There are days when you come home from work or errands in a hot panic of hangry. You look in the fridge and flip when you realize you won’t be eating in the next 10 minutes. There are no leftovers, no frozen burritos to microwave. No bread. No eggs. No salvation.
These are often also the days when you order panicky pizzas or sit on the couch with a jar of peanut butter and crackers. There’s nothing wrong with either scenario, but I’d like to float another idea—one that takes 10 minutes to make, soup to nuts, and comprises mostly pantry staples. (This isn’t one of those Caesar salads that actually requires 30 to 45 minutes, either: This one takes 10. Promise.)
A while ago I learned how good cannellini beans, lemon, garlic and olive oil are together. You can sauté beans in oil with garlic, finish them with lemon juice and zest, add fresh herbs, and have an easy supper.
But it’s not the most satisfying dish, to be honest; it has tons of protein but can get a little dull. So I’ve been frying the base spices and aromatics—a classic technique in Italian and Indian cuisines, among others—to infuse the olive oil. You don’t need a lot of oil when you’ve tossed in smashed garlic cloves, salt, and Italian hot pepper flakes. Very quickly you’ve got a garlicky, hot, salty oil base in which to cook your beans, a combo that makes even the most generic canned beans burst with flavor.
A couple of tips to make this recipe really sing:
Drain and rinse those beans. Canned beans vary hugely in quality, but they consistently tumble out of the can in an unappealing sludge. (If you have your own pre-soaked and cooked from-scratch beans, I applaud you: This note is for the rest of us.) Rinse them and drain them, please.
Don’t burn your garlic. Garlic goes from humble-but-talented chorus member to antagonist of the entire production very quickly. You want your garlic just lightly colored—not gold; lighter—and you’ll smell it when it’s ready. If it’s gone acrid, your nose will itch and you’ll know it. Start over.
Don’t cook the lemon juice. Lemon juice is best as a finisher in almost every instance. You want to add it once the pan is off the heat, to add brightness, as though you’re spritzing it over fish. Cooking the beans in it will dilute that brightness.
Use best-quality tuna. Tuna also varies wildly in quality. I prefer olive oil-packed light tuna, which I think has more flavor than water-packed or albacore. (Read here about buying tuna sustainably.)
Be flexible about a fresh herb garnish. I garnished this dish with basil because that’s what I’m growing at the moment, but you could easily use sage, thyme, parsley, or even cilantro. If you don’t have herbs, don’t fret; lemon will do you fine.
You can even make this without the greens—obviously one doesn’t always have those—but it’s fresher and more healthful to fold those in. You could even skip the tuna, as cannellini beans have a good amount of protein. Think of this recipe as a malleable starting point.
This dish completely saved me on a night recently when I’d gone two weeks without hitting the grocery store and had only a small, sad bunch of kale to my name. I hope it saves you from the hangry someday, too.
White Beans with Kale, Tuna, and Lemon
2½ Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil, plus more to garnish
4 medium garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
½ tsp. Italian red pepper flakes (or more, to taste; I use about a tsp., as I like heat)
Kosher salt, a good pinch
1 15.5-oz can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 small head of kale (about 6-8 oz.), thick stems and ribs removed, roughly chopped or torn
1 small lemon, zested and juiced
1 5-oz. can best-quality light tuna fish in olive oil
Basil, sliced thin, to garnish (optional)
Freshly cracked pepper
- Heat olive oil over medium-low heat in a large nonstick sauté pan. When oil is warm, add garlic cloves, salt and red pepper. Stir frequently until garlic is aromatic but not brown, about 1-2 minutes, using a wooden spoon to break apart garlic cloves in the pan.
- Add cannellini beans and lemon zest and sauté, stirring, for 1-2 minutes, until warmed. Add chopped kale, and cover pan for one minute. Uncover pan and stir kale. Cover again for 2-3 minutes, until kale is wilted. Remove pan from heat.
- Add lemon juice and stir well, coating greens in pan liquid. Taste for acid and saltiness; adjust both to taste. Divide can of tuna among portions. Garnish with pepper, olive oil, and basil. Serve.
Alex Van Buren—follow her on Instagram and Twitter @alexvanburen—is a Brooklyn-based writer, editor and content strategist who has written for The Washington Post, Bon Appétit, Travel + Leisure, New York Magazine, Condé Nast Traveler, and Epicurious.