Why It Works
- A small amount of bean cooking liquid in the dressing helps form a strong emulsion that complements the flavor of the beans in the salad.
- Briefly soaking sliced red onion in ice water helps soften its pungent bite.
- Marinating the onion slices briefly in vinegar and salt pickles them a little.
- This salad is delicious when served at cool room temperature, making it great way to use pantry ingredients like canned tuna and dried beans in the spring and summer.
This classic Italian salad marries cooked white beans and oil-packed tuna for a protein-packed, pantry-friendly, light meal that's perfect for warm weather. With a lot of people stocked up on dried beans these days, we've been working on a number of recipes to put a batch o' beans to good use. With spring finally here, and summer just around the corner, we're moving away from heartier stews, and leaning into bean dishes like this one, which requires little to no additional cooking, and can be served at room temperature.
Along with creamy, cooked white beans and rich, flaky oil-packed ventresca (tuna belly), this salad features bright and crisp sliced red onions, which are first soaked in ice water for a few minutes to temper their pungent bite and then quickly marinated with vinegar and salt to give them a quick-pickle pop of acidity. The vinegar used to marinate the onions and the juice that the onions release in the process together form the base of the dressing for the salad. We round it out with a little bean cooking liquid, which acts as a flavorful emulsifier for the vinaigrette (if we haven't successfully converted you to cooking dried beans, we have also provided instructions for making this recipe with canned beans, too), fruity olive oil, chopped fresh parsley, and plenty of freshly ground black pepper.
The salad is hearty but light (if you want to add extra greenery to the mix, it also pairs well with additions like peppery arugula or watercress), and requires only about five minutes of work, making it the perfect no-cook, quarantine-pantry, warm-weather meal.
- 1/2 red onion (about 4 ounces; 116g), cut into 1/8-inch thick slices
- 1 tablespoon (15ml) Champagne, white wine, or red wine vinegar plus extra for drizzling
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 3 cups (1 pound 6 ounces; 625g) cooked dry white beans, drained, or two (15-ounce; 425g) cans low-sodium white beans, drained and rinsed (see note)
- 5.6 ounces (160g) olive oil-packed tuna (from two 3.88-ounce (110g) cans), preferably ventresca (tuna belly; see note), drained and gently flaked into 2-inch pieces
- 1 medium garlic clove (5g), minced or finely grated
- 1 tablespoon (15ml) bean cooking liquid, from a pot of beans cooked from dry (see note if using canned beans)
- 1/4 cup (60ml) extra-virgin olive oil plus extra for drizzling
- 1/4 cup (1/2 ounce; 16g) finely chopped fresh parsley leaves and tender stems
In a small bowl, combine red onion and enough ice water to cover. Using clean hands, gently scrunch and squeeze the onion slices, taking care not to crush or break them. Let onion slices sit in ice water for 15 minutes, then drain and discard ice water, and return red onion to now-empty bowl. Add vinegar and 1/4 teaspoon (1g) salt and toss and gently massage onions to evenly coat with vinegar and salt. Set aside for 5 minutes to allow onion slices to marinate.
Meanwhile, combine beans and tuna in a large bowl. Once onions have marinated for 5 minutes, squeeze onion slices to release moisture into the bowl that they marinated in, then transfer onion slices to large bowl with beans and tuna; set large bowl aside.
There should be at least 1 tablespoon (15ml) of vinegar-onion juice liquid left in the small bowl. Add garlic, bean cooking liquid (or, if using canned beans, 2 teaspoons (10ml) water plus 1 teaspoon (5ml) Dijon mustard), and 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper, and whisk to combine. Whisking constantly, slowly drizzle in olive oil. Stir in parsley and season to taste with salt.
Transfer dressing to large bowl with bean-tuna mixture, using a rubber spatula to scrape all of the dressing into the large bowl. Gently toss salad to evenly coat with dressing, taking care not to crush tuna or beans in the process. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Divide salad between individual serving plates or one large serving platter, drizzle lightly with olive oil and a splash of vinegar, and serve.
Because this dish is comprised of just a few ingredients, it's at its best when made with high quality products. Cooked dried beans (and their cooking liquid) have much better flavor and texture than canned beans, so we highly recommend using them in this recipe, if possible.
The quality of the tuna you use will make a difference here. We recommend oil-packed ventresca tuna, which comes from the richer, fatty belly; it's moister and more flavorful than other canned or jarred tuna. We like the ventresca from both Ortiz and Tonnino.
If using canned beans, substitute bean cooking liquid with 2 teaspoons (10ml) water and 1 teaspoon (5ml) Dijon mustard. The flavor of the dish obviously won't be exactly the same, but mustard provides similar emulsifying properties as the bean cooking liquid for the dressing.
Make-Ahead and Storage
This salad is at its best the day it's made, but can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 days. Bring to cool room temperature before serving.