Recipes for French-inspired summer entertaining

A vegetable tian cooks in a pan.
A layered vegetable tian, simple salad and baked dish of plums recall lazy days in France for summer entertaining.
(Katrina Frederick / For The Times)

For my latest cooking column this week, I wrote about my trip to the Bordeaux countryside last summer, during the biggest heat wave of the year. For dinner on the hottest night, my friends and I decided to make a simple tian with vegetables from the market. We gathered in the kitchen, chatted about life and sipped sweating glasses of chilled rosé while I layered vegetables in a pan over a low flame on the stove. We embraced the heat like a sauna until the dish finished cooking, then swung open the doors and let the relatively cooler night breeze blow in while we tucked into the tender vegetables surrounded by crunchy breadcrumbs on top and crispy potatoes on the bottom. It was one of those experiences that sticks in our minds forever because it was so magical — or we were simply delirious from the heat.

I recreated that tian stateside this year, but added in some fresh-grated corn and minced serrano chile to give the French classic an American SoCal twist. It’s a fully vegetarian dish that could serve as an entertaining dinner on its own, but if you wanted to round it out with a few more French-ish dishes, here’s the way to go.

I love rustic and hearty food for a dinner party — something you can really roll up your sleeves with and tuck into with a spoon — so serving this Provençal Fish Chowder with the tian would suit that need. Onions, leeks and fennel seeds form the foundation for a brothy stew teeming with mussels, cod, potatoes and zucchini that’s then enlivened with orange peel and saffron. It eats super-light but is substantial enough for those guests who insist on having protein with their meal.

On the side, a simple French Salad — that is, a big bowl of mixed baby greens dressed in a Dijon mustard vinaigrette — is key. Do as the French do, and as our French host last year insisted, and have it after the tian and chowder to help you better digest the meal.

And for dessert, plums are ripe and abundant at the market right now, so buy as many ruby-hued ones as you can find and use some to make a Plum Clafoutis. Spiked with brandy and lots of vanilla bean seeds, the custard is rich but light, a perfect complement to the heady and aromatic plums. The dish can be served warm, but like the tian, it’s at its best at room temperature when it’s had hours to cool off after a hot time in the kitchen.


Provençal Fish Chowder

Anchovies and tomatoes form the foundation of this Provençal-like fish soup. Lots of garlic, a good pinch of saffron, the perfume of orange zest and fennel give the hearty chowder a fragrant punch perfect for summer.
Get the recipe.
Cook time: 2 hours 20 minutes.

Red-hued fish chowder served in a white bowl.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

Lazy Summer Tian

Think of this as the French classic but with cooked onions, spicy chiles and sweet corn for a bright, late-summer twist. The vegetables are soft and melded together in the center while the butter-crisped potatoes on the bottom and the breadcrumbs on top add plenty of crunch to make the dish a hearty and satisfying dinner.
Get the recipe.
Cook time: 1 hour 30 minutes, plus 1 to 2 hours cooling.

A spoon dives into a summer tian at the L.A. Times test kitchen.
(Katrina Frederick / For The Times)

Enjoying this newsletter?

Consider becoming a Times subscriber.

French Salad

Mustard and champagne vinegar form the base of a simple vinaigrette for this salad, though you can use plain white wine vinegar if you like. Milder breakfast radishes add crunch to the tender green leaves, but feel free to add cucumbers or halved cherry tomatoes to the mix too.
Get the recipe.
Cook time: 15 minutes.

Noa Perry Lang mixes a French Salad in a white bowl.
(Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

Plum Clafoutis

Clafoutis is traditionally made with cherries and associated with cherry season. Here, though, ripe halved plums are surrounded by the rich custard made with yogurt and eggs and flavored with lots of vanilla bean.
Get the recipe.
Cook time: 1 hour 30 minutes.

A plum clafoutis in a white dish is surrounded by plums and purple flowers.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Have a cooking question?

Email us.

More from our Food Team

— If you’re craving chilaquiles, which at their most basic are fried tortilla chips briefly cooked in salsa, here are two fun variations — in Vallarta and Oaxaca style — from writer Paola Briseño-González.

Chef DeVonn Francis recently popped up in Los Angeles cooking his Caribbean American dishes. Deputy Food Editor Betty Hallock collected his recipes for Charred Cabbage Salad with Coconut Vinaigrette and Crispy Jasmine Rice with Scallion-Sesame ‘Cereal.’

— Looking for more ways to beat the heat? Test kitchen coordinator Julie Giuffrida has a list of no-cook recipes for you.