Updated: Nov 10
Dried beans are usually not my thing, since I never seem to plan ahead, and dried beans require soaking overnight as well as a lot more time on the stove. Since I started working from home, I have tried dishes with longer prep times, and decided to make use of these beautiful gigante beans languishing in my pantry.
Gigante beans are the Other White Meat. They are big, so you feel like you are really biting into something. They are also ultra-creamy. After a successful soaking of these beans (which require some monitoring, because they drink up a lot more water than you'd expect) I transferred them to a jar, only to discover the jar had no lid. This tells you everything you need to know about what kind of fiends are running around my kitchen. I would have tried another jar, but decided to go with a waxed paper and rubber band solution, resulting in a jar ready to take Aqaba.
Lawrence of Gigante
Gigante beans are not easy to find, except online or at a speciality food shop like Kalustyan's. Rancho Gordo sells Royal Corona beans which are similar. I love butter beans as well, and the canned variety is available in most grocery stores. All would work in this dish, as would lima beans. The dried version from Kalustyan's that I used here seems pricey at $8 a pound, (especially for someone like me, who eagerly awaits the ShopRite "Can-Can" sales) but 1 pound of gigante beans is a lot of food. I used half this bag for this dish, which made 5 meals.
This is not a precise recipe. It is based off a NY Times recipe that had different proportions of some of the ingredients. I did not want a strong dill flavor, so I only used a tablespoon of dry dill. You could experiment with larger amounts, or add fresh dill, which I am sure is better. You can also try adding more tomato puree, if that is your thing, but I wanted the tomato to provide some depth of flavor without taking over. You can also add more spinach if you so desire. I wanted the beans to remain prominent.
Cooking beans is an art not a science. All soaking and cooking times noted here are approximate. I have frequently undersoaked and over and undercooked these beans. It's important to check on them and test as you go. You need to show up for your beans.
1 1/4 cups dried Greek giant beans, soaked overnight
1 ½ quarts water
1 bay leaf
2 small onions, cut in half
Salt to taste
2-4 garlic cloves, crushed
3-4 cups fresh spinach, stemmed and washed (I used some leftover boxed baby spinach)
1 leek, white and light green part only, chopped to 1/4 inch pieces
1 bunch scallions, trimmed and chopped to 1/4 inch pieces
½ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon dry dill (fresh dill would be better, but I did not have any on hand)
1 1/2 cups tomato puree
Freshly ground pepper
4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled (about 3/4 cup)
Drain beans from water used to soak them.
Combine the beans, water, bay leaf, halved onion, and crushed garlic in a large saucepan and bring to a gentle boil.
Reduce the heat and simmer 30 minutes.
Add salt to taste and simmer another 30 minutes. The beans should be al dente.
Remove from the heat and remove and discard the onion, garlic and bay leaf.
Place a strainer over a bowl and drain the beans. You should have between 1-2 cups of broth. Taste the broth to see if it needs any more salt. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.
Heat olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet (or Dutch oven if you have one) and add the leek and the scallions. Add a pinch of salt and cook, stirring, until translucent, ~5 minutes.
Transfer to an ovenproof casserole or baking dish (if you are using a skillet).
Stir in the spinach, parsley, dill, beans, tomato purée, bean broth, and half the feta. Season to taste with salt and pepper and stir in another tablespoon of olive oil (I forgot to add olive oil in this step and it was still okay).
Sprinkle on the remaining feta. Drizzle a tablespoon of olive oil if you wish. Cover and place in the oven.
Bake ~1 hour, checking the liquid and texture of beans from time to time. You may need to cook it longer. Add more water or vegetable broth if necessary. When they’re done, the beans will be soft and creamy, but intact.