tofu–basically a blank canvas to build flavor upon. But when dried the puffball experiences a particularly savory alchemy. Over the years I have used puffball powder to enrich soups, stews, stroganoff, and spaghetti sauce. You’d be amazed at the oohs and ahhs you get from unknowing dinner guests who “don’t like mushrooms.”
While it is easily crushed into a flour-like powder, dried puffball does not absorb liquid the way flour does. The powder will take a little of the moisture, but is not a significant thickener. And as long as dried mushrooms are kept sealed and dry, they will last for many years.
Now that we are getting into the cooler temperatures of October in Asheville, but still have the last of the summer vegetables available, it’s the perfect time for casseroles! It’s so nice to want to heat up the house with the oven again. The North Asheville Tailgate market is my go-to for beautiful organic vegetables, and Flying Cloud Farm’s green beans were positively glowing in the early morning light. Trust me, if you want the best green bean casserole, start with the best green beans!
1 1/2 lbs fresh green beans, ends trimmed, cut into 1” - 2” pieces
3 tbs butter
2 shallots, chopped
1/2 lb fresh mushrooms, cleaned with a brush and chopped (I used cremini for lack of wild mushrooms)
2 tablespoons puffball powder
3 tbs flour
1 cup chicken stock, or chicken-style veggie broth
1 cup half-and-half
4 shallots, sliced thin length-wise
1/2 cup frying oil
salt and black pepper
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Add 2 tablespoons salt to a large pot of water and bring it to a boil. Blanch the green beans for 5 minutes. Drain the green beans and put them into a bowl of ice water. Once chilled, remove the green beans and set them aside to dry.
Melt the butter in a large cast-iron pan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the shallots and saute until lightly browned. Add the chopped mushrooms, puffball powder, and salt and pepper, and cook, stirring frequently, until the mushrooms are softened. Add the flour and stir to coat the mushrooms and shallots. Pour in the chicken stock slowly while whisking to keep lumps from forming. Whisk in the half-and-half. Bring the sauce to a simmer and let it cook gently for 3-5 minutes, stirring frequently. Once the sauce reaches a nice thickness, add salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the green beans, then pour everything into a 9” x 13” baking dish.
Bake for 35 minutes, until the casserole is bubbling through the middle.
While the casserole is baking, heat the 1/2 cup frying oil in a cast iron pan. When the oil is shimmering, add the shallots and stir them around. Keep stirring as they fry, and cook until they are brown and crispy. This only takes a couple of minutes. Remove the shallots quickly to a plate lined with paper towel. Try not to eat them all as you wait for the casserole to cook.
When the casserole is out of the oven, top with the fried shallots and let it casserole rest for 5 minutes before serving.
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