Before I begin, I should like everyone to know that I am a Giants fan, but one of an extremely subtle variety. Thanks to working for the Sunkist company at Disneyland as a teenager, I understand that the wearing of orange causes me to look as if I am suffering from Addison’s disease. And the only time I allowed myself to visit a psychic, she told me in no uncertain terms that it was dangerous for me to wear black anywhere near my face. It breaks my heart to be both physically and psychically prevented from the wearing of our great team’s colors. So, how then, does a person like me show support for our Messrs. October without resorting to sartorial display?
I very much enjoy baseball, but I’m just not one of those people who ever catches the fever, so to speak, even though I am surrounded by folks who cough and sneeze nothing but Giants, Giants, Giants. It’s nearly impossible to whip me into a frenzy about any aerobic activity which involves two or more players messing about with balls, which is why you’ll never find me cheering wildly.
And which is more than likely why I am single.
But take me to a game and I’m bound to let my beer get warm and my garlic fries get cold because I’m too busy peering through my
opera glasses binoculars at the action on the field. Or, during the endless periods of inaction, at the impressive tailoring of the players’ uniforms. Away from the stadium, however, I don’t give America’s pastime a second thought, much to my great civic shame.
Until playoff season starts, that is. And then it’s all I hear about. At least in San Francisco.
I hop into a taxi and invariably, after a moment or two of silence, the driver asks, “So…are you a Giants fan?” Though I would like to respond with “Well, the Jolly Green one gives me the creeps, but I did find André the Giant’s turn as Fezzik in The Princess Bride so endearing that,on the whole, I’d have to say ‘yes'”, but I’m afraid of getting thrown out of the cab. Instead, I always respond, “Of course!” And then I let the driver go on and on while I nod in agreement and count the blocks to work where I can make my escape.
Except there is no escape. When I sit down to a pre-shift meal with my co-workers, The San Francisco Giants is the sole topic of conversation. Man or woman, cook or server, busboy or bartender– everyone seems to be discussing baseball, both in English and Spanish. Whether it’s The Giants, The “Yai-ants”, or Los Gigantes, I feel a supreme disconnect with my workmates because they are all speaking a language in which I cannot communicate well.
To me, Baseball-ese is a lot like Spanish– I understand most of the key words and structure, I appreciate the alien beauty of it, but completely miss the nuances. And when I try to speak it, I find myself stumbling and grasping for words, feeling like a complete idiot. So I clam up and wonder to myself if there is a Rosetta Stone program for Conversational Baseball.
When I am at my tables and a guest asks to know the score of a game, I apologize and imply that I’ve been far to busy attending to his or her needs to selfishly sneak away to find out. And then we’ll both hear half the restaurant either scream or groan in unison and the question is more or less answered.
It was while I was taking the order of one such guest that I hit upon the one way I could comfortably promote my team.
On our menu, we offer a bubbling hot dish of Greek giant beans baked in tomato sauce and topped with herbed feta and pesto. They’re called gigantes. A woman asked for them as an appetizer, mangling the word as she spoke it. “Can we get an order of dji-gan-tees, too, please?” She knew she’d mispronounced it and asked me the proper way to say it. “It’s yi-gan-des,” I said and then added, “Or if you want to get all Spanish about it, you can call them “hee-gahn-tes.”
“Spanish for ‘giants’, right?” she said. When I replied in the affirmative, she continued, “Well now we have to order them.”
Taking things one step further, I suggest that, rather than eat them prior to their meat course, I bring them out to accompany their shared plate of rotisserie lamb, explaining that each dish would be improved by the company of the other, to which she agreed. I was about to make what I thought was a clever baseball analogy by adding that the beans would act as cheerleaders for the lamb, but then I remembered that would be an unfortunate football analogy, so I simply said, “Yeah, that’ll be good.”
I may not found the clever turn of phrase I was looking for, but I did manage to find my own way to support my boys– through the magic of baked beans.
From now until the end of The World Series, I will be showing my civic pride by ensuring there’s a piping hot dish of beans on every table in my section of the restaurant. There’s going to be something in the air at Kokkari– the smell of excitement. Of team spirit. Of the beans that will help to win The World Series.
These Greek beans (which can also be spelled “gigandes”, which is much less interesting to me) are large, tough sons-of-bitches. They must be soaked overnight and gently cooked for what seems like ages to coax out their softer inner qualities. It makes one think of Babe Ruth visiting that little boy in the hospital. Or maybe it just makes you think what a pain in the ass making these beans is going to be. And to that I say, if you can’t take 90 minutes out of your life to simmer beans, then you obviously don’t want the San Francisco Giants to win. And if you happen to be from Kansas City, I would completely understand. But if you are from Kansas City, you should make them anyway. You could burn them in effigy under the broiler or lace them with something unpleasant (but non-lethal) and serve them to those you suspect of having Bay Area sympathies.
Makes enough for at least 6 people to be very full of beans.
