My memories of Greek and Turkish holidays often revolve around food. Especially wonderful were the meze, small plates of tasty bites to share such as dolmades (stuffed vines leaves) spanakopita (spinach and feta filo pastry) and dips such as tarama (smoked cods roe)and tzatkiki (cucumber, garlic and yoghurt). One of my favourites was the Greek version of our baked beans, Gigantes Plaki. You can sometimes buy this in UK supermarkets ready made and dried butterbeans which are easily available in the UK are a good substitution but if you’ve successfully been able to grow runner beans you could be surprised at how easy it is to grow your own gigantes and as they store well when dried you can still eat from your allotment long after summer has passed.
Gigantes are a runner bean. Like all runners you will need to sow these indoors no more than three weeks before the last frost. Sow 2 inches deep in root trainers or a 9cm pot. Once all risk of frost has past, harden off the beans by placing outside during the day and bringing in at night or placing in a cold frame and lifting the lid during the day. Plant out after a week. They will need a trellis or other support up to two meters high. You will need to tie them to the support at first but after that they should climb up themselves. Remove the tips once the beans have reached the top of the support. Keep well watered and in July mulch with compost.
Unlike runner beans you do not pick gigantes usually when green but wait instead for the beans to dry as much as possible before removing. When the pods have gone brown they can be removed. To be extra sure these very large beans have dried properly you can give them a further drying in a very low oven or dehydrator for a few hours. After that store in an airtight container and they will last for several months.
In the kitchen:
Gigantes can be used where you would normally use butter beans. They can be used in salads, soups and casseroles as well as the traditional greek baked beans.
You will need to soak dried gigantes for about 8 hours to rehydrate them before cooking. To cook you will need to simmer them with double the weight of water as beans for 2 hours or 3/4 – 1 hour hour in a pressure cooker on a high setting.
Try using them in Gigantes plaki
Yield and plant health:
Considering you would normally see these on a Greek menu the beans are surprisingly easy to grow in the UK. Like runner beans they are extremely prolific. You should get over 1kg of dried beans from 10 plants. They do not suffer from many pests and diseases but they can’t stand frost so you must plant them out after the last frost date.