Editors' Picks

Julia Child's Zucchini Tian

August 15, 2012

Every week -- often with your help --  FOOD52's Senior Editor Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that are nothing short of genius.

Today: On her 100th birthday, Julia Child shows us how to cut zucchini down to size.

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If you want to get me to pay attention to an email, start it off with "the promiscuous zucchini". (And it is promiscuous. For more on zucchini's antics, put down -- or throw away -- Fifty Shades of Grey and read last week's Down & Dirty.)


So mainecook61 writes to me, "Hmm, the promiscuous zucchini is underserved in the genius department. August is as bad as July; they just keep on coming."

And then, where others might simply complain, mainecook61 proposes a solution that might end our promiscuous zucchini problems.

When you start to resent the zucchini, you could hide it in quick breads or -- my mother's trick -- split, hollow and fill the cavities of the bigger specimens with taco-like stuffings of rice and ground meat to distract and confuse the children. (It works.)

julia child

Or you could do as the great Julia Child (whose 100th birthday is today!) did, and cut them down to size. Two-plus pounds of zucchini doesn't look so demanding once you shred, salt, and squeeze it dry. It sheds its water weight, leaving a tamed pile and a lot of green, lightly salted liquid.

shredding zucchini

shredded zucchini  squeezing zucchini

From here, Child offers no fewer than 6 different preparations. You could simply warm the shreds through with onions and garlic, as pictured below, or simmer in cream. (In Amanda's latest summer pasta, she doesn't cook it at all.)

sauteed zucchini

Any way you choose, the pre-salting and squeezing step is essential to keep your dish from flooding in the cooking, which could leave it soggy and dim.

This is particularly important in Child's most cleverly constructed zucchini shred iteration, in which she paves them into a tian, or gratin.

It's one of those thoughtful, self-perpetuating recipes that could make a very elegant flow chart. The zucchini juice that you've squeezed out forms the base to a light bechamel, topped off with a little milk.

You add enough par-cooked rice to soak up whatever juices remain and thicken the sauce, without asserting itself as empty filler. Then you sprinkle in a bit of sharp parmesan, and bake it till it's freckled and golden.

What all this means is that while this tian gives airs of a rich dish, it has no cream or butter and its luxurious base is largely vegetable water. And it's not because Child was afraid of butter -- it's just good that way.

As mainecook61 points out, the tian is also substantial enough for a main dish (or a generous side) and, best of all, can be made ahead.

Zucchini, you little minx. You've never looked so classy, and yet so sensible.

Julia Child's Zucchini Tian

From Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume Two

Serves 6

2 to 2 1/2 pounds zucchini
1/2 cup plain, raw, untreated white rice
1 cup minced onions
3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil
2 large cloves garlic, mashed or finely minced
tablespoons flour
About 2 1/2 cups hot liquid: zucchini juices plus milk, heated in a pan
About 2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese (save 2
tablespoons for later)
Salt and pepper
A heavily buttered 6- to 8-cup flameproof baking and serving dish, about 1 1/2 inches deep
tablespoons olive oil

See the full recipe (and save and print it here).

Got a genius recipe to share -- from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected].

Photos by Karen Mordechai


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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

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I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."


