Everyone loves this dish and the flavour improves overnight so you can make it in advance. This is a very tasty, healthy salad which can be made quickly mostly from ingredients you might have in your cupboard. The best is to make this recipe with dried beans which have been cooked but it takes a bit of preparation so if you have only started to look at the recipe the day you want to make it then don’t worry, there are substitutes (see variations below). —woo wei-duan
dried cannellini or borlotti beans* (cannellini beans are prettier)
garlic cloves, skin removed and bruised
best quality extra virgin olive oil
sage leaves, finely chopped or bay leaves, whole
medium red onion, outer leaves removed, ends cut, and sliced paper thin or 1 green onion, finely sliced
vinegar - any kind
tin or jar (150 grams drained weight) good quality tuna packed in olive oil, oil drained and discarded
flat-leaf Italian parsley, washed, dried, leaves removed and finely chopped
leaves of basil, washed, dried, finely sliced
celery stick, washed, ends cut and finely sliced (optional)
tomatoes, cored, washed and cubed into 1.5 cm cubes (optional)
Soak the beans in plenty of tepid water in a bowl for 1 to 2 days before you want to serve this salad.
The day you want to make the salad, then drain the water from the beans and discard. Place the beans in a large saucepan and add fresh cold water to cover by 3 cm. Add 2 teaspoons salt, 1 sprig rosemary, 1 teaspoon sea salt, 3 cloves of the garlic, 3 tablespoons olive oil, some freshly ground black pepper, and the sage.
Meanwhile place the finely sliced red onion into a bowl and cover with water and add ice. Add the ¼ cup vinegar and some freshly ground black pepper and set aside for 1 hour. Usually raw onions are used but I find their flavour a bit harsh so I tone it down by soaking them in ice water with some vinegar to maintain the crisp texture of raw onion without the bite.
Bring the beans to a simmer over medium heat and then reduce to low.
Cook the beans for 30 minutes to an hour until they are tender (the timing depends on the age of the beans). The beans should have a creamy texture but still be whole. The beans should not disintegrate or become mush. Drain the beans and discard the water, garlic, and rosemary.
Cool the beans in a bowl with the 2 remaining cloves of garlic, ½ cup olive oil, and salt to taste.
Drain the red onions and discard the soaking liquid and ice.
When the beans are cool, add the tuna, the red onions, parsley, basil, celery, tomato, red wine vinegar, and stir to combine. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Allow the salad to sit for as long as possible so the flavours mix, 2 to 4 hours to overnight. If you are going to let it sit overnight then add the tomato and celery just before serving.
Remove the 2 cloves of garlic before serving. You can serve the salad with some toasted or grilled bread to top with the salad.
Note 1: If you forgot to soak the beans overnight, simply put the beans in a large saucepan and cover by 3 cm with cold water. Add 1 sprig of rosemary, 3 cloves of garlic, 2 teaspoons sea salt, 3 tablespoons olive oil, freshly ground pepper, and sage. Heat the oven to 145 C, cover the pot, and bake for 60 to 90 minutes (the time will depend on the age of the beans). Taste to ensure that the beans are soft enough to eat and watch that they don’t disintegrate.
If you don’t have the time or inclination to make the beans yourself, then you have a couple options:
Variation 1: Take 2 tins of cannellini beans and put them into a saucepan along with their liquid. Add 2 sprigs of rosemary, 3 cloves of garlic, peeled, 2 leaves of sage, finely chopped and bring to a simmer for 30 minutes, adding a bit of water if needed and stirring occasionally. Drain the beans, remove the garlic and rosemary and throw away. Proceed from step 3. This variation is a good option if you are pressed for time but the bean flavour and the texture for fresh or dry beans is much nicer than the tinned variety.
Variation 2: Substitute the beans with 4 potatoes. Add the unpeeled potatoes to a medium sized saucepan and cover with cold water. Add 1 teaspoon of salt to the potatoes and boil until the potatoes are fork tender but not disintegrating. Remove the potatoes with a slotted spoon and remove the skin while still hot. Cut into 2 cm pieces and toss with 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 tablespoon vinegar, salt and pepper and then proceed from step 3.