|French vegetable tian. Photo: Eric Diesel.|
Provençal cooking celebrates the earthy traditions of the French countryside and southern France in general, with food as simple and good as bread, wine, cheese. A tian -- a layered, baked vegetable dish that originated in Provence but is also common to city kitchens -- is the perfect complement to this French holiday. Unlike a gratin, a tian does not include bread crumbs or cheese, which allows the juices in the vegetables to evaporate in the oven's dry heat, concentrating their flavors.
Beyond the jump is an original recipe for tian of summer vegetables, which has been streamlined for the home cook while retaining fidelity to the original French dish. Serve this with your Bastille Day poulet, boeuf or pouisson, and watch as wine glasses around the table clink and diners agree: "Vive la France!"
Summer Vegetable Tian
This recipe calls for aubergines (eggplants). Look for glossy, brightly colored skins (eggplant with overly dark flesh tend to be bitter). As with many rustic recipes, ingredients are called for by size and quantity but not a measured amount. Try not to worry: If you use the sizes and quantities below, you should have the right amount.
2 medium leeks
2 medium cloves garlic
1 or 2 small zucchini
1 or 2 small aubergines (eggplants)
2 or 3 medium plum tomatoes
2 or 3 sprigs fresh thyme
1/4 cup dry white wine (Fume Blanc works well)
Extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
1. Cut a piece of parchment paper to the size of a two-quart glass or ceramic baking dish. Set aside. Butter the inside of the dish and set aside. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
2. Remove the root ends of the leeks and cut the leeks just where the white part meets the green top. Set the greens aside for another use (such as making stock). Slice the white leek segments in half lengthwise and halve each. Slice leek quarters crosswise into ribbons; scrape into a bowl and fill the bowl with water. Swirl the leeks around until they start to separate and release the grit between the layers. Repeat with one or two changes of water to remove all the grit. Once the leeks are clean, drain them in a colander.
3. While the leeks are draining, peel and mince garlic.
4. Remove the ends from the zucchini and aubergines and discard. Cut each crosswise into coins 1/8-inch thick.
5. Remove the stem ends from the tomatoes and discard. Cut each crosswise into rounds 1/8-inch thick.
6. Coat a small pan with a two-count of olive oil and heat until shimmering. Add the garlic and swirl to coat. Gently add the leeks, avoiding splashing. Cook, stirring frequently, until the leeks have begun to soften and the garlic has released its fragrance, approximately two minutes.
7. Carefully spread the leek-garlic mixture across the bottom of the baking dish. Sprinkle with salt and a few grindings of fresh black pepper; strip the leaves from one of the sprigs of thyme and sprinkle over the mixture.
8. Layer the zucchini, aubergines and tomato on top of the leek-garlic mixture, alternating each and overlapping slightly. If working with a square or rectangular dish, layer in rows; if working with a circular or oval dish, work in fans from the center. Drizzle with a two-count of olive oil and splash with the wine. Sprinkle with salt and a few grindings of fresh black pepper; strip the leaves from the remaining thyme and sprinkle over the casserole.
9. Butter the cut parchment and carefully place, buttered side down, on top of the vegetables. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, depending on your oven, until the vegetables are soft but not mushy while the edges are nicely crisp and brown.