Susan L. February 24, 2016
Just made this for lunch. The renovation workers at my home in France loved it!
My zucchinis had only a tablespoon of water after draining for 2 hours so I just added them to the pan without squeezing. I also skipped the par cooking of the rice as my rice cooks very quickly and uses less water than some. I just added it to the pan and let it cook with the zucc. I also added herbs de provence and used pecorino instead of parm. The sauce thickened up well and was absorbed by the rice creating a light béchamel. I used the same pan in the oven as on the stove with a lid while the rice cooked which I removed after 25 minutes for browning. I was surprised how lovely it tasted! Very complex flavour, light and creamy without too much fat. Will make this again and again.
Galapagos August 10, 2015
Yes, yellow squash would work just fine.
Danita D. August 10, 2015
Would yellow squash work vs green zucchini? I have an abundance I need to use.
Lori L. August 26, 2012
Made this last night! It was absolutely fantastic. I'm only sorry that until now, I've always discarded the liquid from the zucchini. What a fabulous treasure it is. Thanks for bringing it to our attention.
cook_girl August 16, 2012
My future husband and I lived in Brooklyn but were married on the beach in Amagansett. It was a small wedding party, only ten. I made this dish which we carried in our decrepit Chevy to serve with the spring lamb we B-B-Qed for dinner. That was 24-years ago and I still make this dish at least every other year in April. Thank-you Julia.
MsMora August 16, 2012
This was absolutely perfect for dinner last night and was paired with a simple roast chicken and a chilled bottle of Robert Sinskey's 2011 Vin Gris. A real hit at the table. Couldn't think of a better tribute to Julia to celebrate her 100th birthday. The most important lesson I learned from watching her shows in the late 1960s was to simply be fearless. And it worked! I charged into the kitchen as an avid cook in my teens, making dinner frequently for the family and I've never stopped. Thanks to her tutoring, and my Belgian mother's, I was never intimidated by a recipe, no matter how complex. I am forever indebted to Julia. Happy Birthday, Julia!!!
mariel09 August 16, 2012
What a fabulous recipe! I'm making a Julia Child birthday dinner tonight and already have all the recipes planned, otherwise I would be making this!
magdance August 16, 2012
I've made this ever since JC taught me to grate, salt and squeeze zucchini. This summer I made it for a 13-peeps family vacation supper, and everyone loved it, thinking it was something new. Ha!
Fairmount_market August 15, 2012
Thanks for sharing such a great Julia recipe on such an important date in culinary history.
Francesca M. August 15, 2012
I made the zucchini tian tonight and it was wonderful. I replaced the onion with scallions, but other than that stuck to the original.
The rice was a bit too soft for my taste (I am Italian and can't get away from the whole "al dente" thing) and I wonder if I could skip the parboiling step next time. What might be the downside of doing that?

Thanks for posting this recipe.
LeBec F. August 15, 2012
I always want to introduce the interesting more complex flavoring and textures of whole grains when a recipe invites that treatment. So here's how i changed this recipe tonight.
I used 2 lb of zucchini (which yielded 1 cup of zucchini juice, to which i added 1/2 c. milk. This replaced the original 2 1/2 cups liquid.) I used 2 T of spelt flour (milder flavor than wh wheat)instead of white, and i used 1 1/2 cup cooked short grain brown rice instead of the white rice. I added a bit of grated nutmeg to the milk sauce and, in the end, i folded in 1/8 cup raw sunflower seeds, for texture.
It turned ot beautifully.
melodylynn August 22, 2012
This sounds like just my kind of adaptation! Just to be clear though, you only used 1 1/2 cups of liquid instead of 2 1/2 cups? Probably because you used already cooked rice instead of raw?
Thanks much!
mcs3000 August 15, 2012
Sounds so awesome!
Galapagos August 15, 2012
Ah, Julia, my hero! I stopped at the farmers market on my way home and bought 4 zucchinis. Made this in Julia's honor and toasted her birthday. Great taste of summer in the tian. The state of the kitchen post preparation, every inch of my tiny kitchen counter bearing a dirty dish or pan, reminded me of when I cooked straight out of "Mastering" night after night, right out of college. No dishwashuer in those days, though. Julia on TV inspired me or cook!
AmandaClaire August 15, 2012
My neighbor's dog dug up all my zucchini plants over the weekend. Oh the irony...
TheWimpyVegetarian August 15, 2012
What a wonderful recipe - especially since it's 'enriched' with rice rather than butter/cream. Do you think farro could work here too?
Kristen M. August 16, 2012
Farro sounds amazing for this -- I haven't tried it, so I'm not sure how long you'd parcook it. If you try it, please report back!
TheWimpyVegetarian August 16, 2012
Will do! I'm thinking of serving this for a casual dinner party Saturday night. I'll let you know!
AntoniaJames August 15, 2012
I don't have a garden or a CSA box, but I buy and we eat a ton of zucchini throughout the summer. (Usually I grill or use one of the stove-top recipes from FOOD52.) I can hardly wait to make this. In fact, it's on the menu for tomorrow evening! ;o)
Kenzi W. August 15, 2012
With your surplus, make this. Or, give your zucchini pile to me. (I still haven't gotten in the good graces of those with gardens here in the city.)
chefrockyrd August 15, 2012
Thank you- this arrived just when I needed another way to cook all of the zucchini that is arriving in my Maine garden.
gourmettenyc August 15, 2012
Kristen, as always, I love reading Genius. This looks like the perfect recipe for all of those zucchini I'm still getting from my CSA. I look forward to trying it!