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. With origins in the Provence region of southern France, tian is a classic dish constructed in beautifully arranged layers of colorful vegetables that goes straight from the oven to the table. It's popularly served as a side dish during the summer and early autumn when fresh produce is at its peak, and there are several variations, including recipes that incorporate cheese, meat, and fish.
The Earthenware Tian Dish
The traditional tian dish is shaped like a shallow truncated cone, wide at the top and narrowing to the bottom. It is made from earthenware and is typically glazed on the inside, while the outside is left unglazed. Distinguished from a casserole dish by its conical shape, the tian is used as a baking dish that can go straight from the oven to the dinner table.
You don't need a tian dish to cook a tian recipe. Any oven-safe baking dish or even a large cast-iron pan will work as a substitute.
Classic French Tian Recipes
The Provençal cooking pot lent its name to the tian dish. It is classically a mixture of roasted vegetables and often topped with cheese or au gratin. While vegetable tian recipes are more common, some include precooked ground or diced meat or fish under the layered vegetables. Tian recipes traditionally do not add liquid and instead allow the vegetables to provide the dish's moisture.
Tian dishes may be served as a vegetable side dish or featured as the main course. They make a lovely presentation for a family-style meal, buffet dinner, or potluck dinner. You can serve a tian warm or at room temperature, and it often tastes even better as leftovers. A room temperature vegetable tian should have a low food safety risk for outdoor summer buffets.
How to Layer and Cook a Vegetable Tian
Layering and arranging the vegetables in a tian gives them an elegant appearance. The ubiquitous zucchini and summer squash, layered with tomatoes and potatoes and sprinkled with herbs and cheese, is transformed into a dish everyone is eager to taste.
The tian is a fun way to serve the bounty when garden vegetables are in season, and making it is relatively straightforward:
- Slice vegetables into 1/8-inch thick rounds. For example, choose zucchini, yellow squash, red potatoes, eggplant, and Roma tomatoes of approximately equal diameter.
- The tian's lower tian layers can be made with yellow and green beans, alternated for color. A layer of sautéed onions adds flavor, while proteins transform it into a balanced main dish. Vegetables may be sautéed or steamed, and meat should be thoroughly cooked to ensure the layers cook evenly.
- Alternate the sliced vegetables to create multicolored stacks of vegetables for the tian's top layer. Traditionally, the stacks are slightly fanned out and overlapped as they swirl around the pan. It may be easier to stand the vegetable stacks upright on the sides in a square or rectangular baking dish.
- Provençal tian is traditionally seasoned with thyme, garlic, and olive oil.
- The dish is often baked at 375 F or 400 F and takes an hour or more to bake.
- Add cheese or au gratin to the top layer halfway through baking.
What's the Difference Between Tian and Ratatouille?
Tian and ratatouille are famous Provençal dishes that use many of the same ingredients. The recipes vary, but both often include eggplant, tomatoes, squash, and zucchini seasoned with fresh herbs, garlic, and onions. The key difference is how they're prepared and served. While tian is more of a layered casserole of sliced veggies roasted in the oven, classic ratatouille is a stovetop stew with veggies that are either cubed or cut into thin strips. Adding to the confusion, some ratatouille recipes resemble the spiral layers of tian.