Provençal Tian (Eggplant, Zucchini, Squash, and Tomato Casserole) Recipe (2024)

Why It Works

  • Pre-cooking each vegetable in a skillet removes excess moisture and browns the slices, making the final dish much more flavorful.
  • Cutting each vegetable between 1/8 and 1/4 inch thick delivers perfect slices. Any thinner, and the slices shrink away to nothing during cooking; any thicker, and the tian seems clunky and lacks elegance.

You know the final scene of the 2007Disney movieRatatouille, when the rat cooks up an amazingly inspired reinterpretation of aclassic ratatouille, transforming the humble summer vegetable stew into a gorgeous layered construction that melts a bitter restaurant critic's heart? Wasn't it wonderful? And didn't it then inspire anendlessrashofinternetrecipes, each attempting to re-create the movie's "ratatouille" for everyone to make at home?

Well, I have an issue with all of that, because as far as I'm concerned, the dish in the movie isn't ratatouille, no matter how you slice it—or, actually, specificallybecauseof how you slice it and then cook it.

As the story goes, Thomas Keller, who consulted on the film, offered his fancy layered "ratatouille" recipe as thepièce de résistancefor that final scene; he called it abyaldi. Keller's byaldi, meanwhile,can be traced back to the French chef Michel Guérard, one of the founders of nouvelle cuisine, who named it after aTurkish stuffed eggplant dish.

Here's the problem: That upgraded ratatouille traveled an unnecessarily convoluted path through the hands of two famous chefs and one Disney movie, because it already existed in Provence, sitting right alongside ratatouille on the dinner table. It's been made there for generations, and any restaurant critic worth his salt would have recognized it for what it was right away—not ratatouille, but atian.

Technically, a tian is any casserole cooked in an earthenware vessel by the same name, but these days it almost always refers to some kind of layered vegetable dish that's gratinéed (browned on top) in the oven. Zucchini and other squash are very common in tians, as are eggplant and tomato. (Notice the overlap with ratatouille ingredients...but, still, doesn't make it ratatouille.) And they're often made very much like you see in the movie, with some kind of sauce in the casserole and raw, thinly sliced vegetables either tossed in the sauce or layered on top, then baked until the vegetables are tender.

But my problem with the dish isn't just a semantic one. I also have issues with the overall method of cooking the dish, because it almost always ends up with the vegetables tasting bland. That shouldn't be much of a surprise—what else is going to happen when watery vegetables are crowded together in a dish and then baked in a steamy cloud of each other's moisture?

So, not only do I want to restore this dish to its proper name—a tian—I also want to improve how this particular tian tastes, making sure that the flavors end up concentrated and intense, not watery and bland.

Provençal Tian (Eggplant, Zucchini, Squash, and Tomato Casserole) Recipe (1)

The obvious fix is to pre-cook each vegetable individually to get rid of some of the excess moisture before layering them together. Plus, pre-cooking means we can better develop their flavors by browning each piece, which is almost impossible when they're steaming away in the oven.

I played with a couple of ways to do that. I was sure the easiest would be to toss each sliced vegetable with oil, spread them in a single layer on baking sheets, and roast them in the oven, but that didn't work well at all: When sliced thinly, vegetables like squash and eggplant dehydrate in the oven long before they brown.

I tried pre-salting the eggplant and squashes to drive off some excess moisture before putting them in the oven. But those thin slices absorb way too much salt, and, since they're the bulk of the final dish, it ends up horribly salty.

Ultimately, I found that the best method was to sauté each sliced vegetable in a very hot skillet, working in batches small enough to guarantee that they'd brown before they risked overcooking and turning to mush. I also found that the ideal slice thickness is somewhere between one-eighth and one-quarter of an inch—any thinner, and the slices shrink to almost nothing as they cook, making them incredibly difficult to work with later.

It takes a little time to do this, but not too much, and the flavor improvement is well worth it. As each batch finished, I transferred it to a baking sheet, spreading the vegetables in an even layer to cool. As you can see, the fastidious side of me took over—I couldn't resist the urge to re-stack each vegetable after it had cooled, which actually made them reallyeasyto work with later.

