Illustration by Carola Noguer

Mothering a teenager who storms through the door at the end of the day ready to eat the refrigerator without even bothering to open it has challenged me to form an arsenal of ready-in-10-minutes dishes that hinge on what my Italian pantry always stocks. Many of these staples came from Lucca’s, the iconic Italian deli that closed its doors in the spring. 

Minds deeper and better informed than mine have analyzed the social significance of the event. I have no weight to bear on this debate. Lucca’s resonance in my life was a deeply personal one. I first found it in 1998, on a visit to the man who is now my husband. It was early in the timeline of our love. We were still stepping gingerly around the terms of our bi-coastal relationship. Despite the sense of inevitability that framed us from the very first kiss, I balked at the thought of leaving New York to build a life in yet another adoptive city. I like to think that introducing me to Lucca was a shrewd tactical move on his part, as the sense of place it immediately engendered, was a pivotal nudge in my ultimate decision to take the leap. 

In my pantry, there is a whole section dedicated to conserved fish, of which tuna commandeers a full half. I could always find the brands I trusted and ate throughout my childhood in Italy on Lucca’s shelves, and at a reasonable price. Opening the last of my Lucca’s stock for the tuna and beans salad I shared with the founder of this very forum a few weeks back was wistfully delicious and brought home just how much I miss the place.

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Of course, you can still get very fine tuna at Bi-Rite, among other places. I always opt for the one in whole fillets and prefer it packed in olive oil, but water also works. Either way, make sure to drain it quite well. I favor cannellini or corona beans for this particular dish, but do use what you have at home or on sale at your local market. A note: using jarred beans truly makes this an under 10-minute recipe, but if you happen to have the time to shell some fresh beans when in season, it does kick the whole thing into an even higher gear.

Beans and tuna salad
(Print out)
For 4 people

1 wedge red onion
1 lemon
1 jar cannellini or corona beans
1 can tuna, whole fillets packed in olive oil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Salt and pepper to taste
Olive oil as needed

Slice the onion thinly, place in a small bowl and douse with the juice of the lemon. Set aside. 

Empty the beans in a hand-held strainer and rinse well under gently running cold water. Place in a bowl.

Strain the tuna and lightly mash with a fork. Add to the beans. 

Season with the oregano, salt and pepper to taste. Toss well. 

Mix in the onions with the lemon juice. 

Dress generously with olive oil and serve.

Note that you can serve this over a bed of salad and even top with sliced avocados. If they are abundant in your garden, you can always use fresh herbs like parsley or basil.

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A native Italian, US-based professional with 30 years of multifaceted experience in the field of Italian food, Viola transitioned to teaching 10 years ago, with the goal of getting home cooks to gather daily around the stove and table. She believes that from our kitchens, we can make the world a better place. By cooking good food at the intersection of Italian table culture and local agriculture, she teaches people to enjoy and value good food, and understand its critical role to the overall well being of our communities. For more details on registering for Viola’s classes and other food-related activities go to her website.
For more details on registering for Viola’s classes and other food-related activities click here.

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