The legendary British food writer Elizabeth David’s Tian of Zucchini. Photo by Patricia Haag

“When I’m craving the comforts of quiche but don’t have the time or energy to make a crust from scratch, no, I don’t pull a crust from the freezer — I don’t like what happens to my homemade crusts when I freeze them, and I have never bought a frozen pie crust in my life —instead, I make one of two dishes that provide a similar comfort, without all the milk and cheese, especially on overcast, chilly, rainy or just plain gloomy days. That said, an out-of-state guest once chose eating Elizabeth David’s Tian of Zucchini on a sunny summer day at our home over going out to Five Island Lobster for seafood! (The other is a recipe for Potato and Mushroom al Forno that I got from the Press Herald).

“Just as in quiche, eggs bind a mix of other ingredients you happen to have on hand, but the tian recipe is less flexible with the other base ingredients than is quiche. Potatoes are essential here, their starchiness making up for the buttery crust and cheese of quiche. Serving the tian with warm crusty bread with butter helps, too.

“I made our first tian of this year on a rainy night in early July to celebrate other, brighter firsts of this summer: The first new potatoes and zucchini from Six River Farm in Bowdoinham and the first of our Clio (an Italian dandelion green) that was large enough to use for “any . . . fresh greenery you may have.” David’s recipe says that “this could include watercress and lettuce as well as spinach or sorrel,” but I prefer using the Clio from our garden because it remains bright green when baked in the tian and retains a bit of crispness. Its flavor is like its texture: Bright green and crisp, with a bit of a bite that contrasts nicely with the soft, mild potatoes and zucchini. Similarly, I have added other herbs along with the fresh parsley called for, usually chervil, sometimes basil.

“The Tian of Zucchini is major comfort food for me. It’s comforting and indulgent, but that emotional payoff is achieved with simple, healthy, local ingredients and minimal effort (without pie crust!). I like that I am able to use what I have on hand, and I like that our own garden and local farmers help me make this a truly locally sourced dish. For me, food must be healthy and local in order to be comforting.

“I’ve been cooking for comfort so much lately because life has been unusually stressful, not only with the difficulties of the pandemic that everyone is experiencing in varying degrees, but also with additional, unexpected events in my life one after the other. In the middle of March, I went to Houston to be with my brother during his nearly ten-hour emergency open-heart surgery, then I lost a good friend who I hadn’t even known was sick, and more recently, I’ve been trying to help my mom in Ohio cope with having fractured her hip in a fall.

“Another benefit the tian has over quiche is that the leftovers make excellent filling for sandwiches. We like ours with a bit of mayonnaise, fresh tomato slices when the season allows, and crispy cold leaves of lettuce or spinach.” — PAT HAAG,  PHIPPSBURG

Tian of Zucchini

From “Elizabeth David on Vegetables,” compiled by Jill Norman, Viking Studio, 2013. For these quantities, you need a dish of 8 inches diameter and 2 inches deep. 

Serves 4-6

8-12 ounces potatoes, boiled in their skins

Approximately 4 tablespoons of olive oil

A small clove of garlic

Seasonings of salt, nutmeg and freshly milled black pepper

8 ounces of zucchini

5-6 eggs

2 heaping tablespoons each of parsley and grated cheese

A few spinach or sorrel leaves if you happen to have them

First, peel the cooked potatoes. Cut them into cubes, put them into the earthenware dish with 2 tablespoons of the oil, the chopped garlic and seasoning of salt and pepper. Let them warm in the uncovered dish in a low oven, 300 degrees F, while you prepare and cook the zucchini. The best way to do this is simply to wash them, trim off the ends and leave them unpeeled except for any blemished parts. Instead of slicing them, grate them coarsely on a stainless steel grater. Put them straight into a saute pan or wide skillet with a couple tablespoons of olive oil (or butter if you prefer), sprinkle them with salt and cook them gently for 5 minutes, with a cover on the pan.

Now break the eggs into a large bowl. Beat them until frothy. Add the chopped parsley and any other fresh greenery you may have – this could include watercress and lettuce as well as spinach or sorrel, uncooked, and simply cut up with scissors – the cheese, salt, pepper, nutmeg, then the warm zucchini. Last of all, but gently to avoid breaking them, stir in the potatoes. Tip the whole mixture into the dish, sprinkle the top with a little oil, and return it, uncovered, to the oven, now heated to 375 degrees F.

Leave the tian to bake for 30 to 35 minutes until it is well and evenly risen. The top should be a fine and appetizing golden brown. For serving hot, leave it in the dish and simply cut it into wedges, like a cake. If you intend to serve it cold, let it cool before turning it out onto a serving plate. If it is for a picnic, leave it in the cooking dish, put a plate on top, and envelop it into a cloth knotted at the top.

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