Rustic Provençal Vegetable Casserole

After I took the bar exam, we spent a couple weeks in Provence in a house that Van Gogh painted.  Each day was slow and languid and developed organically; we seldom thought beyond what we wanted to do in that instant.  Sometimes it was wandering through the Roman ruins across the way.  When the sun was blazing, we would follow our gravel road to its end and hike, with branches and leaves cracking underfoot, through the pine-forested foothills.  And when relaxation got the better of us, we would walk next door to tour Vincent’s cloister in the the asylum—with a view of our little stone house in the distance—and thumb through the artwork of the current residents, who were apparently welcome to roam the gift shop.  “Américaine?” a toothless octogenarian shrieked, not two inches from my face, before deftly turning away, her pastel cotton nightgown floating ethereally behind her.

Once or twice a week, we would walk the cobblestone footpaths into town for the market.  Vendors lined the curved streets, and we ambled among the stalls, admiring the young goat cheeses, the clear-eyed whole fish, the cooking utensils hand hewn from olive wood, and the act of the ruddy-faced man pushing his dried fruits and nuts.  On one table were baskets of red tomatoes with stacked zucchini and eggplant.  Next door were the prizes of a forager’s harvest: apricot chanterelles alongside mounds of mushrooms I had never seen.  We bought some from each and walked home, most days a gust or two of brisk wind penetrating our light sweaters along the way.  Fall, it seemed, was afoot.  So our meals straddled the two seasons accordingly.  I remember making thin grilled pizzas with mushrooms, thyme, and shallots.  And I remember a simple tian of alternating zucchini and tomatoes tucked into a bed of stewed onion and eggplant.  It was summer’s bounty warmed and concentrated into an autumnal package.  We baked it in the massive stone hearth that anchored the dining room, but even an oven will do.

Despite the occasional 80-degree day, that same early-fall wind has been looming recently, making me think of my time in Provence.  I was happy to see eggplants, tomatoes, and zucchini still at the market on Saturday, so I picked up a few of each to make the tian for Elinor, Dave, and my late lunch today.  We (but not Elinor, of course) had it with a small glass of red table wine while the long autumn light streamed in the window.  Welcome, fall. 

Rustic Provençal Vegetable Casserole
Adapted from Saveur Cooks Authentic French, one of my favorite cookbooks for simple, classic French fare

This is a warming dish, one that I often make when I’m asked to bring something for dinner.  The only preparation is a little chopping, and the result is striking in appearance.  Consider varying the colors with green zebra tomatoes with yellow zucchini or purple heirloom tomatoes with white zucchini.  If you have a mandoline, it makes quick work of the zucchini and uniformly thick slices, too.

1 medium eggplant, peeled and cut into 1″ cubes
2 medium yellow onions, peeled and chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive olive
Freshly milled black pepper
2 medium zucchini, sliced diagonally
6 medium ripe tomatoes, sliced
Leaves from 3-4 sprigs of fresh herbs, such as thyme, rosemary, or oregano
1/2 cup grated Parimgiano-Reggiano

Serves 6

C O O K .

  • Cook onions, garlic, and eggplant. Preheat the oven to 400°F.  In a large skillet over medium heat, cook the onions and garlic in a generous glug of the olive oil until lightly browned, about 10 minutes.  Remove the onions and garlic to a medium baking dish.  Cook the eggplant the same as the onions and garlic, then mix the eggplant with the onions and garlic.  Season with salt and pepper.
  • Arrange the zucchini and tomatoes. Make rows of alternating zucchini and tomatoes, and sprinkle with the torn herbs.  Season with salt and pepper.  Drizzle with another glug of olive oil, about 2 to 3 tablespoons.  Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the tomatoes and zucchini have begun to dehydrate and look somewhat shriveled (believe me—this description yields a good result).
  • Dust with cheese. Just before serving, dust with the cheese.

R E F I G U R E .

  • À la baba ghanoush.  Puree in a blender or food mill and reduce over medium heat until thickened to the consistency of a spread.  Serve with bread or crackers.
  • Rustic soup. Roughly chop the tomatoes and zucchini; add to some vegetable stock, and bring to a simmer with a Parimgiano-Reggiano rind for 20 minutes.  Serve with a glug of extra-virgin olive oil, some freshly grated Parimgiano-Reggiano, and some crusty bread for dipping.
  • Tart. Rather than to refigure, here’s a variation on the original recipe: Puree the cooked onions, garlic, and eggplant, and reduce to a paste; spread into an herbed savory tart shell (grate Parimgiano-Reggiano on the bottom of the crust and bake until crispy to create a moisture barrier).  Prepare as directed in the second and third steps above.  Bake until warm.

L I T T L E  E A T S . Other than a little chopping, nothing needs to be done to this recipe for little people.  The vegetables are soft and savory, and the colors intriguing.  This was a big hit with Elinor.  A big hit, i.e., lots and lots of penguin-style arm flapping.

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Text and photo © Blue Egg Kitchen 2010

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  • hODDY - Nice! Looks delicious and relatively simple. I will try to make soon.October 12, 2010 – 2:37 pmReplyCancel

  • Heather - The image of Elinor and the arm-flapping gave me a huge smile.October 12, 2010 – 9:39 pmReplyCancel

  • So - Darling, this looks wonderful. I cannot wait to make it. Your writing is poetic and flawless. Keep them coming!October 14, 2010 – 2:51 pmReplyCancel

  • imfullblog - a perfect side dish for the season! i’ll try it soon!October 14, 2010 – 5:13 pmReplyCancel

  • tobias cooks! - Delicious looking dish. Simple and tasty.October 17, 2010 – 12:56 pmReplyCancel

  • Annette - This was absolutely delicious. While your photo is fabulous, it still can’t capture the incredible flavor.

    A couple of things to note:

    1. I added water to the eggplant, because I couldn’t seem to get enough oil to keep it from sticking. I’d used only 1 T from the 1/2 c for the onions/garlic, so about 5T went to the eggplant (and another 3T for drizzling at the end).
    2. I had to move the contents to a 9×13 baker, because there was no way all the topping would fit in the medium baker. The topping was so crowded that it didn’t dry out as much as what I noticed in your photo. I think I will use 2-3 tomatoes and 1 zucchini next time. While they weren’t dry, they were very juicy and flavorful.

    Thank you for the wonderful recipe. It will be a regular go-to for me.October 18, 2010 – 10:51 pmReplyCancel

    • Erin - PQ and Annette: I’m so happy to hear that you enjoyed this recipe as much as I do! Annette, thanks for sharing your insights on making it. Mine may have turned out a bit drier because I cooked it with a pizza stone on the shelf above it, which probably drew out more moisture from the zucchini and tomatoes.October 19, 2010 – 9:44 pmReplyCancel

  • PQ - I tried this! It turned out so amazing, thank you!October 19, 2010 – 2:42 amReplyCancel

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