Canned beans are amazing. No, not the haricots verts kind. I'm talking legumes...black, white, pink, red, roman, pinto and of course, garbanzo. I use them interchangeably and don't worry if a recipe calls for white and all I have is black. The texture and taste always works.
Just a small sampling of the many types of beans you will find in my pantry.
Aside from being an excellent and filling source of plant-based protein, canned legumes boast fiber, folate and tons of minerals, like iron, magnesium, potassium and zinc.
Personally, I always rinse my beans. This is because I prefer to salt all of my dishes myself, so just like using no-salt boxed broth, a good bath of said spheres wicks away any excess sodium, letting me start the flavoring from scratch.
But enough about beans. This is about an amazing part-time job I picked up in Newburyport back in 2016. Don't ask why. I was flourishing with my marketing company, but I wanted more...and yes, working at a high-end cheese shop fit the bill.
On September 13, 2016 – to be exact – I walked into my favorite downtown Newburyport cheese shop and asked for a job. I only wanted to work a few hours a week and owners, Angela and Jeremy, were only looking to hire for a few hours. It was a match made in heaven. Quite frankly, this match rang true on many levels. I loved what they were doing and they loved that an "adult" (I sooooo use that term loosely) was willing to give their 1000-square-foot baby the love and respect it so richly deserved while they, in turn, eked out a little extra free time to give their beautiful children the love and respect that they needed.
Like I said, it was a match, for sure.
Nestled just off Water Street at 3 1/2 Center Street in Newburyport, Mass., a trip to Grand Trunk is always worth it. Plan to stock up on hard meats, cheeses, gourmet grocer items and exceptional wine.
Grand Trunk Wine & Cheese (https://www.grandtrunkwine.com) – in a word – is amazing. And, make no mistake, Jeremy and Angela's knowledge and palates are beyond compare. I learned so much from both of them and apply much of that knowledge to most all of my cooking endeavors to this very day.
My time at Grand Trunk opened my eyes to international oils, meats and wine. Ohhhhh – swoon – the wine. Jeremy has impeccable taste in all things grape. Whether grabbing a $10 bottle of white from Bulgaria (the Ethno was a personal fave, along with a Fitou for an earthy red) or springing for a special Marguax from the Haut-Médoc district of Bordeaux, a recommendation from Jeremy is sure to dazzle you (and your guests, should you decided to share...and no one would blame you if you didn't).
Just two of my go-to wines...with my employee discount, the pair cost just around $20, though you (and your guests) would never know by the superb taste and quality. (Courtesy images.)
Thanks to them, I make a mean charcuterie, even if I don't have at hand my pick of the perfect prosciutto, jamón serrano, triple créme brie, moliterno al tartuffo or imported caper berries. I know and understand the basics of creating a tray and can put together a pretty impressive platter, regardless of my source.
For example, you want at least two meats – a nice hard one, say a hand-sliced hot or sweet soppressata and a perfectly marbled prosciutto or a nice speck, both dry-cured – coupled with at least three cheeses...a soft (bleu, brie, Camembert, etc.); semi-soft (halloumi, Passendale, cheddar, etc.); and hard (parmesan, gruyére, manchego, etc.); as well as an assortment of brined treasures (olives, sundried tomatoes, large caper berries, marinated cipollinis, etc.)...a few shelled nuts (almonds, pistachios or walnuts), and a jam (fig, berry or my signature spicy hot orange marmalade ("Hot Jams by Coolleen"...find that recipe here). Slice up a soft or toasted baguette and maybe add crackers...it will be a hit!
At just about the same time I started working at Grand Trunk, I discovered Balela (pronounced bye-ay-yah) Salad from Trader Joe's. Another "wow" food experience. Garbanzo and black beans, red onion, tomato, herbs, vinegar, olive oil, a splash of citrus...it was a party in my mouth. Naturally, I wanted to find the recipe and put my own spin on it.
That's where things get just a little "grand." In addition to my fondness for all things canned bean related, I also have a high regard for tuna-in-oil. Specifically, high quality tuna-in-oil. From my days in the North End, I realized I don't care for the mayonnaise-rich style of tuna salad, rather I prefer a vinaigrette base. Imagine my delight when I spied this fine gem on a Grand Trunk shelf.
This is the real deal. A light (not white) tuna swimming in olive oil (which serves as the base of my tuna salad's dressing, by the way). (Courtesy image.)
Yes, it's a smidge pricey, but if I can't find Ortiz in a jar or the wallet is feeling the proverbial pinch, the more readily available canned version of light tuna in oil is just as perfect and delicious.
In this salad, I combine my take on Balela with a little imported tuna. I will eat it as a meal (in sandwich form or piled high on a slab of toasted baguette), serve as an appetizer or include on my charcuterie board, as well as add to a bed of lettuce. It's pretty versatile. Stored in an airtight glass jar, it will keep in the fridge for about 5-6 days (if it lasts that long).
Tuna Balela Salad
1 jar (7.75 ounce) tuna filets in olive oil, do not rinse
1 15-ounce can cannelini white beans, drained and rinsed
1/3 cup small capers, nonpareil in brine, drained
1 large rib celery, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
1 medium red onion, chopped
6 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Crushed red pepper flakes
Fresh mint and basil, chiffonade
Sea salt and fresh ground pepper to tase
In a large bowl, add beans, capers, celery, carrot and onion. Add tuna, with olive oil, gently breaking filets into bite size pieces. Add vinegar, more olive oil, if needed, to create a dressing and pepper flakes. Gently toss, adding salt and pepper to taste. Finish with chiffonade herbs. Store in glass ball jar for about 5 days in fridge.
Tuna Balela Salad: I used chickpeas this time and had to skip the mint and basil, as I didn't have any at the time! Just tip jar to re-distribute dressing before serving.