Now that the first week of the New Year 2010 has come and gone, we have another fifty-one to look forward to, and I wish all of my readers the Very Best for the rest of 2010! I want to thank those of you who sent along your kind words and wishes over the Holiday period. Our family celebrated with a traditional cutting of the Vasilopita and a New Year’s Day late lunch at my in-laws’ home. It was a day filled with family, great Greek food, fun, and custom; we look forward to many more days filled with the same.
In the spirit of ushering in a New Year with something novel, I offer my own spin on one of the classic dishes of Greek cookery: a baked bean dish that we call “Gigantes” (pronounced ‘YEE-ghan-dess’) after the name of the extra large runner beans that are its main ingredient. Five varieties of Gigantes beans have been registered as PDO/ PGI produce within the European Union by the Greek government. Gigantes beans are cultivated primarily in the area of Lake Prespa, in the north-western part of the Greek region of Macedonia, but they are universally enjoyed throughout Greece.
Florina prefecture include variations on a red pepper theme. In particular, the spicy red “Florina pepper” (a cultivar of the species Capsicum anum) is used widely in regional specialties. This variety of pepper is peculiar to the area, and is much sought after in Greece and throughout the Balkans for its distinctive flavour and heat. Florina peppers are enjoyed in several ways; they are pickled (toursi in Greek), sliced raw into salads, as well as dried and crushed into red pepper flakes known as “boukovo”. Within Greece, the use of these peppers (and/or the boukovo flakes) in a baked Gigantes dish is unique to this locality.
Now, I have long enjoyed southern Greek versions of baked Gigantes, but when I was first introduced to the spicy northern variation I was immediately hooked. I have a thing for spicy dishes, especially during the winter months here in Canada. Thus, I thought it might be fitting to share my own seasonal spicy and savoury variation on the classic baked Gigantes theme. In addition to the boukovo, I added two unconventional ingredients to my recipe: thick-cut bacon and mild-flavoured Cretan Graviera cheese. The result was simply mouth-watering and I hope you will give this Greek comfort food recipe a try.
½ lb. dried Gigantes beans
¼ lb. Cretan Graviera cheese
2 - 3 slices extra-thick cut bacon
1 medium sized onion
1 red bell pepper (diced)
1 cup strained tomato pulp/sauce
½ cup Olive oil
3 garlic cloves
A small bunch of Parsley, finely chopped
1 tbsp. Boukovo or red pepper (chilli) flakes
1 tbsp. dried Greek oregano
Salt & pepper
- Soak the dried Gigantes beans overnight (use at least a 3:1 ratio of water to beans).
- Rinse and add rehydrated beans to a generous pot of boiling water and cook for 45 minutes over a medium heat, until the beans are soft. Using a large spoon, periodically skim away any surface foam that may develop.
- In a large sized skillet/pan, fry off the bacon until cooked but not completely crisped, then remove the bacon from pan but retain the fat. Cut the bacon into thin strips and set aside.
- Add the diced onion to the pan with the bacon fat and sauté until soft.
- Press and add garlic to the pan along with two tablespoonfuls of olive oil; stir for a few turns and then add the diced red pepper for several turns/tosses. Season with oregano, salt and pepper to taste.
- Stir in the tomato sauce along with 1 cup of water and half the bacon strips along with the chopped parsley and boukovo, bring to a boil, then lower heat to medium-low and let simmer for 15 – 20 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 375°F/190°C and place an earthenware/stoneware/clay baking vessel in the oven to warm. (I prefer to use a Pampered Chef ® square stoneware baking dish).
- When the beans are cooked (i.e. soft), drain them and add them to the pan with the sauce to combine.
- Take the heated vessel out of the oven, add the beans to it, pour the remaining olive oil over top and return to oven. Bake for 35 minutes.
- Remove baking vessel from oven; add cubed cheese and bacon strips over top of the beans and bake for another 10 minutes until the cheese has melted.
Makes 4 servings.
Note: If you like Gigantes beans, you may also enjoy my Pan-Fried Gigantes recipe.
Pànta Kalà (Always Be Well),
Greek Food Recipes and Reflections
Copyright © 2008, Sam Sotiropoulos. All Rights Reserved.