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Giant Butter Bean & Feta Gratin

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I’m cursed by a total inability to cook the “magical fruit” from scratch. Every time I try, I end up with rock-hard nubbins that would be better as pebbles on the bottom of a fish tank than dinner.

Fortunately, there is a wide selection of the canned variety at the store.

While I like bacon as much as the next girl, I don’t miss meat ONE BIT when eating this bean gratin: creamy beans in a savory sauce, topped with crunchy bread crumbs and salty cheese. You have got to try it – healthy, hearty, cheap and easy. Hard to beat.

How did this delectable bean dish enter my life? I ordered a similar bean gratin at Nopa one night, years ago. Since then, it’s become one of my favorite dishes at the restaurant, even as it changes to incorporate seasonal ingredients. I wanted to try replicating it at home but I was nervous about making the right sauce. Then a friend of mine mentioned a dish she had at Ubuntu and a recipe for the dish in the New York Times… and although that dish is more of a soup, the flavors seemed right, so I adapted it to make this bean gratin. The results = good.

I chose butter beans — big, creamy beans — for the recipe. Apparently they are in the lima bean family, but they are pale yellow and much larger and softer. Lima beans originated in Lima, Peru. Who knew, though I guess it should have been obvious.

The butter beans I bought at the grocery store (in a can!) were from Italy (wait, I thought they were Peruvian!). A true staple of the cooking of so many cultures, beans have traveled all over the world, so they seem to “come” from everywhere. In a past life, I did some PR work related to beans and nutrition and learned a bit about beans’ history and culinary trends. (I know it’s a “commercial” site, but the papers on the “professional” pages are really informational and pretty interesting.)

In total, this recipe took me about a half an hour to prepare from start to finish. Serve with a green salad for a quick weekday meal.

Giant Butter Bean & Feta Gratin
- serves 6 -

olive oil
1 large carrot, diced
1 large rib celery, diced
1 large leek, white and green parts only, diced
1/3 of a head of garlic, minced
1t red chili flakes
1T fresh rosemary, minced
1 28-oz. can whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes,* drained and chopped + about 2-3T of the tomato juice
2 14-oz. cans butter beans
2T fresh parsley, chopped
salt & pepper
feta cheese
dry bread crumbs

Saute carrots, celery, leeks, garlic, chili flakes, rosemary and a pinch of salt and pepper in a few tablespoons of olive oil in a dutch oven until vegetables are just starting to soften. Add tomatoes, tomato juice, beans and parsley. Add salt and pepper to taste. Mixture should have a little liquid, like the beans are in a tomato sauce — not a soup. Add more tomato juice if needed, or simmer to reduce the liquid.

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Fill individual ceramic or clay dishes (that you can put in the oven) with about 3/4-1 cup of the bean mixture (whatever fits). Sprinkle generously with crumbled feta cheese and about a teaspoon of dry bread crumbs. Drizzle with olive oil to moisten the bread crumbs. Broil about 8-10 minutes or until the topping is slightly browned.

* San Marzano are meaty plum tomatoes.


    1. Charlie K says:

      Hi Jenn. This blog is awesome! Can you please send me some of these dishes in a care package? It’s mouthwatering just reading this stuff. Charlie

    2. Laura says:

      My toddler eats the entire butter bean dish himself when we go to Nopa! I’ve got cannellini beans ready to go so I’m planning to try and recreate the dish tonight. Thanks for the recipe!

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