Ratatouille Gratin

~ Ratatouille Gratin ~

It’s that time of year when the vegetables sneak up on you. A month ago, summer squash were elusive, appearing in the markets in small groups at a price. In the garden they were merely a hint of themselves peeking from their flowers. Purchases felt premature, tasting a little bitter, and costing too much for something you knew would soon be prolific.

Then, before you know it, a month has passed and squash are teeming everywhere. The garden is lobbing them to you like tennis balls, the market shelves are stacked with zucchini, crooknecks, and patty pans, ripe and ready for consumption. With the bounty, it’s time to get creative, because, ironically, it’s easy to tire of this abundance, and that is a shame.  So, yesterday I was determined to use my imagination to celebrate summer squash. Instead of a traditional ratatouille, I made a gratin. And before I made the gratin, I played a little bit with my food and made Ratatouille Stacks.

~ Ratatouille Stacks ~

The ingredients are identical, only the arrangement is different. Serve the gratins as side dishes or a light vegetarian meal. The stacks are fun appetizers.

Ratatouille Gratin with Goat Cheese and Basil

Try to choose squash and eggplant of a similar diameter. This recipe makes enough for an 8 to 9-inch square or round pan. Alternatively, you can arrange the vegetables in smaller individual gratin dishes.

Active Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes
Serves 4

1 narrow eggplant, about 10 ounces
1 medium zucchini, about 6 ounces
1 medium yellow squash, about 6 ounces
1 large red bell pepper, quartered and seeded
Olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup basil leaves, torn into 1/2-inch pieces, plus extra for garnish
3 ounces soft fresh goat cheese

1. Preheat the oven broiler.
2. Slice the eggplant, zucchini, and yellow squash crosswise about 1/3 inch thick. (If the eggplant is much wider than the squash, quarter lengthwise and slice 1/3 inch thick.)
3. Arrange the eggplant, zucchini, squash, and peppers in one layer on an oiled baking tray. Brush the tops with additional oil and lightly season with salt and black pepper. Broil on the top shelf of the oven until the vegetables are tender, but not mushy, and brown in spots, 8 to 10 minutes, turning once. Remove and cool to the touch.
4. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly oil an 8 or 9-inch square or round gratin dish. Arrange the vegetables, alternating and slightly overlapping, in rows or a circular pattern. Tuck the basil between the vegetables in a random pattern so that it is evenly distributed. Scatter grape-size amounts of the goat cheese evenly over the vegetables.
5. Bake the gratin in the oven until the cheese is soft and light golden in spots, about 15 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature, garnished with extra basil if desired.

Summer Berry Tian

Summer Berry Tian

~ Strawberries, raspberries, blueberries: summer in a dish ~

This berry tian highlights the ease of summer in its simplicity of ingredients and preparation. The season’s best fruit – strawberries, blueberries and raspberries -are blanketed with a cardamom-infused custard and baked, resulting in a refreshing and delightful dessert. Tian is a french word for a shallow earthenware casserole, often gratineed, an appropriately simple and elegant name for this dish. Enjoy warm or chilled.

Summer Berry Tians (Clafoutis)

Active Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 40 to 55 minutes
Makes 8 (6-ounce) tians

Unsalted softened butter for greasing the tians
1 tablespoon plus 1/3 cup granulated sugar
12 ounces mixed berries, such as blueberries, raspberries, quartered strawberries
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 1/4 cups half and half
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest, plus extra for garnish
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
Powdered sugar for garnish

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter 8 (6-ounce) shallow ramekins (or 1 (10-inch) ceramic tart pan). Sprinkle the ramekins with the 1 tablespoon granulated sugar and tap out any excess. Place the ramekins on a baking tray. Arrange the berries in one layer in the ramekins.
2. Beat the eggs and sugar in a bowl until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. On low speed, mix in the half and half, flour, lemon zest, vanilla extract, almond extract, and salt until just combined.
3. Pour the mixture over fruit. Transfer the tians to the oven and bake until the tops are tinged golden brown and the custard is set, about 25 minutes for the ramekins (or 35 to 40 minutes for the tart pan). Remove from the oven and cool on a rack.
4. Before serving, sprinkle the tians with powdered sugar and garnish with additional lemon zest. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature.

