A pie plate is the perfect vessel for a scaled-down version of green bean casserole. The shallow dish guarantees a properly balanced ratio of bean to topping in every serving. In this version, the classic layer of fried onions takes a turn, thanks to the addition of saltines and butter. That and a simple sauce made from sauteed mushrooms mean your guests may proclaim this the best green bean casserole. Ever.
For the topping: Add the butter to a large bowl. Crumble the saltines with your hands, adding them to the bowl as you do so, and work them into the butter. Season with salt and pepper. Add the fried onions and mix together.
For the beans: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Bring 2 quarts water to a boil in a large pot. Add 1 tablespoon salt and the beans. Cook until bright green and only slightly crunchy, about 3 minutes. Drain the beans into a colander and rinse with cold water to cool quickly. Set aside to drain further in the colander.
Add the butter to a large skillet over medium-high heat and heat until the butter is melted and the foaming subsides, about 1 minute. Add the mushrooms, onion and garlic and cook until the mushrooms start to release their liquid, about 3 minutes. Add the thyme, 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and cook until the mushrooms are tender and there is only a little liquid left in the skillet, about 5 minutes. Add the flour and cook, stirring, until completely blended and absorbed, about 30 seconds. Stir in the broth and reduce the heat to medium. Stir in the half-and-half, bring to a gentle simmer and cook, adjusting the heat if necessary to maintain a gentle simmer, until the sauce is the consistency of thickened cream, 6 to 8 minutes.
Arrange the beans in a 9-inch pie plate. Pour the mushroom mixture over the beans and mix to coat as well as you can. Sprinkle with the topping and bake until the topping is golden brown and the sauce is bubbly around the perimeter, about 15 minutes.
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