Last night I made one of my favorite things ever for dinner. It requires very few ingredients and it’s quick to make. Unfortunately, I don’t have a name for this concoction.
It was born when I was studying abroad in Perugia, Italy and I signed up for a day tour in Tuscany that included a farmhouse lunch. The meal was incredible– there’s actually 2 things I tried for the first time that day that are now among my favorite things to cook. But the one that I’m writing about today came in the form of an antipasto, an absolutely delicious cream-colored mixture spread on toasted bread. As soon as a worker came to clear the table, my friends and I asked him what was in it, and he rattled off “fagioli…cipolle…tonno…” (beans, onions, and tuna).
At the farmhouse, eagerly awaiting my multi-course lunch (back in 2003)
My friends and I committed these ingredients to memory, and the next week we tried to make the mixture ourselves, tossing it with pasta instead of spreading it on bread. Even then, we didn’t have a name for it– I think we just called it “that bean stuff”– but we were all smitten with it. So simple and so good.
To this day, I have no idea what to call it. Whenever I get my hands on an Italian cookbook, I look through all the white bean recipes, but I’ve never found a recipe exactly like this one. So here it is– the recipe for the white bean concoction inspired by something my friends and I ate at a Tuscan farmhouse.
Start with one medium-sized onion. Cut it into thin slices and saute it in a pan some olive oil (not too much– maybe a tablespoon?).
You’ll also need one can of white beans and a can of tuna in water.
Once the onions are soft and have begin to caramelize slightly, add the can of beans to the pan. I usually add them along with most of the liquid from the can, otherwise the mixture could get too dry. This is also when I begin to add the seasonings. Add salt and pepper liberally. This time around I also added around a teaspoon of dried oregano and a few pinches of crushed red pepper. When I lived in Italy, I had this to-die-for rosemary salt that was perfect in this. (Actually, it was amazing in just about everything… I was pretty obsessed with it). I currently don’t have any rosemary in my spice cabinet, but if you do, go ahead and use it.
After adding the seasonings, start to squish some of the beans with your spatula.
Once you’ve done the desired amount of squishing and the mixture is bubbling, add the can of tuna. It’s good to drain this first, because too much tuna water makes the whole dish taste too fishy. Stir the tuna in, taste it, adjust seasonings if necessary. Allow the whole mixture to heat through. Enough of the liquid should be cooked off by now so that it’s pretty thick (it also thickens up after you take it off the heat). If you have some hard Italian cheese like Parmesan or Pecorino around, grating about a quarter cup of that in or just sprinkling it over the top after serving is an excellent touch.
Also, you should be cooking some pasta to go with this– penne or the curly pasta shape (I forget what it’s called!) are good for this.
The end result, unfortunately, looks sort of like dog food, but believe me– it is so delicious. It also smells fantastic. Whenever I have made it– at my parent’s house, at college, even here with J– somebody has commented, “Wow, that smells so good. What are you making?” And time and again I’ve struggled for an answer, since this beloved dish of mine, as delicious and nostalgic as it is, has never had a real name. Perhaps it’s time to come up with one? Any suggestions?