Monday, 11 May 2009

A picnic triad 2: Fagiolli e tonno: Tuscan beans with tuna

The inspiration for making this simple but delicious bean, tomato and tuna melange was a scrummy antipasto I had a lovely seaside restaurant in Shonan a few weeks back. The weather was rather chilly that day, especially seated out on the restaurant's waterfront deck, but the food was great so who could complain?

This recipe is the first I've tried from the door-stopping Little Foods of the Mediterranean: 500 Fabulous Recipes for Antipasti, Tapas, Hors d'Oeuvres, Meze, and More, and I'll definitely be back for more!

Little Foods was one of the two cookbooks I allowed myself to purchase when back in Oz and finally able to visit the Melbourne cookbook lover's mecca Books for Cooks. If you have been reading for any length of time, you will know I have had to seriously reign in my cookbook purchasing and was on the strictest of self-imposed orders to only buy two from a list of 20 or so titles that I had. Little Foods was not on my list, but edged out 19 other books that I'd been wanting for forever!

Author Clifford Wright had somehow managed to slip under my radar, but turns out to be one of those rare and fabulous writers whose outsider status translates into authority on his subject--which is all things Mediterranean. Little Foods may be the closest we will ever get to the definitive work on "little dishes" (not all of which, Wright rightfully points out, are appetizers). Covering Italy, Spain, France, the Mediterranean Middle East & North Africa, it brings the similarities and differences of this food meant for grazing in convivial company into sharp relief.

The book gives lots of food for thought, and is a fabulous read in its own right. The sheer number of recipes must have made categorization a monumental task! While my vote would have been on a country-by-country format, Wright goes with chapterizing by type of dish, which would cut down on sub-heading repetition, I suppose. All recipes are indexed by country of origin, though, and there is also a great selection of suggested menus for various occasions that is also arranged by country/region.

I am less fond of the flimsy low-quality paper this book is printed on, however. In my shoe-box sized kitchen, the only place for a large-format cookbook is balanced precariously on the edge of the sink. This makes splashes from the washing of hands inevitable and the odd accidental falling into the sink a very real possibility. Mediocre paperback paper really doesn't cut it in my kitchen, I'm afraid. I'm really not sure why cookbook publishers don't think of these things.

But back to the recipe. In its original form, it could take anything up to 1.5 hours to make. You can cut this back to virtually no time at all by soaking the beans overnight and cooking them in a pressure cooker. In fact, I only cooked mine for one (1) minute under pressure, lest they fell apart. It is much safer to finish off the cooking with the lid off the pressure cooker for a few minutes than risk ending up with a mushy pulp.

I also reduced the amount of olive oil in the recipe, because that's what I do.

Although I made the original portion, it was way too much. Halving it (which I've done below) should give you plenty to serve to a crowd with other antipasti and small foods.

Tuscan beans and tuna

Serves 8 when served with other antipasti

3/4 cup dried cannellini or other white beans, picked over, rinsed and soaked overnight
1/2 cup loosely packed fresh sage leaves
3 1/2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, flattened
500 g ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
2 tbsp loosely packed sliced fresh basil leaves
freshly ground black pepper
200 g tinned tuna in oil

1 Drain beans and place in a small pressure cooker. Cover generously with water, add the sage, and either use the pressure cooker's slotted drop-in lid or add 1/2 tbsp oil to prevent the beans from frothing up. Cover and bring to pressure, then cook under low pressure for 1 minute. Remove lid quickly to prevent overcooking. Test and, if necessary, cook uncovered until tender.

Alternatively, if cooking the traditional way, bring beans and sage to a gentle boil, then cook over medium-low heat, uncovered, until tender. Drain.

2 In a large nonreactive frying pan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat and cook the garlic cloves , stirring , until they begin to turn light brown, about 1 minute. Remove the garlic from the pan and discard. Add the tomatoes and lightly season with salt. Raise the heat to high and cook until slightly thicker, about 8 min, stirring frequently to prevent sticking, and lowering the heat if it splatters too much. Reduce the heat to low, add the drained beans and the basil, season with pepper, and simmer, covered, until the beans are hot, about 10 min, stirring occasionally.

3 Turn the heat off, add the tuna and its oil, and stir. Adjust the seasoning. Let the mixture rest for 15 min. Serve hot or at room temperature.


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