Ursula Ferrigno's take on a classic Provencal dish
There are so many variations of this Provencal dish. In the film Ratatouille, the restaurant critic’s life was transformed by exquisite tomato sauce, sliced courgettes and tomatoes arranged magnificently in a circle and baked to crisp perfection. That was a tian. As is a dish I wrote about in 1996 that contained eggs, rice, cheese, courgettes and spinach.
Essentially, a tian is a tasty supper relying on fine ingredients—the name refers to the rustic earthenware dish that it is baked in. My version for 2016 is partly Elizabeth David, partly my family favourites.
I love the mixture of textures and flavours in this dish. There are a few golden rules: heavy old potatoes for maximum flavour and fluffy texture; dirty spinach, never gas-flushed packets that are tasteless and have minimum nutritional value; great cheese—I have fallen for Bermondsey Hard Pressed from Neal’s Yard Dairy.
It is extremely versatile—it can be a side dish, perhaps for some duck or game, but it is also good cold or eaten the next day in a packed lunch.
6 even-sized medium potatoes, maris piper, King Edward, pentland crown are good examples
600g unwashed spinach
250g purple sprouting broccoli
4 sprigs of lemon thyme, leaves only
3 cloves of garlic
2-3 tbsp olive oil
4 large eggs
200g Bermondsey hard pressed or equivalent
75g pine nuts
Preheat the oven to 200C. Wash and dry the potatoes, prick the flesh with a fork and bake for 25 mins on a baking tray.
Meanwhile, wash the spinach well, removing tough stems and roots if attached. Wilt in a large pan over medium heat for 4 mins. Remove from the pan, squeeze dry and chop on a chopping board with the broccoli, garlic cloves and thyme leaves.
Remove the potatoes from the oven when done. Peel and cube, place the flesh in the tian, casserole or 20cm pyrex dish. Drizzle the with olive oil and return to the oven.
In a medium bowl beat the eggs well, add the grated cheese and pine nuts, season and add the spinach mixture.
Remove the hot potatoes from the oven and pour the spinach mixture over, mix well and return to the oven for 20 mins. The finished dish should have a golden brown fluffy crust and a most enticing smell. Enjoy with a good hunk of bread to mop up any juices.
ALTERNATIVE: When I was experimenting, I did add four anchovy fillets, much to my husband’s disdain—he thinks they are evil, but I feel that they add an extra punch.
Recipe: Ursula Ferrigno