Tomato and Gigante Bean Bake / Pizza Beans
Most of us know the number one rule of cooking for a crowd: don’t make anything new or scary. Not the rack of lamb you’ve been eyeing, not the soufflé or anything else that’s going to send you into a vibe-ruining tizzy. This rule is probably doubly important if you’re invited to a potluck at a big-deal editor’s apartment with a dozen food writers you’re totally intimidated by, each of whom will arrive with his or her own signature dish. But this is not what I did. I’d like to pretend that it’s just because I’ve got an unshakable confidence in my cooking, or, at the least, kitchen, uh, “meatballs” of steel. Alas, it would be more accurate to say that I decided to make this dish you see here—a mash-up of a giant-beans-in-tomato-sauce dish from Greece and American-style baked ziti, with beans instead of noodles—because, well, it was really what I was in the mood to cook that day, and cravings trump rationality pretty much always around here, and especially when I am 6 months pregnant.
Before I left, I baked off a smaller amount for my husband and son for dinner, and my son—perhaps predictably for the kindergarten set—threw a fit. “I do not like beans.” “You’re going to love these.” “I won’t eat them.” “You should try them! You’ll see! There’s tomato sauce, and look at all of that cheese on top... It’s just like pizza.” “Pizza beans!!” (Do I even need to tell you that this did the trick?)
And thus this is the story of how I showed up to a potluck with a dish tagged “Tomato-Braised Gigante Bean Gratin,” but there isn’t a person there who will remember them (fondly, I hope) as anything but “Pizza Beans.”
|3 tbsp (30ml)||olive oil|
|1||large onion, chopped|
|2||celery stalks, diced|
|1 large or 2 regular||carrots, diced|
|salt and freshly ground black pepper or red pepper flakes|
|2||large garlic cloves, finely chopped|
|60ml (¼ cup)||dry white or red wine (optional)|
|115g (4 ounces)||curly kale leaves, chopped or torn|
|550g (2¼ cups)||crushed tomatoes|
|455g (1 pound)||cooked firm-tender giant white beans|
|Up to 175ml (¾ cup)||vegetable broth|
|225g (½ pound)||mozzarella, coarsely grated|
|35g (⅓ cup)||grated parmesan|
|2 tbsp (5g)||roughly chopped fresh flat leaf parsley, for garnish (optional)|
Prepare the beans and vegetables Heat the oven to 240°C/gas 10. In a 21/2-to-3-liter (ideally oven-safe) deep sauté pan, braiser, or shallow cast iron casserole dish, heat the olive oil on medium-high. Add the onion, celery, and carrots. Season well with salt and black or red pepper. Cook, sautéing, until the vegetables brown lightly, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic, and cook for 1 minute more. Add the wine, if using, to scrape up any stuck bits, then simmer until it disappears, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the kale, and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, until collapsed, then add the tomatoes and bring to a simmer. Add the beans, and, if the mixture looks too dry or thick (canned tomatoes range quite a bit in juiciness), add up to 175 ml (3/4 cup) broth, 60 ml (1/4 cup) at a time. Simmer the mixture over medium for about 10 minutes, adjusting the seasonings as needed.
If your pan isn’t ovenproof, transfer the mixture to a 3-liter baking dish. If it is, well, carry on.
Sprinkle the beans first with the mozzarella, then the Parmesan, and bake for 10 to 15 minutes, until browned on top. If you’re impatient and want a deeper color, you can run it under the grill. Finish with parsley, if desired.
These beans are called fagioli corona (in Italy), gigante/gigandes (in Greece), Royal Corona (by Rancho Gordo, where I ordered mine), and other names. For a meaty variation, brown some fresh Italian sausages (about 340 grams or 3/4 pound) with the vegetables.
Bean cooking note This recipe was originally designed as a long oven-braise that began with dried beans. I recommend you cook your beans in advance. Because they’re very big, I usually soak them for 12 to 24 hours in salted water, then simmer them for a couple hours; you could also use a slow cooker on high (usually 4 to 6 hours, but it will vary), or a pressure cooker (about 20 minutes, with variance), or bake them in the oven at 165°C/gas 3 for approximately 70 to 90 minutes after bringing them to a simmer on the stove.