I’m not really sure that “baked bean casserole” is the best translation of this dish, but it’s the best I could come up with! Gigantes (pronounced yee-gahn-dess) are a staple in Greek households, especially during lent. They are giant beans (no…really) baked in a tomato sauce until they soak up most of the sauce and then form a nice crispy top. Like nearly all Greek food, the dish is very comforting and homey. It’s nothing show-stopping or fancy, but it’s a simple, delicious dish. Unless you have a Greek grocery nearby, chances are you won’t actually find gigantes, which look like this. (See? Giant!)
However, large butter beans or lima beans are a good fit with this dish.
Like all dried bean dishes, this does take a bit of time to cook. But, the active prep time is minimal, so it’s certainly nothing labor-intensive. You just need to plan out when you’re going to make it since it will take about 3 hours to make that day, and you also need to soak the beans overnight beforehand.
I’m sure you’re SHOCKED to see that I made these in a cast iron skillet, right? :) It’s really a great vessel because I used it to make the tomato sauce, which meant I could just add the beans right in and not worry about moving everything to a separate baking dish. You can certainly use fresh tomatoes in this, but it’s not quite tomato season yet so I opted not to. Of course, I still threw some on the Greek salad on the side. Oh tomatoes, I wish I could quit you (in the winter). I happened to have half a leftover bell pepper so I threw that in here as well. I liked the addition but it’s certainly not a requirement or a traditional ingredient. Feel free to adapt this to your tastes!
1 lb. or 500g dried gigantes beans, or large butter or lima beans
1/3 cup olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1/2 bell pepper, chopped (optional)
2 large carrots, sliced
2 large celery ribs, sliced
3 bay leaves
5 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 Tbsp. tomato paste or 1/2 tsp. tomato powder
1 (15 oz) can diced tomatoes or whole peeled tomatoes, chopped, with juice
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
2+ cups water or liquid from boiling beans
1/3 cup chopped parsley
2 Tbsp. chopped dill
Place the beans in a large bowl or baking dish and cover with water by about 2″. Soak overnight.
Drain the beans and place them in a large pot, covered with water. Bring the water to a boil and cook the beans for about an hour or until tender, but still with a little bite; reserve about 2 cups of the cooking liquid.
Preheat the oven to 350°.
Meanwhile, make the tomato sauce. Heat the olive oil in a large, ,deep skillet over medium heat. Add the onions, bell pepper (if using), carrots, celery, and bay leaves. Sauté until tender, and then stir in the garlic and tomato paste, cooking for about a minute before adding the tomatoes, oregano, and red pepper flakes. Season to taste with salt, and simmer the sauce for 10-15 minutes. Mix together with the parsley, dill and beans (in the same skillet or in a separate casserole dish) and add about 2 cups of water or liquid from boiling the beans…enough to cover the beans.
Bake for about 1.5 hours, checking occasionally and adding more hot water if necessary, until beans are tender. The top will look crispy.