Robin Mather special to the Arizona Daily Star
We’re in the midst of a summer vegetable extravaganza, and a trip to the farmer’s market will show you just that.
I saw some exquisite Japanese eggplants at the market last weekend, their oblong shapes glistening in the sunlight, lightening their deep lavender skins to a delicate orchid color.
Ratatouille, I thought in a flash and picked up the rest of the vegetables needed for one of my favorite summer meals. But when I got home, I had another idea. Since I was going to turn on the oven to roast chicken anyway, why not tian instead? The French classic shares the same seasonal ingredients but treats them differently.
On a bike trip through Provence years ago, my companion and I saw tiani of many kinds on lunch menus when we stopped for lunch. A wedge of some salty tian or other, some cheese and a glass or two of icy white wine saw us through the long, sultry afternoons of riding to our evening destination.
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I decided I wanted to resurrect that memory and set out to come up with a vegetable tian that would suit my Sonoran palate.
The key to a visually striking tian is for all the vegetables to be the same size in diameter. That way, when you arrange the vegetables in their baking pan, they are all roughly the same height.
The cook can cheat a little if necessary by cutting large pieces to make them fit. But ideally, you would start with vegetables of the same size. This is one of the reasons I like Japanese eggplants for this dish; their cylindrical shape makes them easier to use than the more familiar globe eggplant.
Add to this if you like – slices of sweet onion and/or slices of dill are good additions – or take out if you hate eggplant, for example. (What’s wrong with you?)
Sometimes I turn this into a spectacular tart planned for a special lunch menu. If you want to try this, blind bake a pastry-lined tart pan until the crust is golden brown before arranging the vegetables on top of the crust. When I do this I usually use a rectangular pan rather than a round one because it looks more dramatic.
Whether tart or tian, refrigerate any leftovers. You’ll have an amazing lunch the next day—perhaps like my Provençal lunches, spiced up with a little cheese and a glass of wine. I promise you won’t feel deprived. As the 17th century Welsh poet George Herbert said, “Living well is the best revenge.”
Makes 4 to 6 servings as a side dish, 2 to 4 servings as a main course
The tian is as much the dish in which this classic French favorite is baked as it is the dish itself. The classic version is the baked form of ratatouille. Seasoned for a Southwestern palate rather than its traditional Provençal flavor profile, this tian is best served hot or at room temperature. Turn it into a tart if you like by blind baking a pastry crust until golden, then arrange the vegetables on top of the crust.
1 kilogram of Japanese or Chinese eggplant
1 to 1½ pounds steak tomatoes
1 pound zucchini (this is a good place to use the extra large ones)
2 tablespoons olive oil plus extra for drizzling
1 tablespoon chili powder
2 tablespoons Mexican oregano
Coarse salt and pepper, to taste
½ cup grated Parmesan-Reggiano or Romano cheese
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a shallow 10-inch round baking dish or pie pan and set aside.
Cut the eggplant, zucchini, and tomatoes into quarter-inch-thick slices. Line a tray with baking paper or lightly grease it. Arrange the sliced vegetables on the baking sheet in a single layer; if not all will fit, place the remainder on a second parchment-lined baking sheet, or plan to work in two batches.
Coat the chopped vegetables liberally with olive oil. Combine the chili powder, cumin, and oregano in a small bowl and sprinkle the mixture over the vegetables, making sure they are all well coated. Season with coarse salt and pepper.
Roast the vegetables for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside until cool enough to handle. At this point they will not be fully cooked.
Assemble the tiana by alternating circles of eggplant, zucchini, and tomato around the outside of the baking dish. Fill the center with the remaining vegetables, alternating if possible. Drizzle additional olive oil over the vegetables. Scatter the Parmesan-Reggiano or Romano cheese over the top of the tiana. The assembled dish can sit at room temperature for several hours before baking.
While baking, reheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake the tiana for 20 to 30 minutes or until the cheese is lightly browned and the vegetables are tender. Garnish with a little more oregano, if desired. Serve hot or let cool to room temperature before serving.