The tians (pronounced tee-ahn) I’ve tasted in France have all been simple, meltingly tender swirls, rows, or stacks of summer vegetables cooked with some garlic, a few herbs and a good glug of olive oil.
The tian recipes I found on line had the swirl, row, and stack thing going on, but they have all tended to be (what I think to be) unnecessarily complicated. Some call for sautéing a bed of onions before arranging the eggplant, tomato and zucchini. Others callf or baking the simple vegetable casserole two-plus hours (!!). Still others call for covering it with foil, slicing the vegetables with a mandoline, starting the oven at a high temperature then turning it down (and vice versa), and all kinds of other modern conceits. I am sure that all of these steps enhance tians in one way or another, but they also make them more work, when really, the beauty of a tian is that it requires little work at all.
I took the tian question to Elodie, my dear friend from the South of France who made a memorable tian for a dinner last summer. Her recipe was just what I’d been looking for. She dismissed all the techniques I told her about then said she just slices the vegetables very thin (with a knife), then bakes the dish for a mere half hour at 350˚F. She’s not keen on zucchini in her tian but says it’s fine to add to the vegetables. She also broils some cheese overtop to turn her tian into more of a main dish that her two sons will eat.
I followed her slicing and temperature instructions, chose a shallow pyrex baking dish for a showy presentation and voilà. A tian that looks and tastes a whole lot more elaborate than it actually is.
Then I made another one—a little more rustic and a little less fancy—with thicker slices and zucchini. It took 15 or 20 minutes more to cook, but it was splendid as well.
So, here it is. Elodie’s quick, super-simple, no-fuss, full-of-South-of-France-flavor tian recipe that’ I’ll be making again…and again…in every shape and size I can think of.
Arranging the tian vegetables in concentric circles is surprisingly easy because they are all very pliable when sliced thin. The secret to the best texture and flavor is packing the vegetables in very tight so that they don’t dry out and the various flavors mingle, but don’t necessary meld (and turn to mush).
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 medium tomatoes halved and thinly sliced (1/8-inch/3 mm)
1 medium eggplant, halved and thinly sliced (1/8-inch/3 mm)
1 medium onion, halved and thinly sliced (1/8-inch/3 mm)
sprigs of fresh thyme, oregano, and rosemary, or 1 to 2 tsp. herbes de Provence
Preheat the oven to 350˚F.
Pour 2 Tbs. olive oil in the bottom of an 11-inch (28 cm) baking dish. Add the garlic, and spread around until the bottom is coated with oil and garlic. If using fresh herbs, place a couple of sprigs in the bottom of the baking dish.
Working from the outside, arrange the vegetables in concentric circles, alternating vegetables and overlapping each slice by about half. Tuck any remaining vegetables into the sides or place in a small baking dish with a little olive oil.
Sprinkle the tian generously with salt and pepper, then add the herb sprigs or sprinkle with herbes de Provence. Drizzle with olive oil.
Bake the tian 30 to 35 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender and just beginning to brown. Drizzle the tian. with olive oil right after you take it out of the oven. Cool 10 minutes before serving, or serve at room temperature.
If you want to top the tian with cheese, sprinkle the top with grated Gruyère and broil the tian until the cheese is melted and bubbly.