Roasted Yellow Beet and Ricotta Tian

I find it impossible to resist beets. Their colors are magnificent – it’s a miracle that nature can provide something edible that is so vibrantly hued. With the vivid color, of course, comes nutrients. Beets are a nutritional powerhouse, rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and beta-carotene. I purchased these beets at the farmers’ market, without knowing how I would prepare them. I was happy to simply look at them.

Prompted by a batch of fluffy ricotta in my fridge, I decided to layer the yellow beets with the cheese as a riff on lasagna, with the beet slices replacing the lasagna sheets. Yellow beets are milder in flavor than red beets, and their nutty, buttery flavor wouldn’t overpower the cheese. I also feared the red beets would completely saturate the dish with their magenta color, which, while lovely to look at, threatened to irrevocably tint my pristine ricotta. This is a visually motivated dish.

Roasted Yellow Beet and Ricotta Tian

Active Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour and 10 minutes
Serves 4; Makes one (8-inch) tian or 4 individual ramekins

1 pound yellow beets (about 4 medium)
12 ounces whole milk fresh ricotta, drained of excess liquid
2 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for sprinkling
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil, plus extra for garnish
1 small garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Extra-virgin olive oil

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. Trim the greens and ends of the beets and peel the skin. Thinly slice the beets, preferably with a mandoline, about 1/8-inch thick.
  3. Combine the ricotta, Parmesan, basil, garlic, lemon zest, salt, and the black pepper in a bowl and whisk to blend.
  4. Arrange the beets in one layer, slightly overlapping, in an 8-inch diameter gratin dish (or 4 individual ramekins). Lightly brush the beets with olive oil. Smear a layer of the ricotta over the beets. Repeat the layering process, finishing with a thin layer of ricotta on the top (some of the beets should be showing). There should be about 4 layers. Sprinkle 1 to 2 teaspoons Parmesan cheese over the tian.
  5. Transfer to the oven and cook until the beets are tender when pierced with a knife, about 50 minutes. If the top begins to brown before the beets are fully cooked, loosely cover with foil. Remove from the oven and let stand at least 15 minutes before serving.
  6. Serve warm or at room temperature garnished with fresh chopped basil.

Provençal Vegetable Tian with Goat Cheese and Basil Coulis

Provençal Vegetable Tian with Goat Cheese and Basil Coulis

Summer Tian

Tiring of Ratatouille?  I am a big fan of the Provençal-inspired stew of summer vegetables, but by the end of August I find myself seeking cues for inspiration in a hungry quest for different ways to use the heaps of squash, zucchini, eggplant and tomatoes harvested from our summer gardens.  So, prompted by this month’s Grow Your Own event hosted by Andrea’s Recipes, armed with a shiny new lime-green enameled cast iron pan, and inspired by a scrumptious article on tians in my favorite French magazine, Côté Sud,  I decided to create a Provençal Vegetable Tian with homegrown heirloom tomatoes and basil.

Heirloom Tomatoes

Tian is the the French word for a casserole baked in an earthenware dish, layered with seasonal vegetables and cheese.  Originating in the south of France, and possibly influenced by the North African couscous pot, the ingredients are decoratively arranged and slow cooked for simple, rustic, flavorful results.  What better way to present a typically Provençal selection of vegetables than in a tian?  The sliced veggies are tossed in a coulis of puréed basil leaves, garlic and extra-virgin olive oil to give moisture and the unmistakable flavor of summer.  Crumbled soft goat cheese adds a creamy, tangy depth to this vegetarian dish.  Baked until the vegetables are tender but not too soft, this tian is delicious straight from the oven or even the next day.  Just like a good ratatouille – but different.

