The wonderful world of beans, complete with a super easy vegetarian recipe

We were at Whole Foods the other day, blowing the old paycheck, when we made the mistake of going past the terribly tempting, terribly expensive olive bar.

We loaded up on olives, a terrible indulgence, and something that looked too delicious to pass up: Gigantes beans.

We totally fell in love with those beans. But we didn’t want to pay Whole Foods price for them. So this is how we make gigantes at home for a fraction of the cost.

Gigantic gigantes
Gigantes are just really large, white beans with a mild, almost smooth, taste and meaty texture.

Where can you find gigantes? Well, got a Greek market near you? How about a Mediterranean market? European? Any of these should carry them. But, if not, then you could get lucky and find the beans at your farmer’s market (we did) or you can just say “Screw it” and get the biggest, whitest beans you can find.

That’ll work just as nicely.

Cooking with beans: To soak or not to soak, that is the question
Conventional wisdom is you soak the beans. But, in my research, every so often I have seen people say that soaking was a waste of time.

For this recipe (below), I soaked. And my beans were cooked in, oh, about half an hour. But they were fresh, so that made a difference.

Next time I get fresh beans from the market, I’ll skip the soaking. We’ll see what happens.

Cooking with beans: So how to soak?
Dump the beans in a bowl, cover them with cold water, cover the bowl, and leave it overnight.

Now, two things you should know. First, the beans soaked up tons of water, so I had to move them to a bigger bowl and add more water. Second, I put a towel over the bowl. A towel which sagged in the middle into the water. A towel which soaked up tons of water, then dripped it all over the kitchen counter, leaving me a nice, big puddle to clean up the next morning.

Vegetarian recipe for gigantes beans in tomato sauce
1 bag of gigantes beans (1 lb or so)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large Spanish (red) onion
5 cloves of garlic
28 ounce can of diced plum tomatoes
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon cloves
½ bunch of parsley, minced
1 bunch of thyme tied at the base with kitchen twine (so they are easy to remove)

Soak the beans overnight.

The next day, drain and rinse the beans. Put them in a large pot and cover with fresh water (not the water you used to soak the beans). Simmer until they are just softening (our fresh beans only took half an hour, but older beans can take as much as an hour or two, so add more water as needed to keep those beans covered).

In the meantime, saute the onion and garlic in the olive oil. Once the onions are starting to soften, add the canned tomatoes, sugar, cloves, salt, pepper, and thyme. Simmer until thickened, then remove from heat and stir in the parsley.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Mix the just softened beans and the tomato mixture. Pour into an oven-safe dish (we used a lasagna dish), bake until the beans are soft throughout, 30 - 40 minutes. Discard the thyme before serving.

Serve with a salad, a hunk of bread, and red wine.

And the burning question regarding beans
If you eat more, your system will get used to all that fiber and you will be excused from the, erm, explosive after shocks. Eventually.