Q: What is a tian?
A: An earthenware dish that goes from oven to table AND a baked, layered vegetable dish native to Provence, France.
When considering the tian, think casserole or ratatouille. There are many variations on a theme when talking about tians, but all highlight late summer vegetables such as zucchini, yellow squash, red potatoes, eggplant, and tomatoes. Daniel Gritzer, renowned New York chef, defines a tian as “any casserole cooked in an earthenware vessel by the same name, but these days it almost always refers to some kind of layered vegetable dish that’s gratinéed in the oven.” Finding many tian recipes bland and watery, Daniel Gritzer set out to find the perfect way to develop concentrated, intense flavors in the dish. “Ultimately,” he says, “I found that the best method was to sauté each sliced vegetable in a very hot skillet, working in batches small enough to guarantee that they’d brown before they risked overcooking and turning to mush. I also found that the ideal slice thickness is somewhere between one-eighth and one-quarter of an inch—any thinner, and the slices shrink to almost nothing as they cook, making them incredibly difficult to work with later.”
The creation of a tian, whether lined in rows in a rectangular dish or layered in a circular pattern in a round dish, is up to you. Tomato sauce may be spread on the bottom of the dish, with more spooned on top, if desired. Some people make a first layer of sautéed green beans and onions and then place a second layer of multicolored vegetables on top. Thyme, garlic, and olive oil are traditional seasonings in Provence.
Baking: No matter what precooked vegetables you decide to incorporate into your dish, you will want to bake the dish for about an hour. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and bake uncovered for about 15 minutes. Lower the heat to 350 degrees and bake for an additional 45 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender. Cheese (Parmesan or goat are popular choices) may be added to the top layer about halfway through the baking time. Cool to room temperature and serve, if desired, with torn basil leaves.
Many chefs swear that tians, a wonderful accompaniment to potluck suppers, improve with age and are best served as leftovers. So, experiment with your garden produce and find what works best for you!