This month I suggest one of my favourite dishes, a traditional Greek recipe: Gigantes. These giant white beans are baked in a luscious tomato sauce in the oven. I remember from my time in Greece housewives proclaiming proudly that they add a full bottle of olive oil to one tray of Gigantes. Indeed, when you consume this dish in Greece, the sauce resembles red tinted oil. This tastes delicious. However, I think nowadays only hardworking peasants need this kind of sustenance.
That’s why I have edited this dish to my more modern likings and needs. I use considerably less olive oil and I hide as many vegetables as possible in my tomato sauce. Both my men are not too keen on consuming these vital contributions to any healthy diet so I smuggle my vegetables in whenever I can. I even incorporate beetroot, which adds a lovely deep red tone to the sauce.
Gigantes is one of these dishes that can be served on many occasions. The Greeks usually eat them as a main course with a big chunk of feta, their wonderful goat cheese. Gigantes also make a great contribution to any antipasti buffet. I like to prepare a big tray of gigantes, serve them as a main dish and then keep the leftovers in the fridge, ready to be eaten as a healthy snack.
In recent years, many nutritionists warn us to about eating a lot of whole grains, legumes and nuts. The reason is their high content of phytic acid, nature’s own preservative. The inventors of the paleo diet, one of the latest additions to the numerous diets out there, even avoid grains completely. I cannot help but feel overwhelmed by the conflicting opinions presented mostly as scientifically proven facts.
At this point in time, I think we all should trust our bodies. If they agree with a certain kind of food or dish, chances are high they are not bad for us. When something tastes yummy, it might even be healthy.
Wishing you happy cooking, always!
“We eat to live but sometimes I live to eat.” Enjoying the simple things in life with time for her family made Kornelia Santoro give up her profession as journalist in Germany. Now she lives with her Italian husband and son in Goa and specialises in writing about cooking. Her first cookbook Kornelia’s Kitchen – Mediterranean Cooking for India has won the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards for India in 2011. In January her second cookbook Kornelia’s Kitchen 2 – Cooking for Allergies will be launched. She also has a website Kornelia’s Kitchen, www.mediterraneancooking.in
Gigantes – the giants
500 grams giant white beans
1 big tin of peeled Italian tomatoes (800 grams) or
1 kg fresh tomatoes
2 big carrots
2 medium beetroots
3 medium onions
8 big cloves garlic
3 bundles parsley
100 ml extra virgin olive oil
My method of cooking these beans differs considerably from the original recipe. Greeks assemble all the ingredients in a tray and then bake it in the oven until everything is done, which takes some hours and kills most of the vitamins. I precook the beans, and then bake them with the tomato sauce only as long as necessary, around one hour. I don’t know if this preserves many vitamins, but it makes me feel health conscious and I can pad myself on the shoulder.
Like most legumes, gigantes need soaking before the actual cooking. After reading a lot about the controversial phytic acid, I have adopted the following method of soaking legumes. I place them into a big bowl, cover them with water and add a big dash of vinegar. The addition of an acid medium is supposed to help draw out the phytic acid. Experts advise one tablespoon for every cup of water. I just throw in a big dash. Honestly, I cannot be bothered with measuring out the vinegar for the soaking water. I soak the beans for about 24 hours now. Before learning about phytic acid, I soaked my legumes overnight, which works just as fine for cooking.
During the soaking period, I add more water when needed. Before cooking, I drain the gigantes and rinse them well. Then I place them into a big pressure cooker, cover them with water and cook them for about fifteen minutes after the first whistle. At this point, they are almost done. It is quite easy to overcook gigantes, that’s why you have to pay attention not to cook them too long in the pressure cooker. The first times I tried to make gigantes I ended up with a mush.
While the beans are in the pressure cooker, you can prep your vegetables. Peel and chop them. A food processor helps a lot with this work. If you use fresh tomatoes, drop them into boiling water for around 1 minute so the skin detaches itself. Then peel them and remove the stalks and the seeds. Chop the cleaned tomatoes into small pieces. However, I think nothing equals Italian peeled tomatoes in a tin for making tomato sauce. Not only is it a lot easier to open a tin, they also taste better than your average tomato. On the other hand, they have to be transported a long way thus causing a lot of pollution if you don’t live in Italy.
Spread the chopped vegetables over the bottom of a sufficiently big and deep baking tray. Add the tomatoes and the olive oil and stir everything well together. Add the drained gigantes and around 250 millilitres water. You might to need a bit more water during the baking.
Place the tray into an oven and bake for around one hour at 200 degrees Celsius. The ingredients of the tomato sauce should melt nicely together resulting in a thick sauce. The gigantes should turn really soft without losing their shape.
While the beans are baking, wash and chop the parsley. Three bundles might seem like a lot of parsley but these beans can take a heavy dose of this herb. I add the parsley shortly before the beans are done to preserve most of its vitamins. At the same time, I add salt and freshly grated pepper.
By the way, did you ever notice that the famous chefs on television hardly ever wash their vegetables? This is something that drives me crazy. You can do a lot of damage to your produce if you wash or clean them the wrong way. Also, a big part of my time in the kitchen is spent washing and cleaning stuff. I cannot just rip apart a bundle of parsley. Usually, I have to wash it properly, check for damaged leaves, shake it dry and then pick away the leaves from the stalks, because the stalks are not good for eating.
Anyway, I keep a bit of chopped parsley to sprinkle over the gigantes when they leave the oven. This gives a nice green touch. I also drizzle a bit of olive oil over them before serving. Enjoy.