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Gigantes – Baked Giant Butter Beans/Γίγαντες Πλακί

My mother always had a large white ceramic baking dish on hand at anytime of the day or night containing Gigantes.  When they were good I loved them.  Creamy soft butter beans coated in a garlicky tomato sauce with a kick of herbs. The trouble was, my mother would never quite repeat the recipe the same way twice and so they were not always good. Battles would follow if the recipe veered too far and I would be quite determined in rejecting the week’s offering if they didn’t quite taste as I liked them.  Other members of the family would eat them whatever was done to the recipe. I am still of the impression that they had no taste buds.

This is a simple dish and everyone likes it their way.  It’s basically a dish of baked beans. The beans in question being butter beans, soaked overnight and cooked in the oven with tomatoes, olive oil, celery, onion and their crowing glory; garlic, dill and parsley.

The sticking point in my mother’s Gigantes was that some weeks the ratio of garlic to beans was completely off the scale –  handy if there were any vampires in the area, or if the  dill had been overplayed.  Some weeks the butter beans themselves were a little al dente and other weeks the Gigantes were just perfect. On the perfect days they would be eaten with bread and a generous slice of feta.

Like a lot of recipes I post you can alter and add to this recipe depending what you have in your fridge or cupboard or just to make it your own with the balance of garlic and herbs.  Carrots are put into the dish by lots of cooks but I prefer it without.  Some omit the dill, where I feel it is what makes the dish.  The only thing I will say is that the beans do need to be soaked overnight and cooked until very tender. This can take anything from 45mins to 1 hour and 20 minutes.  Even if the flavours are right, there is nothing worse than biting into an al dente bean.  Trust me, I have had plenty of those over the years!

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Gigantes Plaki

Ingredients

500g gigantes /butter beans

olive oil for frying and serving at the end

1 large onion chopped finely

1 stick celery chopped finely

2 large cloves of garlic minced/crushed

400g tin of tomatoes

1 tsp sugar

2 tbs tomato purée

flat leaf parsley roughly chopped (1-2 tablespoons or more)

dill roughly chopped (1-2 tablespoons)

salt and pepper

Method

Soak the beans in water overnight.

Rinse the beans and place the beans in a pan and bring to a gentle boil, turn them down and simmer for anything between 50-100mins.  The beans are cooked when then are soft. Take one out and squeeze between your fingers.

Drain, rinse and set aside.

In a frying pan, add some olive oil and fry the chopped onion and celery.  Cook until the onion is starting to become translucent, add the garlic and cook for a few minutes more. Then add the tomatoes, adding half a tin of water to the pan along with the tomato purée. Add the teaspoon of sugar.  Season and stir.  Leave to simmer for 20 mins. Checking from time to time, if the mixture becomes dry add a little water.

Into an oven proof dish add the beans and the onion, celery, tomato and garlic. At this point also add the chopped parsley and dill.  Mix well and place in an oven at 180C for 40-45 minutes.

Serve with adding some olive oil over the top and a slice of feta.

Sausages also go very well with this dish.

These can be eaten hot, lukewarm or even cold.

Note:  I buy the Greek  3alpha Gigantes white beans (butter beans) from The Athenian Grocery in Moscow road, London W2 4BT, they also do a mail order service.  I am not connected with them in any way except I have been going to their shop since a small child.

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