Tian Provencal, Revisited (and simplified while at it)

Thanks to the changeable and on-and-off awful weather, I’ve been on some sort of oven-cooking kick.  Or, to skip excuses, I am back to all my favorite colder-weather dishes which I have avoided in the summer, and I want to cook and eat them all, now, as soon as possible – there is only half a year of cold weather left!  So, oven on and om nom nom nom nom nom!

I’ve written about Tian d’aubergines before, and therefore it may well be superfluous to write about this again, but I am of the opinion that anything worth doing, is worth doing well (and again), at least where food is concerned – and besides, this is a far less fussy preparation, which will take a lot, I repeat, a lot less of your time, which makes it entirely worth writing about.  And in its golden, savory wonderfulness, it is a vegetarian dish to make even carnivores such as myself weep with joy – and put away a giant bowlful of, not wanting a single thing more for lunch.

You can, of course, serve this alongside some roast fowl, or with a well-marinated piece of grilled meat, or a quick-fried good quality steak, and it’ll make a large and filling celebratory dinner.  Or you can plate this into small ramekin-sized containers (or, indeed, as mentioned here, bake it in individual casserole dishes – but this is making things more complicated again!), and serve as starters at an autumn dinner party.  And, should there be leftovers (and there were some – far less than one’d expect! – from my large casserole dish), you can always stuff them into a sandwich (cold as they may be from the fridge), or between two tortillas with a little cheese and chipotle paste, and dry-fry into amazing quesadillas.  Although, if you serve this at a party, I doubt there’ll be any leftovers – and you will wish there were.

The main difference with the aforementioned recipe is the aubergines – both, the variety and the preparation (or lack thereof).  The method of baking remains very much the same (how much can one simplify the instruction of “put in oven, leave in there for X time“, really?), but is still gloriously simple and forgiving.

What makes the big difference, is using not the giant purple-skinned aubergines, which are notorious for having a bitter off-taste more often than not, and require a slicing-and-salting to leech the bitter juices out, but the adorable striped and/or tiny egg-shaped white ones, the latter of which, I believe, is what gives the vegetable its English name, ‘eggplant’.  I’d be surprised if there was another reason for it – just look at them!

The white and the striped ones, unlike their shiny purple cousins, are not bitter at all.  I know.  I licked them after slicing just to be sure, even though I’ve been told so before.  Which means, you can dispense with the pre-salting, and pre-frying of aubergines, and can, in fact, assemble the whole shebang as you slice and go along.

Note – the cornucopia of vegetables in the above photo was me having bigger eyes than a casserole dish, for all it was a large one.  I had to leave out a couple of the potatoes, 2 of the mushrooms, and 2 of the little white aubergines because they simply didn’t fit.  Since I cannot predict the size of your vegetables (they don’t come in standardized shapes and sizes, thank the gods!), my advice regarding quantities will be – take out more than you think you need.  Washing and drying vegetables and then putting the leftover ones in the fridge washed and dried does them no harm.

What you need to make this:

  • Time: 2 hours.  This bakes for 1.5 of those.
  • A large casserole dish.  I use a cast-iron shallow thing I bought ages ago.  Use whatever size you want the tian to be, so long as the thing fits into your oven!
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Rosemary (recommended), fresh, 2-3 large sprigs, leaves stripped
  • Sea salt
  • Aubergines, sliced
  • Tomatoes, sliced
  • Squash (zucchini or golden, not winter squash), sliced
  • Onion, sliced
  • Garlic – I used a generous handful of cloves, outer papery skin removed, clove shells left intact, root tips cut off
  • Cheese to top, if desired (I always desire cheese)
  • Other optional vegetables – some small potatoes, firm large mushrooms (baby portobello, for example), fennel bulbs – also sliced thinly

What you need to do:

  • Preheat oven to 200C.
  • Oil the casserole dish with olive oil generously.
  • Grab 3-4 of your vegetables – I usually start with aubergine, tomato and zucchini, and start alternating slices of those in a repeating pattern:  zucchini-tomato-aubergine, zucchini-tomato-aubergine – in whatever order you like, and leaning them against the side of the casserole dish, going around the outside.
  • When you have covered about 3/4 of the circle, begin inserting onions every repetition (easiest way I found is ‘after every vegetable x’), and moving the other veg along a bit as needed.
  • Stick other vegetables into the spacing in order to close the circle as necessary.  Begin the same rotation with whatever is left, adding optional vegetables if needed.  Slice more if you run out as you go along.
  • When you have filled the entire pan with concentric circles or rectangley-things (if your pan is rectangular), gently wiggle garlic cloves into the available spaces, and slip all remaining sliced-up veg into whatever sections look flatter than the rest of the pattern, evening it out.
  • Scatter rosemary leaves over the vegetables, pushing some into any nooks, drizzle generously with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt.
  • Cover with lid or foil, and place in the oven for 1 hour.
  • After an hour, check and remove lid – the vegetables should be cooked through and steaming.  Add cheese if using (do, do, you know you want to!), sprinkling evenly over the tian, and place back in the oven for ~30 minutes to finish browning.
  • Remove from oven when cheese is bubbling and browned.

Like so.

Shovel into plates while steaming-hot, add a bit of green salad (or nothing), grind some black pepper on top if you like it (it’ll do it good!), and celebrate autumn in all its colorful glory!

P.S. I tend to fish the garlic cloves out in my plate by the tail end, squeeze them out with the side of a fork, and spread the velvety-soft flesh on my vegetables.  Yes, I suck the shells clean, too, if it’s not in public.  You do as messily or as politely as you will!

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