I fell in love with Greek food the summer Lisl dragged me over to a tiny island called Serifos, and brought me to where the locals eat. Heavenly. I discovered a dish where large beans (“Gigantes”) are cooked in a tomato sauce. I’ve been meaning to make it for years. I guess I was waiting for a starting point.
Enter the blogosphere. There are a number of Greek-oriented food blogs I enjoy, and one of my favorites is Kalofagas, by Peter Minakas. I discovered that he wrote about “Gigantes St Fourno” in Oct 2007. I took the recipe in a slightly different, more anise-flavored direction, but want to say thank you to Peter for providing the framework.
Gigantes with Tomato and Fennel
1 bag (~450 grams) dried large lima/butter beans*
2 medium carrots, chopped
2 celery stalks, diced
3 cloves garlic, smashed
3 bay leaves
1 1/2 large onions, diced
1 lb canned, skinless plum tomatoes, loosely chopped
1/2 large fennel bulb (or 1 smaller one), diced
1 large handful of parsely, finely chopped
2 tbsp tarragon, finely chopped
large pinch fennel seeds
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
large pinch of ground savory (optional)
2 tbsp pernod
salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 380F early enough that it will be at the right temperature when you are ready to put the baking dish into the oven.
Cooking the Beans
I soaked the beans during the day in cold water, but you can skip this step and just cook them for longer. Place the beans in a large pot along with the carrots, celery, garlic and bay leaf, then cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a bubbling simmer (not a gentle simmer) and cook until tender. If you soaked the beans, this can be about 20 to 25 minutes, and if not, more like 45 to 50 minutes but only cook the carrots and celery for about 20 min. Remove from the heat.
Making the Sauce (can be done in parallel with beans)
Heat up 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large saute pan and cook the onions. When they start to turn translucent, add the tomatoes, fennel, fennel seed, paprika, parsely, tarragon and savory, and cook at a light simmer, stirring occasionally. Add about 1/2 tsp of salt and several pinches of black pepper. After about 10 minutes, stir in the pernod and continue to cook for another 20 minutes or so, adding more water if it starts to get too dry. Taste for salt and pepper. Because the beans will have no salt, it is fine to make the sauce a touch saltier than you might normally go.
With a slotted spoon, scoop out the beans, carrots and celery and place in a large baking dish (I had to use my biggest one). Pour the tomato sauce on top and gently mix in. Then pour in the cooking liquid from the butter beans until everything is just barely covered.
Place the baking tray in the oven and cook for an hour, or until much of liquid is gone and the top is browned. Note: I got hungry and pulled them after about 50 to 55 minutes before they really browned nicely, but they still tasted delicious.
I don’t know what the blogosphere Greeks will say about my fennel/pernod/tarragon direction compared to the classic, but I really enjoyed it and Lisl gave it an enthusiastic two thumbs up. In tonight’s case, I went in a non-vegetarian direction by pairing it with some lamb chops marinated with rosemary and then grilled, and served it all with a nice red Zinfindel.
* Note: while I gather from online reading that true gigantes are a different bean from the large butter/lima beans we find in our supermarkets, most recipes allow for the swapping of the two.