“Gigantes” in Greek means literaly “giants.” This recipe will work with any bean but it is traditionally made with the largest of white beans called, of course, “giants.”
Whether a hearty main course or an appetiser, served before the main course, this is a delicious dish. It is so filling, that I can’t help wondering why it was ever thought of as an appetiser. Perhaps the idea came to a thrifty housewife with too many guests and not a big enough chicken for everyone – who knows?
The recipe is quite straightforward: cook the beans, prepare a sauce, then mix both together and cook again in a casserole dish.
Jumbo beans casserole (gigantes fournou)
Preparation time: 8+ hours
Active cooking time: about 30 minutes
Recipe of medium complexity
Appropriate for vegetarians, vegans, diabetics, celiacs. Kosher & Halal.
For the beans
½ kilo (1 lb) of large (jumbo) beans; water
For the sauce
½ cup of olive oil
4 cloves of garlic
1 cup of parsley, chopped
1 kilo (2 lb) of fresh tomatoes or ½ kilo (1 lb) of concentrated tomato juice
Salt and pepper to taste, a pinch of red pepper, some oregano, a teaspoon of sugar
Large pot or pressure cooker, deep skillet or wide pot, colander, deep casserole dish
Overnight, sort the beans and wash well. Put them in a large pot and cover them with plenty of water. Let them soak for 8-18 hours.
Tip 1: The longer they soak, the faster they’ll cook. If you forget to soak them overnight, try soaking them in hot water in the morning. They should be ready to cook by the time you get back from work.
The next day, set the heat to high and bring the pot to a rolling boil. Let the beans boil one or two minutes – they will froth.
Strain them using a colander.
Rinse the pot, fill it with water and put it back on the stove. Once the water boils, add the beans. Reduce heat and boil till tender. Pour the beans and cooking liquid into a deep casserole dish.
Tip 2: If you need to top up the water while cooking, use hot water; cold water will wash away the flavor and the beans will taste bland.
Tip 3: In a pressure cooker the beans will cook in 20-40 minutes, depending on their size, age (old ones cook longer) and how long they soaked.
While the beans cook, preheat the oven to 200 °C (392 °F).
Chop the onion and garlic.
Sauté the onions in a deep skillet until translucent.
Then push them aside to form a crater and, when the oil pools there, add the garlic.
Tip 4: Garlic lends a wonderful flavour to the food if it is sautéed in hot oil. However, it burns easily and turns bitter, destroying the flavour of the dish when cooked on a high heat for a long time. That is the reason for the crater: the garlic will fry in hot oil, but will not overcook, as the onions are already cooked. Turn the heat down almost immediately.
Turn the fire to low and cook slowly, stirring often, until the onions caramelise.
Add the tomato sauce and sugar.
Cook for about 15 minutes or until the liquid has been reduced by half. Add the chopped parsley and spices, reduce heat and cook until all the water has completely evaporated.
Tip 5: You may replace parsley with celery. If you do, sauté the celery with the onion and garlic. Omit the oregano.
Taste and adjust the seasonings to your liking, then pour the tomato sauce over the beans.
Stir well, until all the beans are immersed in the sauce.
Bake for 45 minutes, pulling the dish out of the oven and gently stirring the beans 2-3 times while they cook, so that all cook evenly.
Tip 6: The aim of baking is for the flavours to blend and the sauce to thicken. The beans will not cook further (the acidity of the tomato will prevent that), so they must be done to your liking before baking.
Tip 7: The sauce should be moderately runny when you take it out of the oven, but it should set as it cools. For the dish to succeed, the beans should have no less than 2 cups of the water they were cooked in when they are put in the casserole. Otherwise the dish will be unpleasantly dry.
Tip 8: This dish improves if left a day or two in the fridge for the flavours to blend. You may use it as a main course in the middle of the week and then serve it as an appetiser during the weekend, when you entertain guests. “Upping” the number of dishes on the table by this simple method is a trick used by Greek housewives of old to impress guests with their home-making skills.
Tip 9: Jumbo beans freeze well, without losing flavour or texture.