Tuesday, June 26, 2007
Early Summer Tian
Eating for research is different than eating for sustenance or enjoyment. Though I derive great pleasure from my job, it does mean trying foods that don’t necessarily appeal, or sometimes eating when I’m not at all hungry. It’s usually fairly easy to find a balance, but on a research trip, like the one I just returned from in Tuscany, no culinary curiosity should be left untried. And after a couple of weeks of that, aided by a natural propensity for excess and bon vivance, I frankly feel as though you could use me for foie gras.
Fortunately, upon my first visit back to my beloved greenmarkets, I found that in my absence the early summer vegetables had ripened. Perfect for tian.
Tian (pronounced as one syllable: tyahnn) is a word from the Provençal dialect for an earthenware dish as well as for the casseroles cooked in it. Traditionally, a tian contains vegetables and herbs, but breadcrumbs, cheese, and anchovies all make regular appearances as well. The substantial vegetables of late summer and autumn (think eggplant, tomatoes, potatoes) are most frequently used for tian, but after the glut of research-eating, I want the quiet flavors of early summer.
Presented this simply, the nuttiness of summer squash, the crunch of fresh peas, and the sweetness of braised onions all shine, and I think the meat lovers among you (self included) will be surprised at how satisfying a meal this tian can be. I’ve used the pecorino dolce I lugged back from Florence’s Mercato Centrale here, but you could use chevre, feta, fontina, mozzarella – really whatever appeals or waits in the fridge.
And use whichever vegetables seem freshest – I simply list what appealed to me at the market. As you line up the multi-hued slices of squash, spring onion, and crunchy lettuce, I think you’ll agree that tian must have been created by a true vegetable lover – maybe an avid gardener overjoyed by the sudden abundance of summer. Regardless, this is true home food: easy to throw together and infinitely adaptable to season and availability.
Sip something cool and crisp with this tian and enjoy the fragrant broth that the vegetables and herbs form as they melt into the white wine and olive oil.
3 small yellow summer squash
2 – 3 patty pan squash
2 – 3 small zucchini
extra virgin olive oil
1 head & stem of spring garlic (or 2 mature cloves), minced
1 large handful fresh basil leaves, sliced thinly, plus a little more for serving
1 large handful fresh parsley leaves, chopped, plus a little more for serving
freshly ground black pepper
6 spring onions or 1 - 2 small onions
½ head red leaf lettuce
1 cup white wine
¾ cup freshly shelled young peas
2 – 3oz nice young cheese
Preheat the oven to 325 F
Slice the squash lengthwise into ¼ inch thick pieces. Toss them in a bowl with a good glug of olive oil and the garlic, basil, and parsley. Season well with salt and pepper, and toss again. Remove the spring onions’ roots and leaves, and then slice them lengthwise as thinly as you can (probably ¼ - ½ inch thick for spring onions - thinner if you use normal onions).
In a large earthenware or cast iron dish, arrange the vegetable slices vertically, adding the lettuce leaves to the mix. Pack them in tightly, and them sprinkle with any herb and garlic mixture left over in the bowl. Pour in the wine and cover the dish with tin foil. Bake for 30 minutes.
Uncover the tian and sprinkle over the peas. Tear or crumble the cheese over the vegetables and raise the oven to 400 F. Roast uncovered for 20 – 25 more minutes until the cheese is melted and bubbling. Check the seasoning and serve either hot or room temperature, sprinkled with a little more basil and parsley.