Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Gigantes with Tomato and Fennel

I fell in love with Greek food the summer Lisl dragged me over to a tiny island called Serifos, and brought me to where the locals eat. Heavenly. I discovered a dish where large beans ("Gigantes") are cooked in a tomato sauce. I've been meaning to make it for years. I guess I was waiting for a starting point.

Enter the blogosphere. There are a number of Greek-oriented food blogs I enjoy, and one of my favorites is Kalofagas, by Peter Minakas. I discovered that he wrote about "Gigantes St Fourno" in Oct 2007. I took the recipe in a slightly different, more anise-flavored direction, but want to say thank you to Peter for providing the framework.

Gigantes with Tomato and Fennel

1 bag (~450 grams) dried large lima/butter beans*
2 medium carrots, chopped
2 celery stalks, diced
3 cloves garlic, smashed
3 bay leaves
1 1/2 large onions, diced
1 lb canned, skinless plum tomatoes, loosely chopped
1/2 large fennel bulb (or 1 smaller one), diced
1 large handful of parsely, finely chopped
2 tbsp tarragon, finely chopped
large pinch fennel seeds
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
large pinch of ground savory (optional)
2 tbsp pernod
salt and pepper
olive oil

Preheat oven to 380F early enough that it will be at the right temperature when you are ready to put the baking dish into the oven.

Cooking the Beans
I soaked the beans during the day in cold water, but you can skip this step and just cook them for longer. Place the beans in a large pot along with the carrots, celery, garlic and bay leaf, then cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a bubbling simmer (not a gentle simmer) and cook until tender. If you soaked the beans, this can be about 20 to 25 minutes, and if not, more like 45 to 50 minutes. Remove from the heat.

Making the Sauce (can be done in parallel with beans)
Heat up 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large saute pan and cook the onions. When they start to turn translucent, add the tomatoes, fennel, fennel seed, paprika, parsely, tarragon and savory, and cook at a light simmer, stirring occasionally. Add about 1/2 tsp of salt and several pinches of black pepper. After about 10 minutes, stir in the pernod and continue to cook for another 20 minutes or so, adding more water if it starts to get too dry. Taste for salt and pepper. Because the beans will have no salt, it is fine to make the sauce a touch saltier than you might normally go.

With a slotted spoon, scoop out the beans, carrots and celery and place in a large baking dish (I had to use my biggest one). Pour the tomato sauce on top and gently mix in. Then pour in the cooking liquid from the butter beans until everything is just barely covered.

Place the baking tray in the oven and cook for an hour, or until much of liquid is gone and the top is browned. Note: I got hungry and pulled them after about 50 to 55 minutes before they really browned nicely, but they still tasted delicious.

gigantes baking dish

I don't know what the blogosphere Greeks will say about my fennel/pernod/tarragon direction compared to the classic, but I really enjoyed it and Lisl gave it an enthusiastic two thumbs up. In tonight's case, I went in a non-vegetarian direction by pairing it with some lamb chops marinated with rosemary and then grilled, and served it all with a nice red Zinfindel.

grilled lamb

* Note: while I gather from online reading that true gigantes are a different bean from the large butter/lima beans we find in our supermarkets, most recipes allow for the swapping of the two.

I thought I would submit this to My Legume Love Affair, which is a blog event I've been wanting to join for a while now. This month it is being hosted by When My Soup Came Alive.


Peter M said...

The gigantes look great and as for your fennel/anise twist...it's perfectly fine. You addressed the traditional approach and then took the departure.

I passed by Serifos on my way to & from Sifnos...recommend?

Thanks again for trying and enjoying the gigantes..perhaps try my version verbatim...you'll love that too!

sra said...

We use a lot of tomato-based gravies in India too, just not the olive oil. This shouldn't be too difficult to recreate. Thanks for the entry!

Giff said...

I highly recommend serifos, although I think my wife's absolute favorite is karpathos. I definitely want to try your version verbatim, although I have to admit I've never worked with Vegeta in my life!

thanks for dropping by Sra :)

Julie said...

Beans, fennel, and tomato has an Italian-ish sound to it, although adding tarragon and Pernod seeems a French direction. And you started with a Greek recipe. Very international!

Giff said...

:) Yes I'll happily pilfer from any Mediterranean nationality!

Stacey Snacks said...

Mr. Beans,
Did you see the article on Rancho Gorda beans in Food & Wine this month! Your photo is underneath the credits........
I FINALLY ordered my beans, now I am in the club?

Giff said...

you tease, I just opened up food and wine and no it's not! However, my favorite butcher Fleishers is certainly highlighted!

As for the legume lovers gang, I'm probably booted out of the clubhouse after my tepid review of rancho gordo's cookbook. I remain optimistic that the next few recipes I try from it will wow me.

kat said...

Oh that looks so tasty & those lamb chops, to die for!

Christie @ fig&cherry said...

Those lamb chops look so juicy!

T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

I've never seen these giant lima beans - what a beautiful dish!

FoodJunkie said...

Well, in Greece we would have those without any meat on the side, just feta cheese and good bread. I like your approach, it will suit the bean's taste a lot.

Maggie said...

Those are huge butter beans! I'm glad you added this to your 2008 list. It looks delicious!