Baked 3-cheese tomato strata
Most of us know the number one rule of cooking for a crowd: don't make anything new or scary. Not the rack of lamb you've been eyeing, not the souffle or anything else that's going to send you into a vibe-ruining tizzy. This rule is probably doubly important if you're invited to a potluck at a big-deal editor's apartment with a dozen food writers you're totally intimidated by, each of whom will arrive with his or her own signature dish. But this is not what I did. I'd like to pretend that it's just because I've got an unshakable confidence in my cooking, or, at the least, kitchen, uh, "meatballs" of steel. Alas, it would be more accurate to say that I decided to make this dish you see here-a mash-up of a giant-beans-in-tomato-sauce dish from Greece and American-style baked ziti, with beans instead of noodles — because, well, it was really what I was in the mood to cook that day, and cravings trump rationality pretty much always around here, and especially when I am 6 months pregnant. Before I left, I baked off a smaller amount for my husband and son for dinner, and my son — perhaps predictably for the kindergarten set-threw a fit. "I do not like beans." "You're going to love these." "I won't eat them." "You should try them! You'll see! There's tomato sauce, and look at all of that cheese on top. . . . It's just like pizza." "Pizza beans!!" (Do I even need to tell you that this did the trick?) And thus this is the story of how I showed up to a potluck with a dish tagged "Tomato-Braised Gigante Bean Gratin," but there isn't a person there who will remember them (fondly, I hope) as anything but "Pizza Beans."
These beans are called fagioli corona (in Italy), gigante/ gigandes (in Greece), Royal Corona (by Rancho Gordo, where I ordered mine), and other names. For a meaty variation, brown some fresh sweet or spicy Italian sausages (about 3/4 pound or 340 grams) with the vegetables.
*Bean cooking note
This recipe was originally designed as a long oven-braise that began with dried beans. I recommend you cook your beans in advance. Because they’re very big, I usually soak them for 12 to 24 hours in salted water, then simmer them for a couple hours; you could also use a slow cooker on high (usually 4 to 6 hours, but it will vary), or a pressure cooker (about 20 minutes, with variance), or bake them in the oven at 325 degrees for approximately 70 to 90 minutes after bringing them to a simmer on the stove.
Pizza beans recipe excerpted from Smitten Kitchen Every Day by Deb Perelman. Text and photographs copyright © 2017 Deb Perelman. Published by Appetite by Random House®, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.