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Monday, August 2, 2010

Vegetable Tian


I realized recently that it had been a while since I spent an afternoon in the kitchen, relaxing and preparing a dinner that takes a little more care and effort than the usual throw-together-and-devour meal. As I was pondering this idea, I came across some beautiful photos on tastespotting of vegetable tian, a French casserole composed of rounds of vegetables layered over a bed of sautéed onions and garlic. As I researched this dish, I found that most of the recipes were more or less the same. They all seemed to involve potatoes, tomatoes, and zucchini at the very least, with eggplant and yellow summer squash occasionally present. Many of the recipes topped the casserole with melty gruyere cheese, which I would love to taste, but obviously that isn't an option.

I decided to give it a shot, using all of the vegetables I saw in other recipes and guessing the quantities I would need. I also tried out a brand new mandoline slicer, which should save a lot of slicing time and help to make the slices uniform in thickness.

When I took the slicer out of the box, I noticed that the thickness setting was fixed and that I could only make one type of slice. This was a little disappointing, as the photo on the box clearly showed a pile of cucumbers of various thicknesses. I figured I could deal with this since the slicer had many other blades for julienning and grating (I also bought it at TJ Maxx, spending a whopping 8 bucks.) I previously owned a much cheaper looking hand held mandonline that worked beautifully, and I literally used it until it fell apart.

First I tried the eggplant, something that my old mandoline had no issue with tackling. As I tried to drag the eggplant over the slicer, it would get stuck halfway through each slice and then basically rip the slice off of the eggplant at the end, leaving an extra chunk on each slice. Great, I thought, the blade is dull. Slices of eggplant were getting stuck in the mandoline. I went to push one of the slices out of the other side with my finger, and if you have ever used a mandoline in your life, you know that red flags should have been going off in my head at this moment. Instead, I barely touched the blade, making a nice little slice in my finger. It was was only about the size of a papercut, but now I was bleeding and irritated. On the bright side, I knew the blade wasn't dull.

After bandaging myself up, I proceeded with the rest of the vegetables (except the tomatoes and onions, which I sliced by hand.) The other vegetables went much more smoothly, and I started feeling better and relaxing again. After arranging all of the vegetables in a baking dish, I realized I had bought too many potatoes and had some extra squash, which I had already cut into rounds. I quickly threw together a gratin, which I baked alongside the tian for dinner tomorrow. If it's any good, I'll post that recipe as well.

All of the annoyances seemed to make the final product that much more delicious. Keith agreed, proclaiming that he even liked the tomatoes (a vegetable that he usually avoids if given the opportunity.) I topped the baked casserole with a sprinkling of vegan parmesan in place of the gruyere, and it was a lovely addition.

Vegetable Tian

2 small eggplants
4 or 5 tomatoes (I bought a bunch of on-the-vine tomatoes, figuring I would have some for later, but I ended up using them all)
1 large russet potato, skin on (I bought two and ended up with double what I needed)
1 to 1 1/2 zucchini
1 to 1 1/2 summer squash
2 yellow onions
2 cloves of garlic
olive oil
dried thyme
vegan parmesan topping (optional)

Slice the eggplant, potato, zucchini, squash, and tomatoes into rounds of uniform thickness, either by hand or with a mandoline. Slice the onions and chop the garlic.

Drizzle olive oil into a skillet or frying pan and heat over medium. Sauté the onions until they are very tender, then add the garlic and cook for another minute. Remove from the heat.

Preheat your oven to 375º. Layer the onions and garlic on the bottom of a baking dish. Many of the recipes used a 9x13 inch dish, but I used a rectangular 2 1/2 quart casserole that was smaller. In retrospect, the height of the baking dish may have been working against me in terms of cooking time, but everything still turned out.

Begin placing your slices of vegetables into the pan vertically, repeating the same pattern over and over again. Don't worry if your rounds are different sizes, as they are bound to be. Align the tops of your slices with each other and use the pressure that will be created by the stacks pressing against the dish to keep them in position.

Sprinkle your vegetables with salt, pepper, and dried thyme. Drizzle some olive oil over the top. Cover the dish tightly with foil and bake for 45 minutes to an hour. It took about an hour in the oven for my potatoes to be completely tender.

If you want, sprinkle your casserole with vegan parmesan and return it to the oven for a moment. I wouldn't recommend leaving it in the oven too long, however, since unlike real cheese, it will not melt together and instead may burn. If you don't have a dairy issue, you can add gruyere cheese to the top of the casserole and return it to the oven until it is bubbly.

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