A satisfying salad of tuna and beans is a Mediterranean favorite, often served as a meal in warm weather. In my favorite version, the main ingredients — rich tuna and creamy beans — are accented with red wine vinegar, tomato and onion, finished with a flourish of extra-virgin olive oil.
At the moment, with no ripe tomatoes on the horizon, I offer this cool-weather variation, which features thinly sliced raw fennel, and fresh tuna seared in a cast-iron skillet. Using best-quality canned tuna is certainly an option, but the texture and flavor are quite different. While fresh tuna may be a bit of a splurge and take longer to prepare, the divine results are worth the cost.
As for the beans, freshly cooked dried white beans are preferred — I always take the opportunity to proselytize for dried beans, which have a better texture and more flavor than canned — and, with a little advance planning, easy to pull off. Cannellini or gigante beans, covered in cold water just before bedtime, take only about an hour to simmer the next day. Still, beans from a can will suffice. Drain the cooked (or canned) beans, and season them with salt, lemon and plenty of olive oil. (In fact, white beans dressed this way are delicious as an accompaniment to nearly any dish.)
Tuna is expensive, but you don’t need much: 2 to 4 ounces per serving is plenty. So your salad can be bean heavy or tuna heavy, depending upon how flush you’re feeling; it will be delicious either way. The main thing is to get the seasoning right. After salting it, I like to coat the fish with a generous amount of crushed fennel seed and black pepper. If I have it on hand, I’ll amp up the floral flavor with a little dried fennel pollen.
To sear the tuna, get a cast-iron pan scorching hot. The cooking takes only about two minutes per side. I want the tuna to be quite rare, nearly raw at the center, but feel free to cook it more if you like. Or follow the New York chef Jody Williams, who serves a tuna and bean salad I admire at her restaurant Via Carota; it is made with diced raw tuna.