Jul 272011

Gigantes plaki“Gigantes plaki” (γίγαντες πλακί, pronounced YEE-ghahn-dess plah-KEE) is perhaps one of my favorite dishes. Cannellini beans are delightful in their creamy smoothness and ability to absorb surrounding flavors. This recipe is simple, with just a few ingredients. But prep time is long, so think ahead if preparing for a party or just yourself. They lend themselves well to being turned into a soup if, as in my house, you usually cook for two and often don’t know what to do with a large batch of anything. I adapted the recipe and borrowed pictures from here and here.

Gigantes Plaki – baked cannellini bean and tomato casserole
Serves: 6
A wonderful cannellini bean and tomato casserole that highlights the creamy texture and absorbent properties of a special bean. It can be eaten as meal in itself or as a side dish to accompany lamb.
  • 1 pound of cannellini beans, soaked for 12 hours, drained (but see below)
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 medium onions, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup of olive oil
  • 1 pound of ripe tomatoes, peeled, finely chopped (or 16oz. of canned chopped plum tomatoes)
  • 2 small cubes of vegetable bouillon (or beef for non-vegetarians/non-vegans)
  • sea salt (optional)
  • freshly ground pepper
  • 2 tablespoons of fresh parsley, chopped (or 1 large tablespoon dried)
  • 2 cups of water (1 1/2 cups if using canned tomatoes)
  1. Add the beans to a pot with enough cold water to cover well. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and cook at a slow boil for 1 hour. Drain and set aside.
  2. Preheat the oven to 325F (160C).
  3. Using a wooden spoon, sauté the onion and garlic in the olive oil until soft. Add tomatoes (if using canned, add all liquid as well), bouillon cubes, salt, pepper, parsley, and water, and allow to boil gently for 10-30 minutes, until it begins to thicken.
  4. Place the beans in an oven-proof pan, add tomato mixture, stir and spread mixture out evenly. Bake 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until beans are soft. (Check the dish during cooking and if needed, add a small amount of boiling water.) The dish will look crispy on top.
  5. Remove from the oven, cover, and allow to cool.
  6. Serve warm or at room temperature.

I usually cut out the overnight soaking by bringing beans to the boil for 2-5 minutes, then letting them soak for an hour. Drain, then boil again as directed, while preparing the sauce.

This is generally a dish served warm or at room temperature. Alas, my family is not used to cold/lukewarm dishes, so eat it hot–still tastes great.

By the way, and not to detract from this great dish, one should note that kidney-type beans (like the cannellini) are poisonous if eaten raw, so don’t nibble at them until they’re thoroughly cooked. As one site put it: “The body reacts to the threat [of eating the raw beans] by emptying the entire digestive tract as rapidly and completely as possible, to rid itself of the toxic substance. This is accomplished by means of severe vomiting and diarrhea. Usually, the reaction subsides without the need for medical intervention after several miserable hours.” Nice, huh.