Periodically, I find little packages in my pantry that contain marvelous ingredients. Last weekend, I found one containing giant white Corona dried beans, so I proceeded to soak them overnight (close to 24 hours) and then cook them slowly in my recently-acquired terra cotta beanpot for at least two hours. They were very good tasting, rich and meaty, and still capable of more flavors if I could cook them long enough to get creamy.
Searching my cookbooks, I came across The Country Cooking of Greece, by Diane Kochilas, where I was able to research the origins of these large beans (Macedonia, Thrace) and to come up with a couple of possible recipes. The one I liked best (Giant Beans with Sorrel) looked promising, but I was not in possession of any sorrel, nor did I have enough leeks for the variation suggested, so I invented my own version.
- 1 chopped red onion
- 3 cloves garlic, finely minced
- 3 stalks of green garlic, finely chopped
- 1 cup of leftover cooked Swiss Chard
- 1-2 cups best quality canned Italian tomatoes, coarsely chopped
- olive oil, salt and pepper
- three pinches of Maras pepper
- cooked Corona beans
- 1/2 glass of white wine
The dish proceeded simply enough. Preheat the oven to 350º F. Sauté the onions, garlic, and green garlic until tender. The ideal pot for this is a heavy clay one with a good cover, which fortunately we have because we bought it from a potter many years ago. Just when the garlic starts to color, add the white wine and cook until it has mostly evaporated. Add the cooked beans, Swiss Chard and tomatoes, salt and pepper, and the Maras (or Aleppo) pepper. Cayenne can work here instead, if you prefer. Bring to a steady simmer, cover, and put in the oven for 1.5 to 2 hours, until the beans are smooth and creamy, and the vegetables have melded together. You may need to add a little liquid if it gets too dry, but I found that the tomatoes and their juices (along with a tight pot cover) kept everything nice and moist. It was delicious.
I was eager to try a Greek red wine with this dish. Fortunately, Social Wines had provided me with one for just such a purpose, 2009 Red Stag, and it matched nicely.
Lunch The Next Day
A dish this good deserves to be served a few times, so the following day, I steamed a head of escarole, chopped it up, mixed it into the bean/tomato stew, and served it with an older Calabrian white wine that I re-discovered in the cellar, underneath newer acquisitions. It was a 2007 Cirò Bianco, rich and mature enough to handle the dish nicely. I only wish I were those things, too.
Primo Piatto a Few Days Later
Although the bean stew was finished, I did save some of the cooked beans for other purposes, so the last in this string of dishes was a lunch plate the other day:
- pan-roasted Padron peppers (which I had found at Whole Foods on Saturday)
- wedges of a good fresh tomato, sprinkled with salt and lemon juice
- pitted green olives with chopped lemon and garlic
- pickled Matiz Piparras Basque peppers
Now that I’ve fully-developed the Greek theme around the Gigande beans, I have to tell you that the Corona beans I used turned out to be distributed by the importer Ritrovo, and they are actually from the Abruzzo region in Italy. Which only goes to reinforce the notion of fine Mediterranean cooking, the interplay of different cuisines, and the degree to which ingredients tend to travel. And they were damned good.