Provençal Tian (Eggplant, Zucchini, Squash, and Tomato Casserole) Recipe (3)

With the vegetables cooked, I whipped up a quick tomato sauce, then spooned it into the bottom of an earthenware casserole. Mine has about a two-quart capacity, but there's some flexibility on the necessary volume and shape of the baking vessel. Just arrange the vegetables in a way that works, packing them more tightly if the dish is smaller and spacing them apart more if it's bigger.

Provençal Tian (Eggplant, Zucchini, Squash, and Tomato Casserole) Recipe (4)

If your dish is round, a circular pattern, like what I used here, works well; if it's rectangular, you may want to do rows instead. Then I spooned a little more sauce on top, popped the dish in a hot oven, and cooked it until it was heated through. I didn't worry too much about browning the top of the casserole here, since I'd already browned all my vegetable slices beforehand.

Provençal Tian (Eggplant, Zucchini, Squash, and Tomato Casserole) Recipe (5)

Because the vegetables had a head start on cooking, they reduced and intensified in flavor in the oven, becoming creamy and getting a nice balance of bright flavors and sweetness from the browning. If I were to describe the result, I'd say it was like the love child ofItalian eggplant parmand, well, ratatouille. That's a far better background story, anyway.

August 2015

Recipe Details

Provençal Tian (Eggplant, Zucchini, Squash, and Tomato Casserole) Recipe

Active90 mins

Total105 mins

Serves4 servings


  • About 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided

  • 3/4 pound zucchini (about 2 medium), ends trimmed and thinly sliced crosswise between 1/8 and 1/4 inch thick

  • Kosher salt

  • 3/4 pound summer squash (about 2 medium), ends trimmed and thinly sliced crosswise between 1/8 and 1/4 inch thick

  • 3/4 pound Japanese eggplant (about 2), ends trimmed and thinly sliced crosswise between 1/8 and 1/4 inch thick

  • 3 medium cloves garlic, crushed

  • 1/4 cup chopped yellow onion (from 1 small onion)

  • 1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes, crushed by hand

  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano or marjoram leaves

  • Freshly ground black pepper


  1. In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over high heat until shimmering. Working in batches and being sure not to crowd the pan, add zucchini, season with salt, and cook, turning, until just tender and browned in spots, about 4 minutes per batch. Add more oil as needed to prevent pan from drying out, and adjust heat as needed throughout to maintain a very hot, but not heavily smoking, pan. Transfer each batch to a baking sheet and spread in an even layer to cool, then transfer cooled slices to a second baking sheet or plate. Repeat with remaining zucchini, squash, and eggplant until all vegetables are lightly browned.

    Provençal Tian (Eggplant, Zucchini, Squash, and Tomato Casserole) Recipe (6)

  2. In a medium saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add garlic and onion and cook, stirring, until softened, about 4 minutes. Add crushed tomatoes, bring to a simmer, and cook, stirring and adjusting heat to maintain simmer, for 15 minutes. Blend to a smooth puréewith a hand blender or in a countertop blender, then add marjoram or oregano. Season with salt and pepper.

  3. In an earthenware, ceramic, or glass baking dish, spoon just enough sauce to cover bottom of dish in a thin, even layer. Arrange sautéed vegetable slices in an alternating layered pattern (see notes) on top of sauce until entire dish is filled. Spoon a thin layer of sauce on top of vegetables; reserve remaining sauce for another use.

    Provençal Tian (Eggplant, Zucchini, Squash, and Tomato Casserole) Recipe (7)

  4. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 450°F (230°C). Bake until tian is fully heated through and lightly browned on top, about 15 minutes. Serve.

Special Equipment

Earthenware, ceramic, or glass casserole or baking dish (about 2-quart capacity; see note); rimmed baking sheets; blender or immersion blender; mandoline slicer


The exact size and shape of the baking dish are flexible. The vegetables should be layered more tightly in a smaller dish and spaced more widely apart in a larger one. In round dishes, it's best to layer the vegetables in a circular pattern; in rectangular dishes, they should be layered in rows.

Read More

  • Provençal Ratatouille
  • Grilled Ratatouille
  • Summer Ratatouille with Pasta
Provençal Tian (Eggplant, Zucchini, Squash, and Tomato Casserole) Recipe (2024)


What is a tian in cooking? ›

In French cuisine, a tian (pronounced tyan) is both a roasted vegetable dish and the shallow earthenware vessel traditionally used for baking and serving the dish.

