Adapted from a restaurant staff meal recipe, cannellini beans, tomatoes, shallots and basil combine to create a side dish that’s almost too robust to be called a salad. Recipe below.
A handful of well-chosen ingredients, simply, perfectly put together. For me, this is cooking at its truest and best. Sure, there have been culinary high wire acts as long as there has been royalty and, later, haute cuisine restaurants. Molecular gastronomy is the latest version of designed-to-dazzle cooking. But put that up against what happens every day in a French or Italian farm kitchen—or indeed, traditional kitchens around the world—and it’s no contest.
This simple salad is a perfect example. White beans, tomatoes, shallots, basil, red wine vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper—toasted bread crumbs if you feel like it. Let the shallots marinate in the vinegar while you pull the other parts of the meal together and assemble the rest at the end.
It’s adapted from Family Table: Favorite Staff Meals from Our Restaurants to Your Home, a new cookbook of meals served to the staffs of Danny Meyer’s group of restaurants in New York. For the book, the restaurants’ culinary director Michael Romano reworks his favorite in-house recipes for home cooks. Noted food and health journalist Karen Stabiner brings the recipes to life with stories about recipe origins and the behind-the-scenes people who make restaurant meals happen.
As I’ve said here in the past, if I get one or two good recipes from a cookbook, I consider it a keeper. Family Table is stuffed with recipes I’m eager to try. These are dishes served to staff before lunch and dinner services as part of family meals. They’re usually simple, even improvised, but they have to be good enough “to please the chefs’ discerning palates.” So you get things like chilled carrot soup with frizzled ginger. Soba noodle salad with miso dressing. Blackened fish tacos. Pushcart chicken, based on Middle Eastern-spiced chicken cooked on food cart griddles all over New York.
And this white bean and tomato salad. The protein- and fiber-rich white beans help this robust salad double as a satisfying side. It comes together quickly, except for the time needed to marinate the shallots. When summer produces its sudden bounty of tomatoes and basil in the yard, this dish will become a regular at our table.
White Bean and Tomato Salad
adapted from Family Table
Serves 3 to 4 as a side
1/2 cup finely chopped shallot (1 large or 2 small)
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar (+ more as needed)
extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup bread crumbs (optional)
3 medium tomatoes (about 1 pound)
1 15-ounce can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1/2 cup torn basil leaves, loosely packed
Mix chopped shallots and 2 tablespoons vinegar in a large bowl and set aside to marinate for 1 to 2 hours, stirring occasionally.
Meanwhile, toast breadcrumbs, if using (I used panko breadcrumbs—they added a little crunch to the salad). Heat 1 teaspoon of olive oil in a medium nonstick skillet over medium-low flame. Add the breadcrumbs and toss to coat with oil. Toast until golden, 3 to 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Watch carefully. They will remain stubbornly pale and then suddenly darken. Transfer to a small bowl to cool.
When shallots have marinated, prepare tomatoes. Core and cut into 3/4- to 1-inch cubes. Add to bowl with shallots and gently stir to combine. Add drained cannellini beans and 1/4 cup olive oil; season with salt and pepper and gently stir to combine. Gently stir in basil and some of the breadcrumbs. (Noticing a lot of gentle here? You don’t want to beat up the tomatoes.)
Taste and add more vinegar or oil and salt and pepper as needed. I added about 2 teaspoons of vinegar to give it more bite. Top with some more breadcrumbs and serve immediately.