Tian is an ancient Chinese term for the cosmos. But head west, and tian is a word from the old Provençal language of the south of France.
It’s an earthenware vessel used both for cooking and serving, and it’s also the name of the au gratin vegetable dish prepared in it.
The dish can be oval, rectangular, round or square. A more contemporary name is a gratin dish—a shallower casserole dish (the casserole is an earthenware vessel that originated in the Camargue and Languedoc regions of France).
In Provençal cuisine, sliced vegetables are layered in straight or circular rows, then topped with a light cloak of grated cheese and baked. The layering of different colored vegetables creates a very pretty dish. In fact, a Pyrex baking dish works even better to show off more of the layering.
The recipe is similar to ratatouille, but in that recipe the vegetables are chopped and mixed together.
Like quiche, a tian can be served cold, hot or room temperature. With both plenty of flavor and visual appeal, tians are a nice buffet food and can also encourage your family to eat more veggies on a dull weekday night.
Tians also can be composed of layers one on top of the next, like a layered casserole or a seven-layer salad. It’s just as tasty, but not as attractive. It also allows the flexibility to include a layer of cooked ground meat (we like lamb), diced chicken or ham, hard-cooked eggs or tofu.
A traditional layered recipe is made with yellow beans, diced zucchini, sautéed onions and green beans. In addition to the cheese, a layer of breadcrumbs can be sprinkled on top.
1. PREHEAT the oven to 375°F. Brush a baking dish with olive oil.
2. SLICE all the vegetables into even widths, using a mandolin or knife. Layer them, alternating colors, around the perimeter of the baking dish. Repeat until all of the vegetables have filled up the baking dish.
3. SPRINKLE the minced shallots, garlic, salt, freshly ground black pepper and herbes de Provence over the top, and drizzle the olive oil.
4. COVER the dish with aluminum foil and bake for 35 minutes then uncover and bake for another 20 minutes. when vegetables are tender, sprinkle the cheese on top, and broil until browned. let sit for 10 minutes before eating.