During the Midwest summer, it’s generally hot and often humid. I simplify my cooking in the hot weather: big salads, piles of corn on the cob, bowls of cool fruit, grilled meats. I’m a big fan of lazy summer cooking. Sometimes we’ll get a burst of cooler air, and for a day or two, the temperatures drop enough to make a hot supper attractive, and that’s when I’ll make a summer vegetable tian. This is one of the laziest (and best) vegetable dishes I know.
A tian is both a food and the vessel it’s cooked in: either a dish of vegetables baked together, or a large oval earthenware vessel that the dish is traditionally cooked in. Don’t worry if you don’t have an authentic tian – any shallow baking dish will do, as long as it’s large enough to hold all the vegetables. I used an oval 2-quart baking dish for this summer vegetable tian, and I could have squeezed more in there.
Take impeccably fresh summer vegetables, slice them thinly, and layer them in a shallow dish. Season with salt and thyme, moisten with oil, and bake until they’re tender and delicious. You can use whatever vegetables you have on hand that you think will go together. I’ve used potatoes, eggplant, tomatoes, and summer squash here in a fresh vegetable casserole straight from the south of France.
Looking for a version with no eggplant? Check out this one, with potatoes, tomatoes, and yellow summer squash.
Summer Vegetable Tian
- ¼ cup olive oil divided
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 large onion [optional]
- 2-3 medium tomatoes
- 1 slender eggplant
- 2 medium white potatoes peeled
- 1 medium yellow or green summer squash/zucchini
- coarse salt
- freshly ground pepper
- fresh thyme leaves
- 2 tbsp Parmesan cheese grated
- Preeat oven to 375˚F (190˚C). Peel the garlic clove, crush it a bit, and then rub it all over the inside of a 2-quart shallow baking dish. Then oil the dish, so the vegetables won't stick.
- Slice all the vegetables quite thinly. Don’t bother peeling the eggplant or the summer squash, but I like to remove the peel from the potatoes. Put all the vegetables in a large bowl. Strip the leaves from several branches of fresh thyme; add the leaves to the vegetables. Gently toss the veggies and thyme with 2-3 tablespoons of oil.
- If using the onion: Heat a skillet, then add a bit of olive oil and sauté the onions until tender and lightly browned, 6 to 8 minutes. Scatter the onions evenly over the bottom of the oiled baking dish.
- Arrange the vegetable slices in a shingled spiral in the baking dish in this order: eggplant, tomato, yellow squash, potato. Repeat until all the vegetables have been used – if you have leftover sliced towards the end, just stick them in wherever it seems good to you. Sprinkle the vegetables lightly with a bit of salt, then lay any leftover sprigs of thyme on top.
- Cover the dish tightly with foil. Place in the oven and bake about 1 hour, until all the vegetables are tender. After an hour, remove the foil and return to the oven for another 30 minutes. The vegetables should be quite tender, liquid will have been cooked off, and you should see light browning on some edges.
- When the vegetables are cooked and just starting to brown at the edges, sprinkle with a bit of grated Parmesan cheese, and bake 15 minutes longer, until the top just begins to brown.
- Serve hot, just warm, or at room temperature: this is not a fussy dish at all.