Since we moved to New York, I’ve been making tian often. This wouldn’t be so remarkable if, say, during the eight years I’ve been living outside of my mother’s home I would have made a tian so much as once.

The first time it happened, I had just placed a chicken to roast in the oven. Music was playing, and I found myself reaching for vegetables, slicing them, and placing them upright in a baking dish, one by one. “Really pack them in, they’ll shrink in the oven,” I heard myself thinking, and realized it was my mother’s voice. I had just made one of her standby side dishes: the tian.

One of the most difficult things about our transatlantic move was packing. What do we take? What will we need? What should we leave behind? As I piled practical things into our suitcases, things like clothes and shoes and coats, I snuck in some extras: my recipe binder, our favorite books, two of my mother’s paintings, and the sculpture that we received for our wedding, and that we would joke, when we lived in a very shabby apartment, that it was worth more than the rest of the place. I told myself these little extras would be what would really make our new place feel like home.

Who would have imagined that what would make this house feel most like home would be the smells wafting from the kitchen?

I don’t think about making a tian before I go to the grocery store, I don’t add it’s ingredients to the list, but somehow they make their way into my cart, and when I’m home, after I’ve unpacked the groceries, they make their way to the counter, and I start peeling them. Soon enough, my house smells like home. My mother’s home.

Speaking about this dish with both my sister-in-law and a friend made me realize that maybe you don’t know what a tian is. (Also, that tian is a very awkward word to pronounce if the conversation is not in French; especially if the other person has no idea what you’re talking about. As your listener goes “huh?”, do you stress the “n”, Americanizing it?) Although I feel a little awkward describing what is essentially roasted vegetables, here goes- the vegetables cozy up to each other during the long baking time, the onions getting all fragrant, the tomatoes melting, the potatoes and sweet potatoes creamy in the middle and browned on top. It’s lovely, really- warm and cozy and homey.

Vegetable Tian

I like making this to accompany roast chicken- they take approximately the same time to cook. I put the vegetables in first, then take care of the chicken, and slip it in. Along with a green salad, it makes for a warm, cozy dinner. 

I find that two of each vegetable fits into my pyrex baking dish just right, but you can easily adjust the quantities to fit a larger pan. If I have a few slices left over, I’ll usually just throw them into the dish with the chicken.

Yield: Serves 4, as a side.

2 onions

2 potatoes

2 sweet potatoes

2 tomatoes

olive oil

a few sprigs of fresh rosemary or thyme (*optional)

salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350F/180C

Peel your vegetables (I don’t peel the tomatoes), and slice them thinly into rounds, aiming for the same thickness with each.

Place the slices upright in a baking dish, alternating between the vegetables. Pack them in tightly. Drizzle with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with rosemary or thyme leaves, if using.

Bake for two and a half hours, until the tops are golden, and the potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork.