“Carpentreas is also renowned for its tians; large, shallow-sided elliptical stoneware dishes, and the vegetables of all kinds that are baked in them. Sliced potatoes, mixed with garlic and bay leaf are doused with oil and left to soften and eventually brown in a low oven. Cubes of marrow, dusted with flour, are baked with parsley and garlic until the top turns to an almost charcoal crust. The Romantic poet Mistral gives a recipe for a tian of spinach, purslane, herbs and salt fish baked with an egg custard and tians of aubergines, courgettes and tomatoes combined to form a dish which was the precursor of ratatouille.”
Michael Raffael, Provence: Twelve Journeys With a Gastronome
A tian is a Provençal dish of sliced peppers, onions, tomatoes and courgettes layered with garlic and herbs and baked au gratin in a vessel of the same name.
This is a dish which has great flavour, but which is really all about appearance. Obviously, it’s easier to make one large one, but rather than serving as part of an accompaniment to a main course – it goes particularly well for example with Little Red Rooster, or with Romanian veal – you can make individual ones in moulds as Ratatouille does in the film below and serve them as impressive starters (if you attempt this leave out the green pepper).
An authentic tian dish is deep, with steeply sloping sides and made from earthenware, but I think the glass quiche dish allows for easier arrangement and better heat induction.
For four with something else
- 2 medium courgettes, thinly sliced (NB – reasonably thinly sliced – you’re not making cucumber sandwiches)
- 2 medium aubergines, thinly sliced – again, see note above
- 2 fat cloves of garlic, crushed with 1 tsp smoked salt
- 1 banana shallot, peeled and chopped
- 2 x 400g tins good quality tomatoes
- 1 large green pepper, de-seeded and stemed and cut into long strips (optional)
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 2 tsp thick balsamic vinegar (or you could use pomegranate molasses)
- ½ cup/50 g grated Gruyère
- Indonesian long pepper and smoked salt
- Olive oil to fry
- Preheat the oven to 210°C
- Get some olive oil, sufficient to cover the bottom of a big frying pan, and get it smoking
- Add the courgettes, sprinkle with salt and fry until the slices are golden on both sides – it will take about five minutes
- Take out and put onto a large plate covered with kitchen towel, keep warm
- Add more oil, get really hot, and do the same with the aubergine (you may need to do this in two batches). Add to the courgette.
- Fry the green pepper, if you are using, once the skin begins to blister add to the other vegetables.
- Then fry the shallot and the garlic
- When they are just beginning to turn translucent add the tomatoes and break up, continue cooking for about a quarter of an hour. Stir in the balsamic vinegar.
- Add the oregano and about ten grinds of pepper
- Cover a glass (ideally – go here to see why glass is the best) quiche dish with a layer of tomato sauce
- Arrange the vegetables in an artistic (remember this dish is all about looks) overlapping fashion.
- Cover with just enough sauce so that your beautiful pattern shows through – don’t worry if you have some over – use for some gravy!
- sprinkle over the cheese.
- Bake for about a quarter of an hour, until it’s au gratin – browned.
Below you can see Ratatouille demonstrating this beautiful, classic French dish (it’s not ratatouille).