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This a wee pandemic tale about my mom and white beans.

We all have a favorite thing to eat that we never tire of. For my mom, it’s a white bean and tuna salad from a nearby Italian deli.

Over the past few months, I have been whipping up my own version of this salad as part of the occasional Mom pandemic meal delivery service. And in doing so, I have become quite fond of it myself.

White beans include several common varieties such as Navy, Great Northern and Cannellini as well as a good handful of heirloom varieties, including Royal Corona, Alubia Blanca and Cassoulet. As a bean nerd and subscriber to Rancho Gordo’s bean club, I have become more acquainted with heirlooms and frankly cannot get enough.

Just before everyone sheltered in place, I wrote a story about basic bean cookery with a nod to owner Steve Sando’s new book, “The Rancho Gordo Heirloom Bean Guide.” 

Last week, when I packed up my desk in the newsroom (LNP is moving to 101 N. Queen St this summer), a review copy, mailed in early March, was waiting for me.  It was a sign, that I must make more white bean salad. And of course, Sando has a recipe for Italian White Bean and Tuna Salad.

As you can see, this whole thing is my mom’s fault.

The thing about white beans is that they are fairly mild, which means they’re versatile and play well with other flavors. Generally speaking, they’re quite creamy and yet starchy, almost like a Yukon gold potato.

I like to add a can of tuna or salmon to white bean salad, but if canned fish is not your thing, there are so many other ways to dress up those beans – olives, capers, sundried tomatoes, pickled peppers, a hard-boiled egg. You get the idea. Look in the refrigerator and see what’s hanging around – maybe a rib of celery, half a cucumber or carrot, a handful of radishes or snow peas. These are all fair bean salad game.

Whatever you decide, keep this rule of thumb in mind: Resist the urge to stir everything together as you add ingredients. Frequent stirring will result in mushy beans, not ideal for a bean salad. What follows is a template to get you on your way.

Ad Hoc White Bean Salad

Makes about 6 servings.

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups cooked white beans (or 2 15-ounce cans, drained)
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice or your favorite mild vinegar
  • 4 to 6 tablespoons olive oil
  • At least ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • Any or all of the following add-ons:
  • One 6 1/2 -ounce can tuna or salmon, drained and flaked with a fork
  • ½ red onion or 1 shallot bulb or ½ cup scallions, finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • ½ cup fresh parsley or dill, roughly chopped
  • 1 cucumber, cut into ½-inch cubes
  • A few radishes, thinly sliced
  • ½ red or yellow bell pepper, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano or ground fennel or coriander

Directions: 

Place the beans in a large bowl and add the lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. Stir just once to mix. Add any of the optional add-ons, resisting the urge to stir.  Once you have added everything, stir well a few times until well coated.

Serve on a bed of salad greens or with your favorite toast.


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