Baked Provencal vegetables, or tian in French, is full of irony. Mind you, this dish shows up famously in the Disney film Ratatouille. This casserole dish is filled with thinly-sliced summer vegetables of zucchini, eggplant and tomatoes. Then it’s baked in a shallow earthenware. In the movie, the unlikely dish of baked Provencal vegetables, or the tian, won over the French food critic. So don’t underestimate this old-style recipe. It’s simple comfort food at the core. Moreover, there is more than meets the eye. The elaborate presentation of colorful vegetables stacked in a lovely concentric pattern makes an indelible impression. Over the course of baking the tian, I found out there was more to the madness of arranging the vegetables. It is more than just a fancy display.
I made this David Lebovitz’s baked Provencal vegetables recipe twice. In the first round, I spent most of the energy making the dish look beautiful, but at the expense of the flavor. After the first bite, I realized that the flavor had not quite come together. It did not hit the mark. Certainly, not what you’d expect in a coherent dish, although you may not be able to tell from the pictures. Importantly, I’m a firm believer that food should taste as good as it looks.
The second attempt went much better. I had no trouble finishing all the vegetables. Every bite celebrates the unique flavor of each of the component vegetable as well as the whole. The caramelized onions layered underneath are remarkably sweet and complex in flavor. Together, you taste a scrumptious and balanced bite of well-conceived and perfectly-baked veggies goodness. In fact, the husband had the same reaction which validated my observations. These were the adjustments I made in the second and more successful attempt:
- Slice the vegetables as thinly as possible to enable the flavor to meld. I used a mandolin to slice the zucchinis and eggplants. A sharp serrated knife works well with the tomatoes.
- Use a cast iron skillet; it is an excellent heat conductor.
- Bake fully for well over an hour, under wrap during the initial 45 minutes. Never mind the clock. Engage your senses. Bake the vegetables until shriveled.
- Not skipping the topping of grated Parmesan cheese as I did in the first round. The salty cheesy crust is appealing.
You can find the baked Provencal vegetables recipe in David Lebovitz’s My Paris Kitchen. I’m linking and sharing this post with fellow home-cooks at Cook-the-Book-Fridays. Great to be able to compare notes on how we tackled the dish differently. Feel free to join us and bakealong!
Baked Provencal Vegetables - TianPrint Recipe
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 onions, peeled and thinly sliced
- 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
- 3 tsp minced fresh thyme
- 2 Japanese eggplants or 1 globe (12 ounces)
- 1 zucchini (8 ounces)
- 2 firm tomatoes (12 ounces)
- Sea salt or kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan, Comté or Emmental
Special equipment: a 3-4 quart shallow baking dish
Preheat the oven to 375°F.
Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the sliced onions and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 8 minutes or until they start to wilt. Add the minced garlic and 1 teaspoon minced thyme. Season with salt and pepper. Continue to cook until the onion is soft and translucent, about 3 minutes. Spread the onion mixture in a shallow baking dish.
Trim away the ends of the zucchini and eggplant and cut them into 1/4” slices. Cut out the stems of the tomatoes and slice them thinly also. I prefer using a mandoline slicer to slice the vegetables as thinly as possible.
Arrange the sliced vegetables in a overlapping, circular, concentric pattern, alternating the sliced vegetables and fitting them tightly into the dish.
Drizzle the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil over the vegetables and and sprinkle with the remaining 2 teaspoons of thyme. Season with salt and pepper.
Cover the baking dish tightly with aluminum foil and bake for 35-45 minutes.
Remove the foil, strew the cheese over the top and bake uncovered for 20 to 25 more minutes until the veggies are completely cooked through and shriveled.
Serve warm or at room temperature the same day you make it. If reheating the leftovers, put it in a 325°F oven for 20 to 30 minutes.
Adapted from David Lebovitz's My Paris Kitchen