I like dinners that require assembly, because you can usually make the parts at your own pace and in whatever order you like. Then, when it's time to sit down, most of your work is already done.
Assembled dishes also work well for family dinners. When my husband is away, dinner with my kids means the three of us in the kitchen. Two of us must be kept occupied and away from knives. This warm tuna salad proved a formidable match. My five-year-olds scrubbed the potatoes (and whatever else they could get their hands on) and helped shell the beans, giving me time to pull everything else together.
The entire dish can be prepared in two pans. Start the potatoes in a medium saucepan. They can be cooked ahead of time, and rewarmed; otherwise cook them first and leave them in a strainer while you finish everything else. Both beans can be blanched in salted water, in the same pot you used for the potatoes, and they can be cooked one after the other. Do the green beans first, scoop them out with a slotted spoon, and then add the cranberry beans. And if you can no longer get fresh cranberry beans, plan ahead and use dried.
Then all you have to do -- and all you need to pay attention to -- is the tuna. As it poaches in the oil (one of my favorite techniques, as you might have noticed!), the oil soaks up the fragrance of the herbs, garlic, and tuna, making a delicious dressing for the salad.
My kids loved the assembly part. One spread the potatoes, another the beans, while I pulled the warm tuna into pieces and spooned the oil over the salad. No whisked dressing is needed. After you dress with the oil, sprinkle with some sherry vinegar, and finish the dish with a flaky salt like Maldon, and some coarsely ground black pepper.
- 3/4 pound best quality tuna, about 2 inches thick
- 5 thyme sprigs
- 1 garlic clove
- About 1/3 cup olive oil
- 12 baby potatoes, boiled with skins on, until tender
- 7 ounces thin green beans, topped and blanched
- 8 ounces cranberry beans, shelled (about 3/4 cup shelled) and boiled until just tender or dried cranberry beans (see note)
- 4 teaspoons sherry vinegar
- Freshly ground black pepper
Photos by James Ransom