Green bean casserole without the 'gloppiness' and more tasty Thanksgiving recipes from Andrew Zimmern

Naomi Tomky
·10 min read

On his television shows, chef Andrew Zimmern traipses around the globe, tasting the world’s best foods and giving viewers a glimpse into other people’s kitchens. But when it comes to Thanksgiving, he prefers to invite people over to his place, so he can share his personal spins on the holiday’s familiar foods.

This year, because of the pandemic, Zimmern trades in his annual all-day open house – with family and friends stopping by throughout the morning, joining the sit-down feast, or popping by to nibble a dessert – for a smaller, safer dinner. As he figures out how his own Thanksgiving menu will change when scaled down to only two people, he demonstrates a few favorite dishes. Though he normally makes them for dozens of people, he tells Yahoo Life that these recipes work for either a solo dinner or a pod-full of people.

This year, Zimmern tells Yahoo Life his Thanksgiving will be a much smaller affair due to the pandemic. (Photo: Travel Channel)
This year, Zimmern tells Yahoo Life his Thanksgiving will be a much smaller affair due to the pandemic. (Photo: Travel Channel)

“When I was little, Thanksgiving was a huge affair,” he says, with three-dozen or more people piled into his Uncle Richard’s home in Connecticut. The dishes he ate at the kids’ table there became his comfort food as an adult, and the basis for what he cooks when he hosts Thanksgiving.

Zimmern updates the traditional green bean casserole into a lighter version that keeps the all-important crispy top. With a Montauk oyster chowder, he draws on his East Coast upbringing to pay homage to the first Thanksgiving and honor the Indigenous people on whose land Americans live. Then, he finishes the menu with his Aunt Suzanne’s super simple caramel pecan bars. But as he presents his own showstoppers, he also gives tips and tricks to make the holiday meal special, whether cooking his recipes or your own family favorites.

Steamed Green Beans with Toasted Almond-Mushroom Pesto

Zimmern's healthier spin on green bean casserole.
Zimmern's healthier spin on green bean casserole.

Even without an all-day party to prepare for, Zimmern still takes the opportunity to get a head start on his green beans with toasted almond-mushroom pesto. The healthful spin on the condensed-soup classic casserole keeps all of the flavor, he jokes, but none of the gloppiness. By mixing up the pesto and steaming the beans the previous day, he can simply sauté them together before serving – using just one pan and freeing up oven space.

“You use all five senses when you cook,” he points out. But while most people know to touch, taste, smell, and watch their food, he listens carefully to the pesto to understand when to add the mushroom and almond mix, and to know when it reaches ideal crispness. When he first puts the butter in the pan, the spattering sound stems from the water evaporating out of the fat. When it quiets down, the butter solids start to brown, signaling to add the pesto. As that releases its juices – as necessary before it can crisp – he keeps everything in one pan by placing the green beans on top, letting them reheat right in the steam of their future toppings. Then, the pesto alerts him as it finishes cooking: “The pan changed its tone,” he says. “The music of the pan changed; I can tell the liquid is gone.”

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds green beans, tipped and trimmed

  • 6 tablespoons butter

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

  • 12 ounces stemmed and sliced mushrooms (cremini and shiitake are a nice mix for this dish)

  • 1 small onion, chopped

  • 2 cloves minced garlic

  • 1 tablespoons fresh tarragon

  • 1 cup toasted sliced almonds

  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice

  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce

  • Sea salt and white pepper to taste

  • Toasted almonds for garnish (optional)

Instructions

Servings: 6-8 people

Place the oil in a large no-stick skillet. Saute the mushrooms until browned. Add the onion and garlic and saute until glassy and just turning color

Pull from heat. Add the tarragon and cool for 5 minutes.

Pulse puree the mushroom mixture in the food processor, being careful not to overmix. Add the almonds, lemon juice and soy sauce and pulse to combine. Reserve to a work bowl.

Steam the beans until crisp tender and reserve.

All of this can be done the day before if you like

Right before serving, place a large skillet on high heat. Add the butter and when melted and foaming, add the beans, tossing until heated through. Add the mushroom mixture and toss to combine allowing clumps of the pesto to crisp in the butter.

Cook for a few minutes and serve, seasoning with sea salt, ground white pepper and garnish with toasted almond slices.

Zimmern’s Montauk Oyster Chowder with Scallops

Montauk Oyster Chowder with Scallops is a warming Thanksgiving staple in Zimmern's family.
Montauk Oyster Chowder with Scallops is a warming Thanksgiving staple in Zimmern's family.

After first sliding the green beans into the serving bowl, followed by the crispy pesto mix and a garnishing of additional almonds, Zimmern turns his attention to the seafood soup. Like the green beans, it works well to make ahead. Most years, he keeps a kettle of his Montauk oyster stew with scallops warming by the door for his open house guests to serve themselves as they step in from the chilly Minnesota fall. “It's the best way to welcome somebody into your home,” he says. But even at his smaller celebration, this staple of his ’60s East Coast holidays stays on the menu.

Oysters are more traditional to Thanksgiving than a turkey, because we do not know that turkey was at the first Thanksgiving." Andrew Zimmern, Celebrity Chef

“The very first Thanksgiving was all about the local food that the Pilgrims found when they came here, and the Indigenous people of America,” he explains. “We can honor the folks whose land we live on with food.” For that, he always includes native foods in his feast, such as smoked salmon and pumpkin - in pie, in gnocchi, or roasted. Back then, people could walk into the land for a mile on the surfeit of oysters. “Oysters are more traditional to Thanksgiving than a turkey,” Zimmern notes, “Because we do not know that turkey was at the first Thanksgiving.”

