A Three Bean Mouthful: Winter Panzanella Salad With Preserved Tuna

This is one of those recipes. It seems like there are a lot of steps. It’s best if you can do them over a day or two. But I promise you these are the very things that make this recipe so EASY! Because all the steps take only a few minutes of actual activity, and they can be done all at once or over several days. The cooking itself is a snap and can be made snappier with a self-timed oven.

The method of preserving the tuna is really more of an oil-poaching method. It’s a wonderful method to master and can be adapted in so many ways– from salads, to main courses. I particularly like serving this tuna on toasted baguette slices with shards of red onion! So you see, it’s worth the effort, because the technique will pay you back– I promise. I think I may have originally learned this method from an Alice Waters recipe. But I am pretty sure serving it with a Panzanella Salad was my idea! But don’t quote me on it…

This recipe has other virtues as well. It is a great opportunity to use up that day old bread, and those less than ideal off-season tomatoes you stupidly bought. What were you thinking? Plus, it’s fun to introduce new tastes to the people in your life who may take a bit of prodding when it comes to unusual or strong flavors. I consider it our duty to educate them.

I call it a Three Bean Winter Panzanella Salad with Preserved Tuna.

mortar and pestalI know that even the title is long and perhaps daunting. Not to mention the ingredient list. So I hope you are still with me, because it’s a terrific salad consisting of green beans, cranberry beans, and great northern white beans. I call it a panzanella because rich, savory, toasty chunks of bread are a main ingredient. So are tomatoes.

But every one knows February is not a great time of year to eat tomatoes. That’s why I call it a winter panzanella.

Because I have a trick. I am taking the only halfway decent variety of tomato you can find this time of year (the cherry or grape tomato) and roasting them slow and low in the oven. This will amplify the sweet nature of the tomato and mellow its acidic (off-season) nature. Add them to the salad while they are still warm and you have a great combination of tastes, textures and temperatures. Savory, sweet, and satisfying. Crunchy, soft and oozey. Warm but crisp!

Three Bean Winter Panzanella Salad with Preserved Tuna

serves 4 CLICK here for a printable recipe



  • 1 lb tuna steak (1 1/2 inch thick)
  • 1 T salt
  • 1 T fresh thyme leaves
  • 4 clv garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1 T fennel seeds
  • 1 t red pepper flakes
  • 4–5 anchovy filets
  • 1 t black peppercorns
  • 3 c or more olive oil, plus one tbsp


  • 1 can cranberry or other red bean, drained and rinsed
  • 1 can great northern white beans, drained and rinsed
  • salt
  • 1 sprig fresh thyme
  • 1 lb fresh green beans


  • 1 medium shallot
  • 1/4 c red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 c of the reserved tuna oil
  • salt and pepper


  • 2 c cherry or grape tomatoes
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 T or more of the reserved tuna oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 slightly stale French baguette, cut into 1 inch cubes
  • 1 bunch bitter greens (such as dandelion, mustard or radicchio)
  • 1 red onion, cut into slivers
  • 1 c anchovy aioli (optional – see recipe)

preserved tunaTUNA
Carefully wash and dry the tuna steak as well as possible.

In a mortar and pestle add the salt, thyme, garlic, fennel seeds, red pepper flakes, anchovies, and black peppercorns  and 1 tbsp olive oil. Grind and mix the ingredients well to form a paste. Rub this paste all over the tuna. Add the tuna to a deep bowl. Cover it with 3–4  cups of olive oil and refrigerate for several hours overnight.

The next day transfer all these ingredients, including the tuna to a heavy-bottomed saucepan set over medium-high heat. When the oil is the right temperature (not too hot) bubbles will begin to form along the edges of the pan. Lower the heat to maintain this temperature, and put the lid on. Poach the tuna in this mixture about 15–20 minutes, turning the fish over once or twice to ensure even cooking. Check the tuna by piercing with the tip of a knife. It should still be pink at the center, but a little past rare. When the tuna is ready remove it from the oil and allow it to come to room temperature. Reserve the oil. Once the tuna cools completely, return it to the oil and refridgerate 4 or 5 hours or up to to 3 days.

toasted bread cubesBEANS
Put the cranberry and white beans into a sauce pan adding enough water to cover by 1‑inch. Add a little salt, and the fresh thyme and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat and let the beans cool in their cooking liquid. These may be cooked ahead and kept at room temperature for a few hours or up to 3 days.

Clean and trim the green beans leaving them whole. Add them to a pot of rapidly boiling salted water. Cook for 2–3 minutes. Quickly plunge them into an ice bath to stop their cooking.

Make a vinaigrette in a small bowl with the diced shallot, red wine vinegar, and ½ teaspoon salt. Heat about ½ cup of the preserved tuna oil until it begins to bubble, Strain the oil into the bowl with the red wine vinegar and add freshly ground black pepper, whisking to emulsify. Taste and add more salt and vinegar to taste.

slow roasted tomatoesSALAD
Toss the tomoates in a little olive, salt and pepper. Roast the tomotoes on a parchment lined baking sheet for 2  to 2 1/2 hours (depending on the size of the tomatoes) at 225 degrees F. They should be crinkly, but still moist inside. This will bring out their sweetness, even in winter when the tomatoes are not at their best. You can skip this if you have sweet, juicy summertime tomatoes.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the preserved tuna oil over medium-high heat. Add the garlic clove slices and as many cubes of bread as will fit in a single layer (this may need to be done in a couple of batches). Toss and toast the bread until golden brown on all sides, stirring frequently. Add additional tuna oil as needed (the bread will soak it up as it toasts). Remove from heat and place the bread in a large bowl. This may be made up to a day or two ahead.

When ready to serve, add the washed greens to the bowl with the bread cubes. Drain the cranberry and white beans and toss them with the green beans and the warm vinaigrette (reheating and re emulsifing if necesry). Add these, along with the warm roasted cherry or grape tomatoes to the bowl as well. Toss well. Pour the well mixed salad onto a large serving platter. Toss the onion slivers across the salad and top with the tuna, broken into bite sized chunks. Serve with optional aioli alongside.


Greg Henry