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, 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. —Amanda Hesser
best quality tuna, about 2 inches thick
About 1/3 cup olive oil
baby potatoes, boiled with skins on, until tender
thin green beans, topped and blanched in salted water
cranberry beans, shelled (about 3/4 cup shelled) and blanched in salted water until just tender or dried cranberry beans (see note in Step 4)
Place the tuna in a saucepan, just large enough to hold it (see the slideshow). Wedge the thyme and garlic around the sides. Pour in the olive oil, and life the tuna so some oil spreads beneath it. You want the tuna to be 1/2 to 2/3 covered. Season with salt.
Set the pan over medium low heat (if your stove is BTU-rific, you may need to keep it at low). Gently poach the tuna, spooning warm oil over the top as it goes and turning the tuna once. You want to cook it until it's still pink inside but cooked through. Remove to a cutting board. Save the delicious oil.
Slice the potatoes, and halve the green beans (if they're large; keep them whole if small). Divide the potatoes, green beans and cranberry beans among 4 plates. Use your fingers to pull the tuna into bite-size pieces and arrange atop the vegetables. Spoon the reserved poaching oil over the salad. Sprinkle a teaspoon of vinegar over each salad. Season with salt and coarsely ground black pepper.
Note: If using dried cranberry beans, soak the beans over night. Drain. Cover with cold water, bring to a boil and cook until just tender, 60 to 90 minutes.
Before starting Food52 with Merrill, I was a food writer and editor at the New York Times. I've written several books, including "Cooking for Mr. Latte" and "The Essential New York Times Cookbook." I played myself in "Julie & Julia" -- hope you didn't blink, or you may have missed the scene! I live in Brooklyn with my husband, Tad, and twins, Walker and Addison.