Ingredients

  • 2oz of salt pork or 1 slice of bacon, minced

  • 2 celery ribs, thinly sliced

  • 8 sliced yellow new potatoes

  • 1 large yellow onion, quartered and thinly sliced

  • Small bouquet garni of thyme, tarragon and parsley

  • 1 teaspoon paprika

  • 1t ground celery seed

  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

  • 1 quart freshly shucked oysters, drained

  • 1 and 1/2 cups of liquor reserved (from the oysters)

  • 1 cup fish stock or clam broth, plus more to taste

  • 3 tablespoons salted butter

  • 1/2 pound dry pack sea scallops

  • Salt

  • 1 quart heavy cream

  • 1 and 1/2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

  • Freshly ground black pepper

  • Snipped chives, for garnish

  • Buttered baguette toasts or oyster crackers, for serving

Instructions

Total Time: 45 minutes

Servings: 6-10 depending on bowls or mugs

In a large pot, cook the pork/bacon over moderate heat until softened, about 1 minute. Add the celery, potatoes, onion, bouquet garni, dry spices and cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is translucent, about 2 minutes. Add the oyster liquor and fish stock and bring to a boil. Simmer over moderately low heat for about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a medium skillet, melt the butter. Season the scallops with salt and cook over high heat until well browned on one side, about 2 minutes; immediately transfer to a plate.

Stir the heavy cream into the pot and simmer until slightly thickened, about 3-4 minutes. Add the oysters and bring just to a simmer. Add the scallops and simmer for 30-60 more seconds. Remove from the heat, stir in the Worcestershire sauce and season with salt and pepper. Discard the herb bundle. Spoon the stew into bowls, garnish with chives and serve immediately with the toasts or crackers.

NOTE: Oyster liquor is the liquid inside of the oysters, you collect them as you shuck them and if you are buying shucked oysters they will come with their liquid. If you don’t have 1 and 1/2 cups of oyster liquor, add more fish stock or clam juice to reach the correct amount.

In a large pot, cook the bacon over moderate heat until softened, about 1 minute. Add the celery, onion, thyme, paprika and Old Bay and cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is translucent, about 2 minutes. Add the oyster liquor and fish stock and bring to a boil. Simmer over moderately low heat for about 10 minutes, until reduced by one-fourth.

Meanwhile, in a medium skillet, melt the butter. Season the scallops with salt and cook over high heat until well browned on one side, about 2 minutes; immediately transfer to a plate.

Stir the heavy cream into the pot and simmer until slightly thickened, about 3 minutes. Add the oysters and bring just to a simmer. Add the scallops and simmer for 30 seconds. Remove from the heat, stir in the Worcestershire sauce and season with salt and pepper. Discard the thyme sprig. Spoon the stew into bowls, garnish with chives and serve immediately with the toasts or crackers.

NOTE: Oyster liquor is the liquid inside of the oyster shell. If you don’t have 1 1/2 cups of oyster liquor, add more fish stock to reach the correct amount.

Aunt Suzanne’s Caramel Pecan Bars

It took Zimmern ten years to get this recipe for caramel pecan bars from his Aunt Suzanne.
It took Zimmern ten years to get this recipe for caramel pecan bars from his Aunt Suzanne.

Zimmern’s holiday dessert comes from a much less traditional place: He calls them his Aunt Suzanne’s caramel pecan bars, but guesses that her mom or grandmother got the recipe off a bag of flour or on the side of a butter box. He prefers the bar shape to the classic pie, as it allows him to pre-cut elegant squares into different sizes depending on how much other dessert he plans to serve.

The recipe, with its crisp, chewy butterscotch flavor, took him ten years to get from his Aunt and now he adapts it to his own preferences. First, he lays down the butter crumb crust, then adds the pecans and pours the hot mixture of brown sugar and butter over top before putting them into the oven. When the pan comes out all hot and bubbly, he customizes it by adding chocolate chips to only half. “I’m not a chocolate nut,” he admits, preferring to taste the pecans and caramel. When he puts them out for guests, he puts the chocolate ones on top, so any leftovers are his preferred plain ones.

Of course, this year Thanksgiving is going to be different, he says. “But the gratitude that we have for being able to spend whatever time we can, with whomever we can, is amplified all around our country.” And fewer guests mean you can use as much or as little chocolate as you want in Aunt Suzanne’s caramel pecan bars.

Ingredients

Crust

  • 2 cups flour

  • 1 cup packed brown sugar

  • 1/2 cup of salted butter

Topping

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a standing mixer with the paddle attachment, mix all the crust ingredients together on a low speed for about 90-120 seconds.

Press the mixture into the bottom of a 9 x 13 baking pan and sprinkle the pecans on evenly. Set aside for a moment.

In a small sauce pot combine the butter and the brown sugar, cooking over medium heat, stir until it comes to a boil. Boil for one minute you will see it become homogeneous and begin to rise up the sides of pot.

Pour the mixture over the nuts as evenly and quickly as you can. sprinkle with flaky sea salt.

Bake for 20 minutes at 350 degrees in the center of the oven.

Remove, and if you like chocolate, sprinkle with the chocolate chips at this time.

Cool for a few hours, cut one strip out of pan and cut into squares with a sharp knife. Then lift out the remaining plank, cut into strips and then into squares.

Enjoy. These store best in the fridge with baking paper in between the squares.

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