Let me take you to the French Alps where my friend Jean-Marie Cravero—who is one of the best cooks I know—will show me how to make his scrumptious tian. It’s a southern French recipe composed of layered vegetables, rice and ham, then crowned with cheese and breadcrumbs and baked to a wonderful crusty goodness. When Jean-Marie was growing up in a city on the Mediterranean Sea, on Sundays women would assemble tian to serve for lunch and then take them to a public oven to bake them.
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Tian for 5 - 6 people:
1 kilogram (2.2 lbs.)small zucchini, seeded and diced
150 grams (a little more than 1/2 cup) basmati rice
50 grams (2 oz.) cured ham, such as prosciutto or serrano ham
50 grams (2 oz.) thick slice of ham
100 grams (3 1/2 oz.) pork cutlet
100 grams (3 1/2 oz.) veal cutlet
Sage leaves, dried or fresh
2 eggs, beaten with a fork
2 cloves garlic, minced
50 centiliters (3 - 4 tablespoons) cream
Parsley, minced fine
Cheese, grated (such as gruyere swiss cheese)
Beef bouillon cubes
1 clove garlic
1 sprig rosemary
2 sprigs thyme
Butter a gratin dish about 14 inches long by 10 inches wide. Preheat oven to 350º. Cut each zucchini lengthwise into 4 pieces. Remove the seeds. Cut the zucchini into a medium dice and boil in salted water for 4 - 5 minutes. Drain and set aside.
Put water in a saucepan with beef bouillon cubes, a clove of garlic, bay leaf, thyme and rosemary. (Jean-Marie puts the thyme and rosemary in a cheesecloth bag for easy removal after cooking but if you don’t have one, put the loose herbs in and pick them out after the rice is cooked.) There should be enough water so that the rice is swimming in it. Add the rice to the rice cooking water and simmer for 10 minutes. Strain the rice, set the strainer over a bowl to drain thoroughly, and set aside.
Place the pork and veal cutlets in a skillet with a little oil over medium heat. Sprinkle crumbled sage on the pork cutlet. Sauté cutlets until they’re fully cooked. Cut the cooked pork and veal cutlets into pieces. Slice both hams into pieces. Put the meats through a meat grinder with large holes. If you don’t have a meat grinder, cut the meats into small pieces.
Mince parsley until it’s fine. Stir together the zucchini, half of the rice, half of the ground meats, parsley, pepper, and a splash of oil and cream to moisten everything. Stir in beaten eggs and minced garlic along with the remaining meats and rice.
Deglaze the skillet with meat juices in it by adding 3 - 4 tablespoons of cream. Gently simmer for a few minutes, then pour it over the zucchini mixture. Pour the zucchini mixture into the buttered gratin dish and lightly tamp it down with a fork. Sprinkle on breadcrumbs and grated cheese. Bake for 25 - 30 minutes.