Three things about beans come to mind: poverty, flatulence, and a giant killer. These are all very charming conversations starters in their own right, but imagine the uproar when the three strands are woven into a single tale.
Once upon a hungry time lived a stone broke widow and her son.
They subsisted on the produce of their sole cow,
Who issued milk frothy pale and odors rightly foul.
But black day comes when udders dry and Milky-White is sent to town.
Her hide and hooves Jack exchanged for a few old wrinkly beans
Which sprout and soar to lofty realms by some unnatural means.
Up the beanstalk goes psychotic Jack, to disturb the Giant’s rest…
“Fe, fi, fo, fum. I smell the blood of an English man.”
(Who’d go nicely with tea and toast fried up in a pan)
A slew of sneakery, trickery, and thievery ensue, not to mention murdery.
Jack comes out with the better deal: a hen that lays
No ordinary eggs, but solid gold that pays,
A bird that makes a steady income, but not tender omelettes or tasty stock.
Jack and the Beanstalk is hardly a morality tale, but what the story lacks in moral fiber it makes up for in culinary grit. If seen in a cabbage colored alimentary light, the story would appear to be a rather violent vegan treatise. The initiating action is the exchange of meat and dairy for legumes. A carnivore with a good nose for blood appears as the antagonist. The resolution: the meat eater is murdered on a beanstalk. Finally, happily ever after means getting a trophy bird that should not be eaten because it produces eggs that cannot be eaten on pain of chipped enamel.
The mystery is, what do Jack and his mother eat post beanstalk incident? Maybe Jack should have waited for the beans to mature before cutting down the plant. Another burning question: what species of legume, or a mutant variety thereof, are these beans? A couple of candidates jump to forefront. There actually exists a genus of legumes that are commonly known as Jack-beans. They’re fast climbers like many other beans, and a particular species, Canavalia rosea, is reputedly a mild hallucinogen that’s used in tobacco substitutes. Uncooperatively, C. rosea is only found in tropical climates, which makes its appearance in English folklore rather unlikely.
The other candidate is the runner bean, Phaseolus coccineus, first domesticated in the mountains of Central America, which then made its way into Europe in mid-sixteenth century by way of England. The circumstance and timing seem to work, as the earliest written version of beanstalk tale appeared in 1734, though the story has certainly been around longer in oral tradition. P. coccineus comes in multicolored varieties, from shocking magenta to velvety black, but the favorite contender for Jack’s beans is creamy white. The combination of historical evidence and literary license points to the optimal choice: Gigantes, an ivory white monster of a bean about five times the size of your average cannellini. It too made its way from Central America to England, then onto Spain, and then happily settled in Greece, where it is honored in the national dish Fasolia Gigantes Plaki. The smooth buttery Gigantes is infused with a rich tomato sauce, traditionally in a wood-fired oven. Gently nudging tradition, one can cook it on the gas stove that was invented in England, and add a hint smoky pimentón from Spain – after all, this is America.
If you have any comments, questions or other tasty (or morbid) tidbits, contact DuanDuan at SnackBar.Kitchen@gmail.com.
Serves 8 as meze
1 pound Fasolia Gigantes, soaked overnight
(Find at Greek & Middle Eastern grocers)
Extra virgin olive oil
1 medium Spanish onion, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 carrot, minced
3 ribs celery, minced
3 medium tomatoes, minced
1 tbsp tomato paste
Salt & Pepper
- Bring pre-soaked beans to boil in salted water. Skim off scum. Cook till almost tender, about an hour. Rinse and drain.
- Add olive oil to generously coat bottom of pan. Add onion and garlic. Slowly sweat onions for 40 minutes over medium-low heat to achieve sweet translucency, and avoid bitter confetti.
- Add carrot and celery. Sauté to slightly caramelize, about 10 minutes. May turn up heat to medium.
- Add remaining ingredients including beans. Taste and adjust for salt, pepper, and pimentón.
- Let simmer until beans are tender and flavorful, about an hour. Add water if necessary to keep beans immersed in sauce. Reduce sauce to desired consistency near the end.