My grandfather used to sit out on his back patio, his legs stretched on a wobbly plastic chair, and “survey the land” (as I used to call it). After a long day working in his rather large backyard garden, there seemed to be nothing better than to enjoy the cool air of dusk, and the purple sky, while watching the garden shadows grow long.
And gardens do take a lot of work. Well, at least managing it the Italian way. We seed, prune and pluck, water diligently, tie and support, all to get the best out of our plants. My grandfather, and now me, never seemed to be the type of person to just “throw some seeds” and see what came.
And the result of all that work: a lot of vegetables. The first few tomatoes and peppers seem to come slowly and with great excitement surrounding their arrival. Then suddenly, sometime in August, it’s like the plants explode and the kitchen table is covered in vegetables and I’m scrambling to figure out what to do with them all. Here is one recipe that comes in handy during the summer bounty: tiella.
A traditional Southern Italian dish, tiella is a sort of baked casserole which, in some regions also includes mussels or some sort of seafood. In my family’s version though, vegetables are the star of the show. How else to best showcase all that hard work? Whether you just finishing picking in your own garden, or had a really successful shopping trip to the farmer’s market, break out your casserole dish and warm up the oven to have the best of summer all in one forkful.
4-5 medium tomatoes or 1 small can of plum tomatoes
1 medium zucchini (or two small zucchini)
1 red or yellow onion
4 medium potatoes
8 ounces flat green or yellow beans
fresh parsley or basil
salt & pepper to taste
1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
2 tablespoons olive oil
Set aside a little time to prepare all your vegetables. Peel and slice the potatoes, trying to keep the slices thin and consistent. Using a mandolin to slice would be a good idea if you have one, if not, it’s time to practice your knife skills! In small pot of salted water, par-boil the potatoes, cooking them for 5-10 minutes before draining
Meanwhile, peel and slice the eggplant. Place it in a colander and sprinkle it liberally with salt. This will help to remove some of the water. Allow the eggplant to drain in the colander for at least 30 minutes, patting it dry at the end before adding it to the dish.
Peel the zucchini, though I like to leave a bit of skin on if they are tender and slice them. If they are too large and the seeds are large, consider scooping out the seeds. Slice into rounds. Trim and wash the beans. Peel and slice the onion. Remove the skin and seeds from tomatoes and crush them by hand. Finally, wash and roughly chop (or rip by hand) your herbs.
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
Now that all your vegetables are prepared, it’s time to get this summer mix all settled together. Mix all vegetables together and salt and pepper it liberally. Add in 1/2 cup of shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano. Mix in the crushed tomatoes.
Coat the bottom and sides of your baking dish with the olive oil. Your baking dish should be at least 2- 2 1/2 inches deep. Layer in the vegetables, sprinkling with fresh herbs (parsley or basil) throughout. You may find water at the bottom of your bowl of vegetables, be sure to avoid adding it to your baking dish, you don’t want to make soup!
Top your layered dish with the remaining cheese and cover it with foil. Bake for 45 minutes covered, then remove the foil and bake for an additional 45 minutes uncovered until the water at the bottom is absorbed and the top is just crisped up.
To speed up the cooking slightly, and to ensure all your ingredients get cooked through, an alternative way of preparing this dish is to partially roast the vegetables spread out on a sheet pan for 30 minutes before assembling the dish and adding the tomatoes and cheese and baking it all together.