Cooking in late summer/early fall is all about embodying the essence of the best-tasting vegetables. The days of garden-fresh produce are numbered, so this is the time to dive deep into all they have to offer in terms of flavour.
One such dish that makes fabulous use of tomatoes, zucchini and eggplant is tian. This iconic dish originates from Provence - the sun-drenched region of France. Originally, a “Tian” described glazed earthenware vessels from Provence, used for both cooking and serving, as it went directly from the oven to the table. These types of sturdy vessels are usually large, shallow, and meant to withstand high temperatures.
Back when homes didn’t have their own individual ovens, families would take their Tian, which was used to cook a variety of foods, to the bakers’ ovens to cook in the residual heat after the bread was baked. As time went on, it became popular to use the tian dishes for cooking layers of Provencal vegetables: tomatoes, zucchini and eggplant. Eventually, the dish gave its name to this culinary preparation of arranging thinly sliced vegetables, good amounts of decent olive oil, and lots of garlic and herbs.
Tian is colourful, loaded with flavour, and the perfect side dish to your late summer feasts. While it is fairly simple to prepare, there are a few tips and tricks to help it become a success. When picking out the vegetables, try to choose tomatoes, zucchini, and eggplant with a similar circumference. This could be tricky as eggplants and zucchini can range in size.
I cut some slices of eggplant in half, which helped. I also stacked a few zucchini slices together. Ultimately, you want the vegetables to be relatively the same height in the dish. Be sure to pack the slices together tightly. The vegetables will shrink as they cook, but if they are tightly packed, there won’t be any huge gaps.
A tian is a very simple dish composed of alternating layers of vegetables baked in the oven, but it can also be rather dry if not cooked properly. Adding a layer of onions in the bottom of the dish will bring extra moisture to help soften the vegetables, and add gorgeous flavour. Don’t be shy with the olive oil either. The final drizzle of ¼ cup (60 mL) will ensure the vegetables are tender, and well as create those delectable crispy edges.
The cooking time of at least 90 minutes may seem extreme, but it's necessary for the vegetables to cook in their own garlic-infused juices. Just like love, you can’t hurry a tian! And lastly, adding a small ramekin of water to the oven while the tian bakes creates steam, which will also prevent the vegetables from drying out.
Tender and bold with late summer flavour, serve tian alongside roasted or grilled chicken, fish or meat. Have some crusty bread alongside to help sop up those succulent juices.