Does eggplant and zucchini taste the same? ›

Eggplant has a flavor similar to summer squash or zucchini: tender, mild, and sweet with a slight vegetal bitterness. Eggplant will absorb the flavor of whatever it's cooked with. Its texture is firm and spongy when raw, and meltingly tender when cooked (especially fried, smoked, or braised).

What's the difference between zucchini and squash? ›

The easiest way to tell the two apart is color. Zucchini is generally deep green — though it can be golden yellow — while yellow squash is, well, bright yellow. Shape is another indicator. Zucchini is mainly straight, while yellow squash sports a bulbous bottom, which tapers as it gets toward the top.

What do you call a dish made from red bell peppers onions tomatoes zucchini eggplant and often olive? ›

Ratatouille is a classic French dish that combines summer vegetables—usually eggplant, tomatoes, zucchini, bell pepper, onion, and garlic cloves.

What is the full meaning of tian? ›

tian, in indigenous Chinese religion, the supreme power reigning over lesser gods and human beings. The term tian may refer to a deity, to impersonal nature, or to both. Category: History & Society. Chinese: “heaven” or “sky” Wade-Giles romanization: t'ien.

What is the meaning of tian in English? ›

Tian (天) is one of the oldest Chinese terms for heaven and a key concept in Chinese mythology, philosophy, and religion.

Which is healthier eggplant or zucchini? ›

Yet, zucchini is a bit healthier than the eggplant. By consuming 100 grams of zucchini you'll' receive 16kcal, while when you eat eggplant in the same amount, you will get 24 kcal. However, vitamin C is on the side of zucchini.

What are the benefits of eggplant and zucchini? ›

Zucchini vs Eggplant: Health Benefits

Both foods have a low glycemic index, which means they don't cause a large increase in your blood sugar when you eat them. They also both have a high water content which helps you stay hydrated and supports healthy digestion.

Are eggplant and zucchini healthy? ›

Both of these diet-friendly veggies are low in calories, making them excellent guilt-free options for when you need to munch on a snack at work.

Which is healthier squash or zucchini? ›

Is yellow squash as nutritious as zucchini? The two are very similar in terms of their nutrition content and health perks. For example, both are about 95% water, making them low in both calories and carbs, and are decent sources of vitamins A and C, potassium, and fiber.

What are the benefits of squash and zucchini? ›

Not only are summer squash low in calories, but they also have little to no cholesterol, fat, and sodium—all nutrients we should be limiting. On the flip side, both zucchini and yellow squash boast vitamins A and C, potassium, plus fiber.

Can you eat zucchini raw? ›

Can you eat zucchini raw? In most cases, raw zucchini is safe to eat with little or no side effects. However, sometimes you may encounter some bitter fruit. This bitterness comes from cucurbitacins, a group of compounds found in members of the cucurbit family, such as pumpkins, zucchini, and gourds.

What are 5 foods in ratatouille? ›

Ratatouille is traditionally made with tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, onions, and eggplant when they are at the peak of their season at the same time. Garlic, thyme, and basil are often added to the mix as well.

What vegetable is similar to eggplant? ›

With a texture similar to eggplant, zucchini is perfect for dishes like ratatouille or moussaka, and it can be cooked in a variety of ways – baked, grilled, sautéed, or even spiralized into noodles.

Is ratatouille the same as tian? ›

Both ratatouille and tian use the same vegetables, but the main difference is in the cooking technique. A 'real' ratatouille requires cooking the vegetables individually, before bringing all the elements together at the end; a tian is an artful arrangement of vegetable slices, which is baked like a gratin.

Where does vegetable tian come from? ›

A specialty of the region of Provence in the south of France, the vegetable tian is both a savory side dish and the heavy terracotta baking vessel used to bake it in. What makes a tian so special is its beauty and simplicity.

What is the history of ratatouille? ›

History of Ratatouille

This beloved summer stew first emerged as a solution for hunger, as it was invented by poor farmers back in 1700s Provençe. With so many bellies to fill, nothing could go to waste. Accordingly, the French peasants would cook their leftover vegetables for hours to create a hearty, coarse stew.

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