So the simple story goes something like this. The Italians didn’t know beans about white beans until explorers brought them back from the New World, probably Mexico, in the 1500s. Prior to that, the ancient Romans had cultivated black-eyed peas and Renaissance Italians enjoyed the broad bean or fava. But the white fagioli, now know as cannellini beans, were new and considered fairly exotic. The Italians were probably the first Europeans to eat them.
Clement VII received some of the first seeds because, well, he was the pope. They were planted in Tuscany. The story goes that when Clement’s relataive, Catherine de’ Medici (age 14), left for France in 1533 to marry Henry II (also age 14), her brother Alessandro gave her some cannellini beans to take with her as a wedding present. No silver candelabra for her. But these beans were very new and special and Catherine was a foodie. She introduced the white bean to the French. Question: would there be no cassoulet without Catherine?
Back in Italy, cannellini beans were such a hit they quickly became a staple in Tuscany. Not just for the royal table, they were perfect as peasant food, la cucina povera. They were easy to cultivate, very nutritious and served simply with olive oil, garlic and sage. The Tuscans were in love. And to this day the rest of Italy refers to Tuscans as i mangiafagioli, the bean-eaters.
This bean and tuna salad requires few ingredients and little time to prepare. I made a double batch once for my daughter’s International Day at school and there wasn’t a bean left on the dish. You can use dried beans and soak them overnight but that wouldn’t be simple and simple is what we’re all about.
Tuscan Beans and Tuna (Fagioli al Tonno)
- 2 1-pound cans of cannellini beans
- 1 6-ounce can tuna fish, preferably packed in olive oil (but if packed in
- water or vegetable oil then drain the can)
- ¼ cup slivered red onion
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons parsley, preferably flat-leaf
- salt and pepper to taste
- Rinse and drain the beans, then spoon them into a shallow dish. Fold in the tuna, breaking up the chunks as you fold. Add the red onion and gently stir.
- Mix the olive oil and lemon juice, pour over the bean/tuna mixture and again gently stir.
- Salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle the parsley over the salad. Served chilled or at room temperature.
Note: If you want to cook dried beans, one pound of dried beans makes about 5 ½ to 6 cups of cooked beans. Measure accordingly.