Provençal Vegetable Tian with Goat Cheese and Basil Coulis
Serves 4-6

2 cups loosely packed fresh basil leaves
1 garlic clove
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 medium, firm eggplant/aubergine, stemmed, quartered lengthwise, cut in 1/2″ thick slices

3 large ripe vine or heirloom tomatoes, cut in 1/2″ thick slices
2 small yellow onions, peeled and thinly sliced
2 red or orange sweet peppers, halved, seeded, cut in 2″ square pieces
1 medium zucchini, cut in 1/4″ thick slices
1 medium yellow squash or 2-3 large patty pan squash, cut in 1/4″ thick slices
6 oz. (180 grams) fresh goat cheese, crumbled

Prepare Basil Coulis:
Combine basil and garlic in bowl of food processor. While the machine is running, pour in 1/3 cup (80 ml.) oil in steady stream until consistency resembles a vinaigrette; add more oil if necessary.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Set aside.

Grill Eggplant:
Arrange eggplant slices in one layer on oven tray.  Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Grill in oven until eggplant turns golden brown and softens, about 8 minutes.  Remove from oven.

Assemble Tian:
Preheat oven to 325 F. (170 C.)
Lightly oil an earthenware baking/gratin dish.  In a large bowl, toss slices of grilled eggplant, tomatoes, onions, zucchini and yellow squash with 3/4 of the basil coulis.  Arrange slices overlapping on the diagonal in baking dish.  Crumble goat cheese over vegetables.  Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Bake in oven 50 minutes.  Remove and allow to cool briefly.  Drizzle remaining basil coulis over tian.  Garnish with whole basil leaves.  Serve warm or at room temperature.


Provençal Vegetable Tian with Goat Cheese and Basil Pesto

Provençal Vegetable Tian with Goat Cheese and Basil Pesto


How can you resist the beautiful vegetables that are ripe and ready to pick at this time of year?

I created the following recipe inspired by a photograph from one of my favorite French magazines Côté Sud. There was an article featuring tians, which is the French word for a casserole baked in an earthenware dish containing a variety of seasonal vegetables, meat or cheese.  The article displayed  beautiful pictures of tantalizing tians, but one in particular caught my eye – it looked like a deconstructed ratatouille, artfully arranged in colorful rows of alternating peppers, courgettes, and tomato.  I decided to create something like that at home; instead of baking it in a large casserole, I divided it into individual portions in ramekins.  EIther way works.  This dish is very flexible – it’s delicious hot out of the oven or at room temperature, even the next day.

Provençal Vegetable Tian with Goat Cheese and Basil Pesto
Serves 8-10

Olive oil
4 red peppers, quartered, seeded
3 medium zucchini, thinly sliced on the diagonal
4 ripe plum tomatoes, seeded
1 large red onion, peeled and quartered
10 oz. (300 grams) fresh goat cheese logs, sliced
16 kalamata olives, pitted, halved
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For basil pesto:
3 garlic cloves
1 large bunch basil, stems removed, about 2 cups
1/3 cup (80 ml.) olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Prepare basil pesto:
Combine garlic and basil in bowl of food processor. Pulse in enough oil to form a paste. Add salt and pepper to taste. Set aside, reserving 1/4 cup separately.

Assemble tian:
Arrange red pepper quarters skin side up on a lightly oiled baking sheeet. Roast under an oven grill until skin is charred. Remove from oven, place in bowl and cover. Let stand for 15 minutes. When cool, rub off skin with fingers. Cut quarters in half horizontally.
Arrange zucchini slices on lightly oiled baking sheet. Brush tops with olive oil, sprinkle lightly with salt. Roast under oven grill until zucchini is golden brown. Remove and set aside to cool.
Slice tomatoes in 1/4 ” rounds. Break apart onion quarters. Combine red peppers, zucchini, tomatoes and onions in a large bowl. Toss with basil purée.
Lightly oil one large rectangular baking dish or individual ramekins.
Arrange vegetables diagonally, alternating with cheese for color.
Garnish with kalamata olives. Salt and pepper to taste.
Roast in preheated 325 F. oven for 45 minutes, or until vegetables are tender and cheese is melted and golden in color.
Drizzle with remaining basil purée. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Tip: Try experimenting with other vegetable combinations, such as eggplant/aubergines, summer squash, portobello mushrooms.  You can substitute other soft cheeses, such as mozzarella and ricotta, for the goat cheese, too.