Light, Wholesome Tuna and Cannellini Salad for a Summer Lunch

Combining tuna and cannellini beans with a lemon vinaigrette sounded very good to me last winter when I first saw the recipe, but somehow, with cold wind blowing and snowflakes in the air, I hankered after warm soups and stews for lunch, and set the recipe aside for when sunshine and warmth prevailed. Then this week, having invited a summer friend to lunch, I needed something to serve a little more special than peanut butter sandwiches on the porch and this quickly assembled salad turned out to be just the ticket. (I added a deviled egg to each plate, just for pretty.)

Even though I grow cannellini beans, probably why I noticed the recipe in the first place, I usually have a can of them in the cupboard in case of last minute needs. Canned tuna is a staple item. So, opening two cans, squeezing some lemon, chopping some red onion, garlic, parsley, basil—really easy prep stuff, lo, a very tasty and wholesome lunch resulted.

Apparently, unbeknownst to me, this dish has typically Italian overtones. We have with us for now a WWOOF volunteer whose family were Italian-born and who spends part of his year WWOOFing in Italy. WWOOF stands for World Wide Opportunities in Organic Farming and as a WWOOF host, I house and feed WWOOFers who stay with us and help in the gardens. Cris likes to cook and has been making various Italian dishes for us—a huge treat—and when he saw this salad, he exclaimed, “Oh, that’s an Italian combination!” I imagined I was eating Mediterranean-style and felt very wholesome right way. (Tongue in cheek, people.)

The recipe made enough for four of us—my friend and I eating at the dining table for cozy, female conversation and Toby and Cris relegated to the kitchen table. I used a large can of tuna—large being nine-ounces, and of cannellini, a thirteen-ounce can, what used to be two cups. Can sizes are an ever-shifting proposition as the food industry shaves an ounce off the contents every few months. If you decide to soak dry cannellini and cook them up yourself, aim for a scant two cups. As far as the proportion of tuna to beans is concerned, it looked to me that the large can of tuna with the beans looked like a pretty nearly even balance. Suit yourself, add more tuna if you wish, or more beans.

Tuna and Cannellini Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette
Serves: Four
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 13-ounce can of cannellini beans, rinsed well
  • 1 9-ounce can chunk light tuna
  • ½ medium red onion, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon capers, drained
  • Cherry tomatoes, halved, to taste
  • 2-3 sprigs parsley, minced
  • 6-7 basil leaves, shredded
  1. Put the lemon juice, olive oil, and garlic into a medium-sized shallow bowl and whisk together.
  2. Add salt and pepper and taste, adjusting seasonings if necessary.
  3. Add all the rest of the ingredients and toss gently until the dressing is well-distributed.
  4. Serve.


Sandy Oliver

About Sandy Oliver

Sandy Oliver Sandy is a freelance food writer with the column Taste Buds appearing weekly since 2006 in the Bangor Daily News, and regular columns in Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors magazine and The Working Waterfront. Besides freelance food writing, she is a pioneering food historian beginning her work in 1971 at Mystic Seaport Museum, where she developed a fireplace cooking program in an 1830s house. After moving to Maine in 1988, Sandy wrote, Saltwater Foodways: New Englanders and Their Foods at Sea and Ashore in the 19th Century published in 1995. She is the author of The Food of Colonial and Federal America published in fall of 2005, and Giving Thanks: Thanksgiving History and Recipes from Pilgrims to Pumpkin Pie which she co-authored with Kathleen Curtin. She often speaks to historical organizations and food professional groups around the country, organizes historical dinners, and conducts classes and workshops in food history and in sustainable gardening and cooking. Sandy lives on Islesboro, an island in Penobscot where she gardens, preserves, cooks and teaches sustainable lifeways.