italy at home: yellow-eye bean salad with oregon tuna

Needing nibbles and lacking time, I thought I’d make a bean salad.  My absolute favorite, black bean and bulgar wheat that ends up resembling tabouli with stuff in it, was out of the question because I couldn’t go to the store for peppers.  I wanted something as near local as possible, and I had some beans bought locally in San Francisco that I wanted to try, but I was stymied.

It then occurred to me that I still have several gorgeous jars of Oregon albacore, sourced from Coast fisherman and canned this summer under the watchful eye of a fellow Master Food Preserver who cans tuna every year.  The fish is delicate and flavorful, canned in nothing but its own juices and a bit of salt.  (I’m starting to drool just thinking about it.)  It would be a perfect time to make the classic Tuscan white bean and tuna salad, and I could use a variety of dried bean I hadn’t used before: the yellow-eye.


Yellow-eye beans have been cultivated in Maine for centuries, and heirloom varieties can still be found on the shelves and in baked bean dishes.  They’re perky, medium-small creamy beans with an ochre-colored “eye” patch around the little bellybutton where the bean attaches to the pod.  Unlike the dappling on the variegated beans, the eye patch does not cook away into a muddy color, so they stay distinct in the finished product.  This makes them perfect for a bean salad.  They aren’t a delicate bean: the Tuscans use the cannellini bean, a white, thin-skinned bean that is milder in taste for this salad, but I think the firmer yellow-eye holds its own quite well against the very strong tuna and onion flavors in the dish. Plus, they’re really pretty.

I had on hand some small local cippoline onions, which were less sweet and much stronger than I had expected, so I cried through the process.  It wasn’t my dissertation this time, I swear.  You’ll have to judge your own onions — feel free to use more or less, as your taste dictates.

And I cheated a bit — basil is so nice in bean and tuna salad, but we couldn’t be farther from basil season, so I used a little scoop of frozen pesto to green up the proceedings.  Parsley is necessary to add a bit more color.  Some recipes for this salad include thinly sliced celery, cherry tomatoes, arugula, and/or capers.  Go for it if these things work for you.

Yellow-eye Bean and Tuna Saladdscf3387_2

Recipe adapted from Marcella Hazan‘s classic

Serves 4 at a luncheon

  • 1 cup dried yellow-eye beans (substitute cannellini or another white bean), or 3 cups cooked beans
  • 8 oz. premium quality tuna, either in olive oil or drained of water
  • 1/2 small, sweet white onion, sliced as thinly as possible
  • handful of Italian parsley
  • handful of basil, if you should have it
  • extra-virgin olive oil and a good red wine vinegar (I used Pommery) to taste
  • salt and freshly ground pepper

Soaking Beans: Start the night before you’d like your dish to be served.  Soak dried beans in enough water to cover them by a few inches.  You might find you need overnight soaking, or only a few hours.  My yellow-eyes were fine after just a few hours.  The key is to get them to a point where no dry core remains in the center.

Cooking Beans: This step may also be done the night before.  Place beans in a stockpot, cover them with an inch of water (and make sure you keep them covered at this level for the entire cooking time).  Cook the beans at a simmer until done, anywhere from 1-3 hours.  Again, fresher beans will take less time to cook.  They should taste creamy, not grainy.  Add some salt (1 t.) midway through cooking.  Do not boil them hard, or else they will burst.

If you need to keep the cooked beans for a day or two, cool them in a shallow pan with the liquid, then store in the refrigerator with the liquid.

Making the Salad:  Soak the white onion slices in several changes of cold water, squeezing them in the water to release their milky juice.  Let the onion sit in cold water until you are ready to use it.

Cut onion slices in half, or in bite-sized pieces, if you wish.

Drain tuna, and break it up into large flakes.  Add cooled beans, folding in gently.  Add prepared onion, and a teaspoon or two of red wine vinegar.  Add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.  If your tuna was processed in olive oil, do not add additional olive oil, but add a bit otherwise.

Chop parsley and basil, and add immediately before serving.


7 thoughts on “italy at home: yellow-eye bean salad with oregon tuna

  1. Eugenia 30 January 2009 / 7:07 am

    Thanks, Laila!


  2. Samantha Mathews 6 February 2010 / 1:38 am

    This looks delicious! Ill have to try it tonight. I have a cooking recipe site as well and Id like to exchange links with you. Let me know if this is possible. Thanks.


  3. Kellie 8 February 2011 / 9:09 am

    I just soaked my yellow eyes (here in Maine) and went online looking for a simple recipe – think I’ll try yours, and let you know how it turns out. Thanks!


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