Rather like the Moroccan tagine but without the lid, a tian is an earthenware dish used for baking a simple, local recipe that shares the same name.
Tian, the recipe, is an excellent example of rustic provençal cooking using just a few ingredients to enhance seasonal produce. There are five key elements: rice, cheese, eggs, breadcrumbs and vegetables, the variety of the latter depending on the time of year – perhaps courgette in early summer, aubergine in August or onion throughout the summer. Robert Carrier, describing the dish in his book ‘Feasts of Provence’ tells us that at Christmas leek or swiss chard tians were popular often topped with an anchovy-dressed cream. And at this time of year, of course, pumpkin is perfect.
So how is an autumnal tian assembled and cooked? My version of the recipe is loosely based on Mireille Johnston’s Tian de Courges in her book ‘The Cuisine of the Sun’. Chunks of pumpkin are roasted or sautéed in oil until the cooked orange flesh is slightly charred and crispy round the edges. These earthy, almost sweet morsels are then mixed with beaten egg, full-flavoured, salty gruyère and some cooked rice. They are then transferred to the tian dish for a topping of fresh breadcrumbs before being baked in the oven until the flavours mingle together and the breadcrumbs are crunchy and golden with little pools of melted cheese bubbling though the crust. The mixture of textures is outstanding.
Years ago in rural Provence, the housewife would prepare a tian to take along to the communal village oven with her just-proved bread dough. The two would bake together, both requiring a similar amount of time for cooking. No doubt they made a surprisingly satisfying, warming supper dish back then and the same is true now – just add a few dressed salad leaves on the side to balance the meal. If you have any leftovers, be assured that pumpkin tian is even more fudgy and crisp when reheated the following day. I do love autumn’s many comforting ingredients……
The recipe serves four and you will need a casserole / baking dish approximately 20cm x 30cm.
Preheat the oven to 200°C
100g long grain white rice, cooked according to packet instructions and left to cool
1 medium-sized onion, finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, crushed
A 1.5kg pumpkin or butternut squash, peeled and chopped into 2cm x 2cm chunks
2 eggs, beaten
75g gruyère cheese, grated
100g fresh breadcrumbs
5 or 6 sage leaves, finely chopped (or you could use parsley)
Olive oil for frying and drizzling
Salt and pepper
Place the chunks of pumpkin in a baking tray and toss with two tablespoons of olive oil. Bake in the preheated oven for approximately 20 minutes until they are soft in the middle and brown and crispy on the edges. Put to one side to cool. Leave the oven on.
Fry the onions on a low heat in a tablespoon of olive oil. When the onions are soft, add the garlic and fry for a further minute or two. Remove from the heat and leave to cool.
Mix the beaten eggs, cooked rice, herbs and cheese (leaving a handful aside for the topping) with half a teaspoon of salt and a grinding of pepper.
When the onions and pumpkin have cooled, combine them with the egg and cheese mixture. Stir well and pour into the casserole / baking dish.
Mix the remaining cheese with the breadcrumbs and sprinkle over the top of the casserole. Drizzle with olive oil and place in the oven for twenty minutes, or a little longer, until you have a crisp, golden topping and bubbly vegetables underneath.