I’ve just read this passage in Katherine Wilson’s wonderful book, ‘Only in Naples, Lessons in Food and Famiglia’: “In Neapolitan culture, foods that could potentially damage children’s health include crackers, ketchup, hot dogs, cold milk, anything in a can, anything that has ever been frozen and anything that has ever been in a microwave. Oh, and anything that comes from a supermarket’. It’s official then. I am Italian. Well, not entirely for I love most natural canned products from legumes to pulses, fiery Tunisian harissa and creamy coconut milk to French petit pois with baby carrots, crushed Italian tomatoes (polpa) and roasted red peppers, I love them all. However, when it comes to beans (not of the baked variety), the difference between canned and the dried is incredible – not just in taste, but also in texture – so it’s well worth the effort. The effort here being perceived as working with dried beans involves soaking, Right, so you cover the beans with water and leave them to soak overnight (huge amount of work involved there) and boiling them; a few minutes in the case of chickpeas and for around an hour for these famously creamy Greek gigantes. Here we have the classic dish of gigantes plaki made with the beans I picked up in Corfu last spring. This lovely dish is great served at room temperature with a Greek salad on the side and a basket of rustic bread. Oh and a glass of wine. Never forget the wine.
400g dried gigantes beans (or you can use x2 tins of butterbeans, drained and rinsed)
1 red onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for serving
1 tsp dried wild oregano
1 tbsp tomato purée
1 400g tin of Italian chopped tomatoes (polpa)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to your taste
1 lemon, zested and juiced
30g dill, finely chopped, plus extra for serving
30g mint, finely chopped
Pul biber, for garnishing (optional)
How I make it
Drain and rinse the beans. Place in a large lidded pan and cover with fresh water. Bring them to the boil, then partially cover, turn down the heat and simmer until they are soft but still retain a some bite (I turn off the heat before they’re fully cooked and leave the them to quietly continue to cook and cool down in the pan).
Meanwhile, heat a large frying pan over a medium heat. Add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and sauté the onions and garlic until they are soft and translucent. Add the oregano and tomato purée and stir for around a minute or two. Then add the tomatoes and 500ml of water. Bring the sauce to the boil, turn down the heat to very low and leave to gently simmer for 30 minutes. Season to your taste.
Heat an oven to 160C.
Add the chopped herbs, the lemon juice and a further 2 tbsp of olive oil to the tomato sauce. Transfer to an ovenproof dish, add the beans and mix everything together. Drizzle with a generous glug of olive oil – this prevents the beans from drying out – and bake for 30 mins. Remove from the oven and set aide.
Before serving, transfer the beans to a pretty dish and drizzle with a little more olive oil – you’re looking for a certain level of bread dipping richness here – and garnish with plenty of chopped dill and the lemon zest.