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Cauliflower parmesan reinvents classic comfort food

It’s one of my family’s favorite comfort foods. And if there was ever a summer calling for comfort in Southern Oregon, this is it.

Eggplant parmesan, in all its breaded, fried, sauced glory was detailed in my latest food section column. The recipe does take some time and effort, but I believe the classic Italian restaurant results are worth it.

I did acknowledge, though, that not everyone is an eggplant fan. The mushy texture inside rubbery skin simply can’t be ameliorated by any amount of marinara and cheese in some diners’ opinions.

The concept, however, isn’t completely without merit for those palates. The appeal of chicken parmesan is proof. For vegetarians and anyone trying to incorporate more vegetables, this cauliflower parmesan could be a new favorite.

My older son, who loves his eggplant parmesan, may be skeptical. Yet I have a handful of friends and family members in the anti-eggplant camp who would happily choose this recipe, courtesy of Tribune News Service.

Cauliflower Parmesan

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for frying

3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

1 (28-ounce) can whole plum tomatoes

Large pinch of red pepper flakes

Kosher salt, as needed

2 sprigs basil, plus more for garnish

1 medium head cauliflower

1 cup all-purpose flour

3 large eggs, beaten

2 cups panko breadcrumbs

8 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into thin slices

1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

Heat the 1/4 cup olive oil in a large saucepan. Add the garlic and cook until golden, stirring occasionally, for about 4 minutes. Add tomatoes with their juices, plus 1/2 cup water. Season with a pinch or 2 of salt and the red pepper flakes, then stir to combine. Add the 2 basil sprigs and simmer sauce until thickened, for about 15 to 20 minutes.

While sauce is simmering, make the cauliflower. Preheat oven 375 F. Line a plate or tray with paper towels.

Pull off leaves from base of cauliflower and cut off stem, leaving core intact. Slice cauliflower into 1-inch- thick slices. Don’t worry if some of it breaks into smaller florets.

In a shallow bowl or pie plate, mix the flour with a couple pinches of salt. Place the beaten eggs in another shallow bowl and the panko in a third shallow bowl.

Add about 1/4 inch olive oil to a large skillet and heat over medium-high heat until shimmering.

Add cauliflower to bowl with flour and turn to coat. (You may have to use your fingers.)

Shake off excess, then dip in egg to coat. Let excess egg drip off, then coat slices in panko. Fry cauliflower until golden brown on both sides, for 6 to 8 minutes total. (You may need to do batches; try breading and frying broken florets.) Transfer to paper towel-lined plate to drain and sprinkle with salt.

Spread 1 cup red sauce on bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Arrange fried cauliflower on top, then spoon 1 cup sauce on top of cauliflower.

Place the mozzarella slices on top of sauce, then spoon more marinara over top. Sprinkle with the parmesan cheese and bake until bubbling and lightly browned in spots, for about 35 minutes. Chop some more fresh basil and sprinkle on top of parmesan; serve.

Makes 6 servings.

Tribune News Service photo