Smoking Gentle Giant Beans with Cheese and Spinach

Oszkar, one of our Hungarian Vizslas, fell in love with a brindle Great Dane called Jazz. I will never forget one heart-stopping moment when Oszkar went to give Jazz a great big smacker….. and his entire head disappeared inside Jazz’s jaws. Seconds later he re-emerged, looking a little surprised but entirely unhurt – their love was completely reciprocated – Jazz had simply opened her mouth to give Oszkar a friendly lick!


Love at first sight
Love at first sight


For me butter beans are the Great Danes of the culinary word, I love the sheer goddam BIGness of them; I like the fact that they are gentle and mild and go with pretty much everything; and I’m very keen on the fact that they come in tins and you don’t have to peel them.


“Butter beans are the Great Danes of the culinary world”


This is a warming dish which can be very quickly made (the instructions look long, but they are, in fact, simple) . Serve it with ham and chutney for a hearty lunch. If you want to spice it up a bit add a little ‘nduja.


Recipe for gentle giant beans with cheese and spinach

Serves 4


  • 700g/1½lbs ready-washed baby spinach – or you can use frozen for this
  • 200g/8 oz feta (ideally the authentic type from Greece) or blue cheese
  • 2 x 400g tins of butter beans
  • 480 ml/2 cups full milk
  • 1 banana shallot
  • 4 cloves
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 4 peppercorns – Indonesian long pepper ideally
  • 50g butter
  • 45g/3 tbsps flour
  • good shake of smoked paprika
  • nutmeg
  • 1 tsp smoked salt


  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C.
  2. Put the milk into whatever ovenproof dish you plan to use for this recipe – you want quite a deep one which will be easier to pour from (this saves washing up an additional jug/pan etc), and add the cloves, bay leaves and peppercorns.
  3. Peel the banana shallot and cut it in half around its waist.
  4. Put all into the oven for about ten minutes… until it is nearly boiling. Then take out of the oven and leave to one side. Leave the oven on.
  5. Meanwhile ‘cook’ the spinach by boiling a full kettle and put the spinach in a big colander in the sink. As soon as the kettle boils pour over, moving the kettle around to catch any still-dry bits of spinach (for more about this super-simple method of cooking spinach follow this link). Press down with the back of a big spoon to drain out the excess water. Leave in the colander for the moment, grate over a few grinds of nutmeg (are you grating your knuckles as well – if so go here to find the best nutmeg grinder). Chop by snipping with kitchen scissors. Dot with about a third of the butter.
  6. Take the shallot out of the milk, and chop finely.
  7. In a medium saucepan add the remaining butter and the shallot. Fry gently for about five minutes. Then add the flour and mix in well. Cook for a couple more minutes.
  8. Fish the bay leaves, the pepper corns and the cloves out of the milk. Slowly stir the milk (directly from the oven dish) into the saucepan, add a little, then stir to thicken and ensure there are no lumps. Repeat etc. Add a tsp of smoked salt.
  9. Drain the beans and add to the sauce.
  10. Add the spinach to the sauce.
  11. Crumble in the cheese. Stir.
  12. Put back into the ovenproof dish (you can freeze at this stage if you want) and return to the oven for about ten minutes – it needs to be good and hot.
  13. Sprinkle over some Spanish smoked paprika, and serve.


Music to cook to

Sarah McLeod sings Giants


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