Copy 100 times, little Rat: The tian is a roast, the ratatouille is a stew

Yes, it is true, the tian is ratatouille’s cousin as they share almost the same ingredients. Though, unlike the ratatouille, the tian doesn’t include bell peppers. Also, if we were talking about meat, the ratatouille would be a stew whereas the tian is a roast. So, unlike what this little rat in the Disney movie want us to believe, a ratatouille is not a tian Provençal, and vice-versa!

First of all, ‘tian’, like terrine, tajine (those 3 words having the same Greek root) or cassoulet, refers to the dishware, in terracotta, where the dish is cooked. The tian generally refers to the tian Provençal. The word tian itself comes from the Occitan language originally spoken in the whole South of France, and of course in Provence. One can find various recipes for Tian, including cheese gratin, potatoes, or rice, but the genuine tian doesn’t include any of those. In fact, it is the ratatouille’s cousin, as both share almost the same ingredients, except that, unlike the ratatouille, the tian doesn’t include bell peppers (although I sometimes place some bell pepper stripes on a tian, which adds some interesting taste and some colors if you play with all the bell pepper colors available). But the big difference is that the ratatouille is a stew whereas the tian is a roast, so to say.
Therefore, to make a tian, you first need a tian! But don’t worry, if you don’t have one, any low wall oven dish will make it. You can use a square dish, a rectangular dish, or a round dish. But although it is a little bit trickier to prepare the tian in a round dish, it is also more beautiful, and it respects traditions, since the tian is initially a round dishware.

For the tian you need tomatoes, eggplant, zucchinis, and yellow squashes in the same quantity, since the ‘game’, and indeed the only trick, is to alternate a slice of tomato, a slice of eggplant, etc. The important thing is to use, as much as possible, vegetables with a similar diameter and a consistent diameter on their whole length (i.e. tube-shaped, so to say, instead of ball- or pear-shaped vegetables). It is easy to understand why. This is why, as much as I can, I use small eggplants, medium size zucchini and yellow squash, and oblong-shaped tomatoes, such as Roma tomatoes for instance. You also need garlic, onion, olive oil of course, salt, pepper, and a tiny bit of parmesan (optional, and surely not to make a gratin, but rather to ‘salt’ the tian).

Also, very, very important, herbs, the famous herbes de Provence. And since the tian is a summer dish, fresh herbs of course. Depending on what you find or have in your garden, thyme, marjoram, savory, rosemary, basil, sage and also play with the different varieties (lemon thyme, thai basil, etc.)… There is no rule. Well, there is just one, a logical one. Put the succulent herbs (thyme, sage, rosemary, bay leaf…), those supporting being cooked, at the beginning, and just spread the other ones (marjoram, savory, basil…) at the end before serving.  All those herbs really give a kick to this dish.

Like ratatouille, it’s a very versatile dish. You can serve it with lamb chops, grilled chicken, a steak, grilled tuna fish, a slice of Prosciutto. Personally, I ALSO like to serve it with a SIMPLE poached egg that I continue to baste in the plate with the tian juice… And of course, with the tian Provençal, there is nothing better than a Rosé de Provence, a perfect match…

Levels of difficulty
30 minutes

60 minutes

Ingredients 4 servings
Quantities are given as a guideline, but it should be adjust depending on the size (length AND thickness) of the vegetables and therefore, the homogeneity of your slices. Also, you may have parts that you will not use, because of their inappropriate diameter.

§  6 Roma-type tomatoes,
§  2 small eggplants,
§  2 medium zucchinis,
§  2 medium yellow squashes,
§  4 or 5 garlic glove
§  1/4 onion (optional),
§  A generous quantity of olive oil of course,
§  salt,
§  pepper or piment d’Espelette
§  1 or 2 tsp. of parmesan
§  Herbs: (thyme, savory, marjoram, rosemary, basil, sage…) in different varieties (lemon thyme, thai basil, etc.)… as you feel it

§  Slice the vegetables (except the tomatoes) in moderately thin slices (they will cook quicker) with a mandolin
§  Cut the tomatoes in slices a little bit thicker than the other vegetables (the tomatoes being full of water, they will “stand up” if thicker.
§  Try as much as possible to obtain slices of a similar diameter. Otherwise, you may wish to trim the base of some of your slices. And the trims could be used to make a sauce or a mini ratatouille.
§  Place the vegetables in a strainer, add coarse salt and let them rest a while to eliminate part of the water. It is recommended to strain the tomatoes separately from the other vegetables. Needless to add salt in dish afterwards!
§  Oil your dish, rub a crushed garlic clove all over it.
§  Put the succulent herbs at the bottom (rosemary, thyme…).
§  Start placing your slices. As said above, it is quite simple with the square dish, but a little bit trickier with the round one. I have a few tips that could be more or less useful:
o   First of all, typically if I need to adjust the size of my slices, I trim their bottoms slightly, cutting horizontally so that they sit better in the dish.
o   When I start placing my slices, I also stack them vertically first, before placing them horizontally in the dish.
o   Another possibility (see picture), after you have stacked vertically a dozen or so of slices, is to stick a skewer into the stack, to slide a long chive stem through the hole till forming a loop that you will tied up. This will help disposing the slices in the dish, removing them to serve them on the plate, and maintaining the slices together in the plate.
o   Last tip, I use the garlic and the onion to fill up the gaps at the outside of the dish (because when you place your slices, they are tight on the inside part of the dish and loose on the outside).
§  When you have filled up your dish, a generous brush of olive oil, a little bit of salt, more herbs, plus few garlic whole cloves cooked in their skin and few petals of red onions placed here and there. That’s it!
§  Cook in a preheated oven at 400 F (180C) for around 30 minutes, then at 350 F for another 30 minutes or till the vegetables are cooked and grilled at your convenience (this may depend on your oven and on the thickness of your slices)
§  From time to time, baste the top of the dish with the juice rendered in the bottom, or even remove part of it (and keep it to make a sauce).
§  When it’s done, let it cool down a little bit, grate some parmesan all around the top (once again, like you would do with salt), piment d’Espelette or pepper (I prefer at the end only, to optimize the taste and the ‘bite’), and guess what, some more herbs: marjoram, basil…