The French Tian Is the Prettiest (and Easiest) Way to Cook and Serve Vegetables

A Provençal classic that’s as simple as layering sliced vegetables in a baking dish is definitely something you should be making.

beets in baking dish on blue background
Photo: Chris Court

Looking for a healthy, Instagram-worthy vegetable dish? Consider the tian. A specialty of the region of Provence in the south of France, the vegetable tian is both a savory side dish and the heavy terracotta baking vessel used to bake it in. What makes a tian so special is its beauty and simplicity.

What Is a Tian?

Just as we call the food we bake in a casserole dish a casserole, the shallow dish used to cook a tian gave its name to the dish itself.

The Food

Simplicity is the essence of a tian. A tian is primarily made from two to four types of sliced vegetables—think zucchini and other squash, eggplant, and tomatoes—arranged in alternating layers in a baking dish for a bold, appetizing look. Sometimes the vegetables are cubed or shredded, so they cook into a supremely tender, olive oil-softened dish.

Provence is home to ancient olive trees, so naturally, olive oil is essential to a tian. "Parmesan cheese, olive oil, and stock (chicken or fish) are other common flavorings," says Anne Willan, award-winning culinary historian, writer, and teacher, and founder of the Ecole de Cuisine La Varenne in France. "Cooked rice, soaked breadcrumbs, and eggs can be used to give them substance without thickening them."

A tian is baked and the dish taken to the table for serving, generally still warm from the oven. In Provence and along the Mediterranean coast, dishes are often served at room temperature in the warmer months, but you would never serve a tian chilled, Willan says.

The Baking Dish

Beginning in Roman times, the rich clay in the town of Vallauris in Provence was used to make pottery. The style of cooking vessels we still recognize as uniquely Provençal were made there beginning around the 16th century. Some are deep with a single handle, some are daubes, for braises and stews, but a tian is a shallow baking dish, often round, just 3 to 4 centimeters deep, says Willan. It has a flat bottom and sides, and no lid. Most Provençal homes did not have an oven and these dishes were brought to the village baker's wood-fired oven to cook.

These days, other types of ceramics are used for baking tians and you don't need a tian dish from Provence to make a vegetable tian at home.

How a Tian Is Different From a Gratin

A tian dish is shallower than another well-known French baking vessel, the gratin. Gratin dishes originate from the north of France, not Provence, and are typically made of enameled cast iron, a material readily available in the north, says Willan.

The food cooked in a gratin is always browned on top, whereas a tian is not. "A gratin is often a more substantial dish, for example including pieces of fish or chicken," says Willan. "It may also have cream or béchamel sauce, but neither of those would be traditional in a tian."

6 Delicious Tian Recipes to Try

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Provençal Tian


Arranged in traditional fashion with overlapping circles, this tian is pretty enough to bring to the table.

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Three Squashes Tian


This tian is classic—except for the breadcrumbs, which have butter added to them to make them extra crisp and golden brown.

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Baked Tomato, Squash, and Potato Tian

Johnny Miller

Satisfying and simple, this dish is the essence of its ingredients.

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Tomato and Onion Tian

Con Poulos

Bake this tian in the late summer when tomatoes are large and juicy, and it's cool enough to turn the oven on.

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Vegetable Tian


Not so typically Provençal, but meltingly delicious, this tian features sliced potatoes, onion, and zucchini—and the unusual addition of carrots.

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Potato and Sweet Potato Tian


We lightened up a creamy potato gratin with sweet potatoes and apple, and called it a tian.

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