This recipe is my take on a classic baked butterbean dish, commonly known as the Greek ‘Gigantes Plaki’. I include smoked aubergine in mine to give the dish another level and a crispy crumbled feta topping. The smokiness really compliments the sweet tomato base and works so well with a side of mint yoghurt.
Cooking your own beans here really helps to retain their flavour and shape through the baking and offers health benefits but if you’re pushed for time, canned beans will also give you delicious results. Other beans you have lying around your pantry cupboard can also be substituted for differing flavours, such as cannellini, kidney beans or chickpeas.
500g dried butter beans or 2x 400g cans of large butter beans, rinsed well in cold water
2 tbsp olive oil
1 red onion, finely diced
1 carrots, sliced
1 celery stick, sliced
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1tsp Aleppo pepper flakes (or chilli flakes)
1tsp dried oregano
1 tbsp tomato puree
2x 400g can plum tomatoes, chopped (with juices)
150g cherry vine tomatoes, halved
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs thyme, leaves
2 tsp sugar
Salt, black pepper
150g feta cheese
Handful of fresh parsley, chopped
Optional to serve:
Greek yoghurt or tzatziki
1. If cooking your own beans, soak the dried beans overnight by placing them in a large saucepan and just covering them in cold water. The next morning, bring the water up to the boil and remove the froth that gathers at the top. You want to simmer them for about 45 minutes until cooked ‘al dente’ as you’re going to cook them further in the oven.
2. Place the aubergines directly on the gas flame to char, using tongs to turn occasionally so they are fully blackened all round. You can do this by placing the aubergines under the grill but they won’t have quite the same smoky effect.
3. Meanwhile, in a deep pan, heat the olive oil and fry the onions, carrots, celery over a low-medium heat until softened and starting to colour.
4. Add the garlic, spices, tomato puree and the vine tomatoes. Fry for 2 minutes stirring to slightly blister the tomatoes.
5. Then add the chopped can tomatoes with their juices, the bay leaf, thyme and sugar. Add salt and ground black pepper then taste and adjust the seasoning.
6. When the aubergine is charred nicely, take off the heat leave until cool enough to handle. Peel away most of the blackened skin and scoop out the flesh. Roughly chop it up into chunks and add to the tomato sauce.
7. Drain the cooked beans and also add them to the sauce giving everything a good stir through. Bring up to a simmer for 10 minutes. If it seems a little dry, top up with water to just cover the beans.
8. Preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan/gas mark 4.
9. Pour the whole thing into a large, shallow oven proof dish (an authentic terracotta one always looks impressive as a table centrepiece). Bake in the oven for around 45 minutes, checking half way to see if the sauce has thickened but the beans aren’t completely drying out – the idea is to have the beans in lovely thick juices with a slightly crispy top. Crumble over the feta and return to the oven for another 10 minutes. When ready, sprinkle over the chopped parsley and serve warm with some crispy pittas and Greek yoghurt.