I have a repertoire of quick, easy dinners that I make when there is no produce in the house. It does happen; after I return from a trip, in particular, but also there are times when I just haven’t gotten to the market. My favorite pantry dishes are the ones I picked up long ago from an Italian friend who was able to produce the most marvelous simple dinners every evening when he returned from his office, though he hadn’t stopped at the market. He’d whip up a delicious tuna and bean salad, or pasta e fagiole, or pasta with tuna and tomato sauce or penne a l’arabiata, because he always had three canned items in his small cupboard: tuna, beans and tomatoes.
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From him I learned that I must always have these three foods on hand. They don’t have to be fancy and I’m not stuck on any particular type of bean. Right now I have supermarket brand chickpeas, white beans and pintos on my shelf. I have one can of tuna packed in water and another can of tuna packed in olive oil, and I’ve got 28- and 14.5-ounce cans of chopped tomatoes in juice, which is what I prefer (less work), but whole tomatoes will do.
Tuna and bean salad is a meal I make often when I’m on my own. If I have some produce on hand — green beans or cauliflower or some of those beautiful spring onions I’m beginning to see in the farmers markets — I’ll make variations on this simple theme, which requires little more than the tuna and the beans, vinegar, olive oil and whatever seasonings you like. Red onion is standard, parsley is always nice for color. But I never get too elaborate; it’s not a salade Niçoise, after all.
Simple Tuna and Bean Salad
Prep time: 10 minutes
Yield: Serves 4
1 small or 1/2 medium red onion or spring onion, peeled and very thinly sliced
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar or sherry vinegar
2 5 1/2-ounce cans tuna, packed in water or olive oil, drained
1 15-ounce can cannelini beans, white beans, chickpeas or borlotti beans, drained and rinsed
2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 small or medium garlic clove, finely minced
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 Japanese cucumber, cut in half lengthwise and sliced, for garnish (optional)
1. Place the onion in a bowl and add 1 teaspoon of the vinegar and cold water to cover. Let sit for 5 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water, then dry on paper towels.
2. In a medium bowl or salad bowl, combine the tuna, beans, onions and parsley.
3. In a small bowl or measuring cup, mix together the remaining vinegar, salt to taste, freshly ground pepper, garlic and Dijon mustard. Whisk in the olive oil. Toss with the tuna and beans and serve, garnishing each plate with cucumber slices.
Advance preparation: This will keep for 3 days in the refrigerator.
Two-Bean and Tuna Salad
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 5 minutes
Total time: 15 minutes
Yield: Serves 6
3/4 pound green beans, trimmed
1 small red onion, cut in half and sliced in half-moons
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar
2 5-ounce cans tuna (packed in water or olive oil), drained
1 15-ounce can white beans, cannellinis, chickpeas, or borlottis, drained and rinsed
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons chopped chives
2 teaspoons chopped fresh marjoram or sage
Salt to taste
1 garlic clove, minced or puréed
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1. Bring a medium-size pot of water to a boil, add salt to taste and green beans. Cook for 4 minutes (5 minutes if the beans are thick), until just tender. Transfer to a bowl of cold water and drain. (Alternatively, steam the beans for 4 to 5 minutes.) Cut or break the beans in half if very long.
2. Meanwhile, place sliced onion, if using, in a bowl and cover with cold water. Add 1 teaspoon vinegar and soak 5 minutes. Drain, rinse and drain again on paper towels.
3. Drain tuna and place in a salad bowl. Break up with a fork. Add canned beans, green beans, onion and herbs. Toss together.
4. In a small bowl or measuring cup, whisk together remaining vinegar, salt, garlic and mustard. Whisk in olive oil. Toss with tuna and bean mixture, and serve.
Advance preparation: This will keep for a day in the refrigerator; however, you should keep the green beans separate and toss with the other ingredients just before serving so they retain their bright green color.
Main photo: Two-Bean and Tuna Salad. Credit: Copyright Martha Rose Shulman