Fagioli e tonno, or White Bean and Tuna Salad, is just about as quick and simple a dish as you can make. If you can open a can, you can make this salad. And it’s easy to double or treble the recipe if you’re expecting more dinner guests, or you just feel extra-hungry.
Generally classified as an antipasto, this salad is a fixture on summer cookout and buffet tables. In our house, we often have it as a main course for a light supper in warm weather, a reliable stand-by when I don’t have the time or just don’t feeling like doing any real cooking.
Makes enough for 4 persons as an antipasto or 2 as a light main
- One large can of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed, or about 500g/1 lb boiled bean
- One can of tunafish in olive oil, drained
- 1/2 medium red onion, chopped
- A few sprigs of parsley, finely chopped
- The juice of half a lemon
- A good glug of best-quality, extra virgin olive oil (about 1/3 cup)
- Salt and pepper
Pour the beans into a colander and rinse them thoroughly. Allow the beans to drain well.
In a large bowl, mix the beans with the tunafish, which you will have drained and broken up into chunks with a fork. Add the rest of the ingredients and toss well. If the mixture is a little dry, add more oil. Adjust for seasoning.
Serve, if you like on a bed of tender lettuce or, as pictured here, topped with a light sprinkling of additional onion and parsley for color.
Notes on Fagioli e tonno
The choice of tuna is pretty crucial here. For starters, you’ll want tuna packed in olive oil. If you are feeling extravagant, there are some imported tuna of the ventresca type—fillets of tuna belly—that are wonderful if expensive. Where I live, Ortiz from Spain is a widely available and high quality brand. Otherwise, supermarket brands like Cento, Progresso and Genova are all fine choices. If you can find Sicilian yellowfin tuna, which is wonderful, and if you’re willing to shell out for it, may be the best choice of all.
The ‘real’ recipe for fagioli e tonno calls for dried cannellini beans that you will have soaked and cooked yourself. It’s easily done if you have the time, and they’re certainly the best choice for special occasions, but for an everyday quick meal, canned beans will do just fine. Just be sure to rinse the beans well before using to eliminate the can juices, which give the beans an off taste. (You should do that whenever you use canned beans.)
Other beans would make for an interesting variation, chickpeas and tuna being a fairly common one in Italy. I’m very partial to switching out both main ingredients in my Chickpea and Sardine Salad. And I sometimes add chopped tomato, in season, which makes for a pleasant change.
The traditional recipe for fagioli e tonno, which is originally from Tuscany, calls for red onions, typical of Tuscan cooking. They are your first and most authentic choice, and they add mellow flavor and a nice bit of color to an otherwise rather monochrome dish. But the mild flavor of white onions is also quite nice. Scallions aren’t bad either. You can use regular yellow onions in a pinch. But since their taste is a bit too harsh to eat raw, soak them in abundant cold water for about 10-15 minutes to remove some of the harshness and pat dry before adding them to the mixing bowl.
You can serve fagioli e tonno immediately or make it ahead. But as the onion tends to turn sharper with time, this isn’t a dish that I’d make more than say, a few hours ahead. If you refrigerate it, let it return to room temperature before serving.
The foregoing is a re-blog of the very first recipe post I wrote for Memorie di Angelina back in June 2009. It’s been slightly edited and re-photographed. I’ve learned a bit about blogging in these past 11 years, and in particular about food photography. At the risk of embarassing myself, you can see the original photograph for this post at the left. Like all my other posts at the time, it was taken on the fly with a cell phone camera. Doesn’t look too appetizing, does it? And yet I can assure you it was every bit as tasty then as the plate I photographed for this new post. Shows you the power of imagery—a lesson I only learned after I was blogging for some time.
Anyway, some of my favorite recipes can be found in those old posts, so I thought it’d be a good idea to update them and re-share them with you every once in a while. Enjoy!
Fagioli e tonno
- 1 large can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed, or about 500g/1 lb boiled beans
- 1 can tunafish in olive oil drained
- 1/2 medium red onion chopped
- A few sprigs of parsley finely chopped
- 1/2 lemon juiced
- 1/3 cup 75 ml best-quality, extra virgin olive oil or to taste
- Salt and pepper
- Pour the beans into a colander and rinse them thoroughly. Allow the beans to drain well.
- In a large bowl, mix the beans with the tunafish, which you will have drained and broken up into chunks with a fork. Add the rest of the ingredients and toss well. If the mixture is a little dry, add more oil. Adjust for seasoning.
- Serve, if you like on a bed of tender lettuce or topped with a light sprinkling of additional onion and parsley for color.