Insalata di Fagioli e Tonno

After living 22 years in in the U.S,  where air conditioning is abundant, moving to Rome was a bit of a shock. Let me explain: I come from a country that cherishes air conditioning (affectionately nicknamed “a.c”) in the hotter months, and subsequently uses it with abandon. Stores and restaurants are icy cold, the temperature in movie theaters are so low that you need to bring a sweatshirt to comfortably watch a film in August, and its rare to find a house in the States not equipped with air conditioning. Rewind to my first ever trip to Italy in August 2003 -- two weeks traveling all around the country -- where I quickly learned that Italy, already infernally hot in the Summer, was suffering a record heat wave, and…"a.c" was almost nowhere to be found. We stayed a few nights in Calabria in a hotel that did not have air conditioning, not even one fan, and none of us slept that night, seeking refuge on our hotel room balconies, desperately hoping for a breeze. I fell asleep with my cheek against the window in our rented van on the way to Abano, and woke up with half my face sunburned. We accepted that we would spend the next 14 days covered in sweat, took numerous cold showers a day, and nearly cried when we discovered our hotel in Rome had a swimming pool. That sort of thing.

Long story short, air conditioning isn't a thing in Italy. It’s pricey, for one thing – at most, my friends here have one air conditioning unit in one room – and anyways, the heat is nothing that a good old electric fan can’t handle. On top of all this, my Italian friends and relatives also believe that air conditioning is – gasp! – bad for you. Too much cold air gives you a cold; the switch from a cold room the hot temperature outside confuses your body and could also give you a cold; cold air blowing on the back of your neck, especially a sweaty one, can block the muscles in your neck, they say, and I even have a friend who has an air conditioning unit in his living room, but never uses it for fear of falling ill. I'm not sure I agree with them – if anything, its the excess of heat that can make you sick, right?! – but Italians seem convinced of this, just as Americans are convinced that pineapple and ham belong together on pizza, so we’ll just chalk it up to cultural differences, shall we? 

But to this recipe! Italy may not be big on air conditioning, but it does compensate in the form of delicious, low or no heat dishes; there's refreshingly cold gelato, for starters, plus granita, and ice cold watermelon sold on the streets; there’s room temperature insalata di riso, insalata caprese, and panzanella, plus fantastic prosciutto, tomatoes, and cheese for when you just want to assemble a a few things and not cook dinner. One of my go-to, low-key, heat free dishes in the Summer is insalata tonno e fagioli -- tuna and bean salad -- which is beyond simple to make, provided of course you can mix a few ingredients in a bowl. It's light and refreshing and lemon-y, filling enough for dinner, and good for you, too, which gives it extra brownie points (because let's be honest, the healthy recipes on here are far and few between). Its just what you want for dinner in your air conditioning-less kitchen in the middle of a boiling Summer, and takes about 5 minutes to make.

A couple of notes: I used canned cannellini as they're what I had on hand and are much faster, but if you have dried beans, you'll need to do a little more prep -- be sure to soak them in water at least 12 hours (or overnight) and then drain them and place them in a pot of enough water to cover. Bring the pot of water to a boil and cook for about 50 minutes, adding a little salt in at the end about 3 minutes before the cooking time is up. Drain and let cool completely. The quantities below are all flexible -- adjust according to your tastes and preferences. Feel free to make substitutions or add whatever else you want -- chickpeas instead of cannellini, parsley instead of the basil, or Kalamata olives instead of the black olives, for example. If you are patient, this is extra good served cold after time in the fridge, where the flavors are also allowed to meld and develop.

Looking for more low-key, heat-free recipes? I've got Insalata di Riso, Prosciutto, Nectarines, and Burrata, Corn, Avocado, and Tomato Salad, Basil Pesto, Pistachio Pesto, Sun-dried Tomato Pesto, Avocado Basil DipWatermelon, Arugula, and Feta Salad, and Greek Panzanella.

INSALATA DI FAGIOLI E TONNO

Ingredients:
2 (160 grams each) cans of tuna, packed in oil
2 (400 grams each) cannellini beans, drained and rinsed briefly under cold water
A handful of basil leaves, thinly sliced 
4 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 teaspoons lemon zest
2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
3/4 cup black olives, halved
1/2 teaspoon salt
Pepper

Directions:
This one is pretty simple -- whisk together the olive oil and lemon juice in a small bowl. Mix together the tuna, beans, basil, tomatoes, olives, and lemon zest in a larger bowl. Pour the lemon and olive oil mixture over the salad, toss, and season everything well with salt and pepper -- I used about 1/2 teaspoon salt but add this a little at a time in case your cannellini have more salt than mine did. Eat as is or do as I do and let it get nice and cold in the refrigerator to make it extra Summer-friendly and let the flavors develop. Serves 4. 





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