Brits reading this site will remember the famous slogan “Beans means Heinz” and for over a hundred years we’ve been sitting down to baked beans on toast for breakfast or lunch, so much so we seem to have almost forgotten that baked beans are an American introduction.
Across Europe cultures have adopted and adapted the baked bean, from the French Cassoulet to my favourite, the Greek gigantes plaki. There is something hugely fun about the giant beans, so much bigger than anything we see in the UK but they are actually really easy to grow yourself and anyone that can grow runners beans can grow these. If you don’t have a supply of beans then butter beans make a close substitution.
Originally gigantes place was a good dish for religious fasting when meat was forbidden or as a cheap but also tasty source of protein. I think it is one of the greatest Greek Meze dishes, colourful, satisfying even for meat eaters and extremely good for you when homage with none of the added sugars and additives that you might find in a normal tin of baked beans.
You can make this recipe using dried beans which takes considerably longer but produces a much better result as the beans really soak up the flavours and have a firmer texture. However tinned beans would work.
Greeks would probably be horrified at the idea of serving gigantes on toast and I wouldn’t if serving it as part of a Greek meal, however they do make a wonderful breakfast or lunchtime snack.
Time: If using dried beans 8 hours soaking, 3 cooking. If using canned, 40 minutes.
- 100g olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- 1/2 a star anise
- 1/2 celery stick, finely chopped
- 1 tsp dried or 2 tsp fresh oregano
- 200g dried gigantes or butter beans or a 400g tin of butter beans.
- 400g passata
- 15g parsley
- 4 slices of sour dough (optional)
If using dried beans:
Soak overnight in plenty of water, allowing at least double the amount of water for beans.
When ready to cook, place beans in a pressure cooker or pan with lid, add the soaking water and top up until the beans are covered. If using a normal pan simmer gently for 1.5 – 2 hours. If using a pressure cooker, cook on high pressure for 45 minutes – 1 hour. When ready the beans will be ternder but not thoroughly cooked. Top water up part way through cooking if it is running dry.
Half an hour before your beans are ready, Preheat the oven to 180 °C. Heat the oil in a large frying pan to a medium heat, add the chopped onion and garlic and fry until soft. Add the star anise and chopped celery and continue to to fry for a further ten minutes. Remove the star anise and add the passata and season with salt and pepper to taste and remove from heat.
Add the beans to the tomato sauce (undrained if you only have a little of the cooking liquid left), stir in the oregano. Place in an ovenproof dish and bake for half an hour. You may need to add a little more water part way through cooking.
Can be served hot or at room temperature, sprinkled with the chopped parsley and your optional toasted sourdough.