For the beans:
• 1 pound of dried gigantes. You can find these at most Greek markets. If you do not have access to a Greek market, dried butter beans will work as well.
• 1 large yellow onion, coarsely chopped
• 1 large carrot, peeled and also coarsely chopped
• 2 celery stalks, chopped coarsely
• 1 large leek, light green parts and all, chopped in a coarse manner (when doing all of this coarse chopping, please bear in mind that these bits will be served with the beans as well, so don’t make them as coarse as, say, Wallace Beery in Dinner at Eight. They should be more like Denholm Elliot in Room With A View)
• 2 cloves of garlic, minced
• 1 tablespoon of dried Greek oregano. Although, in this case, I think Mexican is appropriate, too.
• 2 bay leaves
• 1/2 cup of extra-virgin olive oil
• Plenty of sea salt and pepper
• 4 tablespoons (or more, if you like) finely chopped fresh dill
For the tomato sauce:
• One 28-ounce can of San Marzano tomatoes, juice and all
• 2 cloves of garlic
• 1/4 cup of extra-virgin olive oil
• 1 tablespoon of dried oregano from the country of your choosing
To finish the dish:
• Plenty more fresh dill, minced
• As much Greek feta as you are comfortable with, crumbled.
1. Place the gigantes in a large bowl and cover them with cold water 3 inches above the bean line, making sure you have first removed the beans from their cellophane bag with Greek lettering on it you more than likely cannot read. Let them soak overnight.
2. When ready to use, drain and rinse the beans, then pour them into a stockpot and cover with cold water with 2 inches to spare. Bring to a simmer over high heat, skimming the surface foam as it rises to the top– an activity which is surprisingly satisfying. Add 2 tablespoons of salt, cover and adjust the heat so that the water bubbles at a gentle simmer. After 45 minutes, add your Denholm Elliotted vegetables, the garlic and the bay leaves. Kick up the heat to return the water to a subtle simmer and cook, uncovered, until the beans are tender. This could take from 45 minutes to 1 hour, depending upon the beans. Test one every so often towards the end of cooking to test for doneness.
3. As the beans are cooking for the second 45 minutes you could spend your time doing any number of things, like checking baseball scores or watching telenovelas, but the most efficient use of your time would be making the tomato sauce for the beans.
• Liberating the tomatoes from their can, purée them in a food processor with their juice and set aside. In a medium saucepan, heat the oil over a middling heat. Crush the 2 cloves of garlic with the heel of your palm against the flat edge of a knife– you want a release of juices and increased surface area, not total annihilation. Add the abused cloves to the hot oil and fry them until they begin to brown. Think: “khaki” or “desert sand”. Shades of brown-nose and beaver are to be avoided. Remove the oil from the heat source and discard the doubly-traumatized garlic cloves.
• Add the tomato purée to the hot oil– making certain you are not wearing any shirt or blouse you are particularly attached to because it’s really going to spatter and hiss– then return the pan to medium heat. Stir often while cooking and keep the sauce at a gentle simmer until it reduces, thickens, and doesn’t taste like raw tomatoes. You may use a bit of tomato past as a cheat, but why bother? Remember: you’ve got 45 minutes to kill. Add the oregano and cook for another 5 minutes or so. Season with salt to taste. Turn off the heat but leave the sauce on the stove to keep warm.
4. When the beans have been proclaimed tender, but not disintegrated, gently drain them into a colander. Remove the bay leaves and return beans to the pot. Pour over the tomato sauce, toss in a handful of chopped dill (that’s the 4 tablespoons in the ingredients list) and season with a generous amount of freshly ground pepper and more salt. Give everything a gentle stir until the beans are evenly covered with tomato sauce, then transfer them to a large baking dish to cool. Cover the beans and refrigerate overnight to let all the ingredients mingle and get to know each other better.
5. When ready to serve, heat your oven to 350°F and pop the covered baking dish inside until the beans are hot and steamy. If you plan on serving the entire baking dish to, say, the entire San Francisco Giants bullpen then dot the entire surface with as much crumbled feta as you dare, crank up the oven and place the whole thing under the broiler. If your ambitions are more modest, take as much as you need, place in an appropriately sized heat proof baking dish, top with an equally appropriate amount of feta and proceed. When the beans are bubbling and the cheese has melted and lightly browned (buff, not burnt sienna), remove from the oven, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with more dill.
To serve, turn on the World Series and consume as many gigantes as you possibly can. If you eat enough of them, you can cheer the team on with your own internal vuvuzela, if that sounds like something you’d enjoy. Or do vuvuzelas have something to do with another team sport where people play with balls? I forget.
* Please note that, although this recipe is heavily based upon the one in the Kokkari cookbook, it is not exactly the same. If you feel the need to know what I am talking about, you may purchase their book here. Also, I had absolutely nothing to do with the cookbook. Unless that is if you count the fact that I prevented the phrase “Kokkari has the cleanest rims in town” from being used in the introduction– an action I regret to this very day.