Tian (French eggplant, tomato and zucchini casserole)

In late summer thoughts turn to ratatouille, the classic French dish made with eggplant, tomato and zucchini. Tian, another Provencal classic, uses the same vegetable trinity.  Why isn’t it better known? Is it the challenging name: Tian? (Say tee-on to get a very approximate idea.) Look for vegetables similar in diameter: a slim Italian (not Asian) eggplant, a medium zucchini or two, nice medium-sized ripe but firm field tomatoes. And use a casserole that holds them snugly. For this version, sliced vegetables are propped upright in the dish, so you want them rather even-sized (though you can always cut large eggplant slices in half.) Quantities here are a guide. Depending on the shape and size of your casserole (we used a round deep baking dish, 9-inch-diameter) you may need more or less of each vegetable. This is cooking “au pif” as the French say—following your nose.

Tian
1 slender Italian eggplant
3 medium-to-large tomatoes
1 – 2 medium zucchini, or a mixture of zucchini and summer squash
3 Tbs. olive oil
2 -3 fresh juicy garlic cloves
1 tsp. salt or to taste
freshly ground pepper
2 tsp. fresh chopped thyme leaves

Slice eggplant into rounds about 1/3 (one third) inch thick and brush lightly with olive oil (about a tablespoon.). Slice tomatoes and zucchini. Stand slices upright in a casserole that holds them tightly: first a row of eggplant, then a row of tomato, then zucchini, and so on, until you can’t squeeze in another row. (Slant the rows a bit at first, then push them upright as the dish fills up, packing vegetables as tightly as possible.)  Mash garlic to a paste with 1 tsp. salt, using a pestle and mortar. Alternatively mince garlic and mash together with salt, smearing the mixture to a paste with the flat of your knife. Mix garlic paste with 2 tablespoons olive oil, fresh chopped thyme and pepper to taste. Drizzle over vegetables.

Slide dish into a 375 F oven, tented with foil or parchment for the first 45 minutes. Uncover and cook for another hour or so, until vegetables are perfectly tender, slightly browned, but still hold their shape. Serves up to 4 as a side dish with grilled meat, chicken, or fish. Or serve with couscous, or bulgur, or a good hunk of bread and goat’s cheese if you’re going meatless.

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