The taste of home.

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I spent a couple of weeks in Crete rediscovering the tastes and smells from my early days there. It was surprising to find that the food which brought back the most memories was not the most memorable itself.

Sitting at a table by the sea, I looked at the myriad of plates and began to add this and that to my own. There was one dish, however, which I mistook for houmous until I tasted it. I dipped in some beautiful bread and suddenly I was four years old again. The taste was rich and comforting and so familiar. “What is this? I recognise the taste, but I don’t know it’s name”. It was fava.

The reason that I love fava so much is because it is a fantastic vehicle for olive oil. It’s very simple to make and there are very few ingredients. The main ingredient is yellow split lentils. When cooked down to a thick consistency, they carry the flavour of extra-virgin olive oil like few other foods can. If peasant food isn’t your thing, or you don’t care for the taste of good olive oil, this is perhaps your time to bail and return when there’s a pudding recipe (next week). If you are like me and crave the good stuff, then fava is a truly wonderful way to make use of that oil in your cupboard reserved for only your best dishes. Will fava wow your friends at a dinner party? Nope, but your tummy will love it!

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Fava

250g yellow split peas

2 onions (sliced)

1 garlic clove (chopped)

extra-virgin olive oil

juice of half a lemon

sea salt

Rinse the split peas in cold water and then put them into a pan of boiling water with the onions.  Bring back to the boil and simmer.  I usually put just enough water in to cover the peas and then add more as it is absorbed.  When the split peas are thick and mushy, I transfer them to a container that I can use my hand blender in without getting spattered.  I add the garlic, lemon juice and a lot of extra-virgin olive oil and blitz it.  The fava should be soft and full of the flavour of the oil.  Be careful not to add too much lemon juice and then season with a little salt until you’re happy with it.

I like eating fava on its own, but it’s also great served alongside fish and any Greek dishes.  Drizzle more oil onto it just before serving.  Fava refrigerates well and can be brought back to life in the microwave and the addition of (yet more) olive oil.  Serving it warm, rather than hot is the way to go.  So grab a chunk of your favourite bread and dive into my favourite comfort food!

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They might be gigantes.

I love me some beans!  In fact, the population of the UK loves beans too.  Baked beans in tomato sauce have come to dominate the tinned food market and most people here would count them as an integral component of a cooked breakfast along with bacon and eggs.

Heinz produce the most famous tinned beans, but those who want the tastiest should go for those made by Branston.  They have a superior flavour that the bland Heinz variety simply can’t compete with.  Still, whatever people choose, the motivation seems to be the same:  All kinds of people want inexpensive, convenient food that can be eaten at any time of day with other food.  It’s no wonder that baked beans in tomato sauce appear in every cafe from Edinburgh to Plymouth.  They appear in fry-ups, on jacket potatoes, with chips, under melted cheese and more recently in pasties.

The recipe that I’m sharing today is also for beans in a tomato sauce, but it’s a little more refined and it comes from where I was born.

Gigantes are beans baked in a tomato sauce with herbs and served alongside meat and other dishes in Greece.  The dish is made with giant beans (I use butter beans) unlike tinned beans in the UK which are usually haricot beans.  It’s such a simple dish and so full of fresh flavours that make these beans perfect for all kinds of meat and fish.  It’s a real taste of summer and one that transports me back to the hills and villages where this dish is still prepared.

My recipe is very different to the recipes you may find online elsewhere.  To begin with, I don’t bake the gigantes.  Neither do I use parsley as many seem to suggest.  Fresh dill takes centre stage and brings a delightful freshness to every mouthful.  If you’re looking for a side dish that everyone in the family can tuck into as you eat in the sunshine, then look no further.  Gigantes knock the socks off any other baked beans.  Try them and you’ll see!

Gigantes (Dimitri’s way)

400g chopped tomatoes

400g tin of butter beans

1 onion (finely chopped)

1 clove garlic (sliced)

15g fresh dill (chopped)

olive oil

 half a lemon

1 tspoon dried oregano

sea salt

black pepper

Before you begin, a word of advice.  Don’t be tempted to use dried dill.  The flavour of the dish hinges on the use of fresh dill chopped just before it is added.  The dried oregano is for background flavour, but you could use fresh Greek oregano if you want a stronger one.  It’s best to pick the fronds off the main stem of the dill and make a little pile that you can chop with a sharp knife.  Discard the thick stems.

Heat some olive oil in a pan and gently fry the onion and garlic until they are softening, but not brown.

Next, add the oregano and the tomatoes and stir everything together.  You may need to add more olive oil, but do so a little at a time so that the dish does not become greasy.

Bring the tomatoes to simmering point and then stir in the beans.  Push the beans down with a wooden spoon so that they are covered by the tomatoes sauce.  This will help to cook them.  You may wish to cover the pan as it simmers gently on a low heat.  Don’t let the tomato sauce reduce yet.  The beans need to cook in the liquid.

Once the beans are soft, take the lid off and begin to reduce the liquid by turning the heat up a little and stirring until you have a thick sauce.  It’s time to season the beans to taste.  Add salt, grind some black pepper into the pan and squeeze a little lemon juice in.  Taste the sauce and add more if necessary.  The lemon juice is there to lift the dish and make it lighter, but too much will spoil it.  When you’re happy with the seasoning, take the pan off the heat and add all of the chopped dill.  Give it a good stir, put the lid back on and leave it to cool slightly and let the flavours develop.

If you’re dying to tuck in, then go for it.  These gigantes can be served right away.  I like to serve these beans the next day once all of the flavours have had a chance to mingle, but that’s just me.  As I’ve said before, Greek food is always better the next day.  We ate our gigantes last night with some grilled courgettes, potatoes and some lovely basa fillets.  Drizzle extra olive oil on the beans if they need a lift.  Enjoy!