For a while I forgot about tian.
Despite childhood summers spent in the hills outside Aix-en-Provence, tians came into my life quite by happenstance in my early twenties, during a holiday with university friends. Someone made tian, and it was the best gratin I had ever tasted.
A tian is a shallow, ovenproof earthenware vessel from Provence, which has given its name to the gratin-style dishes cooked in them. That initial auspicious tian was probably not very traditional, with its dubious slices of very un-Provençal mozzarella. But in this case I am happy to forgo authenticity, because the mozzarella is what makes it so special.
It is the recipe I had been recreating since: vertically arranged slices of zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes, interlaced with mozzarella and Mediterranean herbs. Flavors meld into a heavenly mess akin to creamy gratinéed ratatouille.
For years I forgot about tians, but then the other day, finding these late-summer vegetables in my kitchen and, more crucially, a few balls of mozzarella, a tian propitiously came to mind. Dare I say that this adapted version is even better than the ‘original’?
Regarding quantities: there should be a similar proportion of each vegetable and plenty of mazzarella, but the dish is unfussy and very adaptable. The important thing is that the vegetables squeeze snugly into the dish.
Mozzarella (I prefer buffalo mozzarella which is extra creamy)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Fresh basil and/or thyme
Preheat the oven to 375ºF (190ºC).
Prepare the vegetables:
Wash the chard leaves, trim and discard only the end of the stems, then cut the leaves (with stems) into approximately 1/2 inch (1 cm) ribbons.
Wash, trim ends, (optionally partially peel), and slice the courgettes into disks approximately 1/4 inch (1/2 cm) thick.
Wash and slice the tomatoes, also into 1/4 inch (1/2 cm) disks.
Slice or tear the mozzarella into pieces of a similar size.
Rub the ovenproof dish all over with the garlic clove to impart a subtle aroma. Drizzle a little olive oil all over the bottom of the dish.
Arrange the vegetables and mozzarella in a nice, regular, vertical pattern inside the dish. It’s a bit finicky with the chard but well worth it!
Wash and pick the herbs, chop the basil.
Season the tian with salt, pepper, and herbs, and sprinkle with plenty of freshly grated parmiggiano.
Pop into the oven for a good 35 to 45 minutes, until the dish is beautifully golden and bubbly. Mmmm.