White and blue remind me of Greece. The white washed buildings against the emerald-turquoise, blue-green waters. The bright blue sky devoid of clouds on a warm summer day. The white linen blowing in the breeze…slow, lazy days.
What am I doing reminiscing about relaxing summer days in Greece when autumn is upon NYC?
Well, that’s where my brain wanders every so often (my happy place), but time to switch gears. Time to think about warming, cold-weather, comfort food. Come fall, I want soups and stews, big bowls of beans and legumes, and a nice piece of braised meat (all on my to-do list).
One of my all-time favorite comfort foods is gigandes (or gigantes) plaki — Greek beans baked in the oven. This is a classic dish (meze) that you find on many menus in Greece. There are numerous versions out there. I’ve sampled quite a few while exploring Greece. Some simpler, some more complex and flavorful. Regardless, have never met a bowl gigandes plaki I didn’t like.
The key ingredient are the giant white beans known as fasolia gigantes or butter/giant lima beans. They’re baked in a tomato sauce until tender and creamy. The sauce — onions, garlic, crushed tomatoes, dill, Greek oregano, and extra virgin olive oil — becomes thick and concentrated as the dish bakes, developing flavor and complexity as it cooks. I always think of Greek food as slow food at its best.
You don’t need many ingredients to prepare gigandes. It’s uncomplicated and easy to make (although, it does take some time to bake, so fair warning). Gigandes is comforting and warming on a cool fall or winter’s day. It’s hearty. It’s filling. It’s flavorful. It makes a ton (enough for several meals, depending on your appetite; best, in my opinion, when they come out of the oven). It’s vegetarian (vegan if you omit the feta).
Have I sold you on gigandes yet? Make it.You won’t be disappointed.
Perfect for lunch or dinner with a salad or side of greens (I’ve even had gigandes for breakfast).
Serve on or with bread, or enjoy alone.
I like a lot of fresh dill. Once upon a time, dill and I were enemies, but now we’re pals. Funny how your taste buds evolve.
Prepping my ingredients while the beans boil away…
Garnishing with goat’s or sheep’s milk feta is completely optional, but highly recommended…
You’ll want to boil the beans until tender but not mushy since they’re going to bake in the oven for another hour or two. The exact amount of boiling time will depend on the quality/age of the beans. As always, just be sure to taste along the way.
Don’t forget to reserve some of the bean cooking liquid before you drain them…
Dinner is served…
Kali orexi (good appetite)!
Gigandes (Greek Giant Baked Beans)
1 pound dried giant white beans (like these fasolia gigantes or butter beans or giant lima beans)
1/2 cup olive oil, plus a little extra for drizzling over the finished dish
1 large onion, diced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 (28-ounce) can of crushed canned tomatoes
1 tablespoon dried Greek oregano
1/2 cup dill plus extra for garnish
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Soak the beans for 8 hours or overnight.
Rinse the beans that were soaking overnight. Place them in a large pot. Cover with water. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer until the beans are tender but not mushy, about 50 minutes (depending on the quality/age of the beans they made need as much as 60 to 80 minutes; check every 10 minutes, until tender). Reserve 1 1/4 cups of the bean cooking liquid. Drain the remaining liquid. Place the beans in a large mixing bowl.
Preheat the oven to 350F.
While the beans are cooking, heat a large skillet. Add the olive oil. When hot, add the onions and garlic, and saute over medium-high heat until lightly golden, about 10 minutes. Add the onions to the bowl with the beans. Add the crushed tomatoes, oregano, dill. Stir gently to combine. Season with chile flakes, salt (added 1 teaspoon), and black pepper to taste.
Transfer to a casserole dish. Cover with the reserved 1 1/4 cups of bean cooking liquid and give the beans a gentle stir. Bake, uncovered (without stirring), until the beans are tender and creamy, about 1 hour and 45 minutes to 2 hours, or until most of the liquid is absorbed (but not completely dry). Let cool a few minutes.
Top with feta and dill. I like to finish with a sprinkling of coarse sea salt (like Maldon). It tastes even better the next day and the day after that. Kali orexi!