Damn you Melissa Clark and your beguiling ways in the kitchen! I mean, come on! How do you expect us to watch you making this cauliflower parmesan, with such ease and with your trademark witty humor and not expect us to rush out and buy the necessary ingredients to make it at home? Such seducing tactics in front of a camera and in a kitchen should be illegal. Seriously, though. I never thought that such a thing could even exist. I’ve had eggplant parmesan and chicken parmesan and I like both of them but they often tend to be too greasy and too heavy. One of those meals that you think you definitely want to eat but that you regret the moment you finish the last bite. But cauliflower? It’s perfect. It doesn’t absorb much oil, unlike eggplant that sucks up every last drop when you fry it, and it’s not chicken, that could end up rubbery or tough. Cauliflower retains its own crispy snap but it’s enveloped in crunchy breadcrumbs that provide that brilliant counterpoint to the cheese and tomato sauce that makes a parmesan dish so irresistible. And you, Melissa Clark? You’ve won. I’m already drooling over those lemon bars with olive oil and sea salt that you have once again bewitched me with.Cauliflower Parmesan – Adapted from the New York Times
Note: If you don’t have time or the inclination to make your own tomato sauce, use your favorite brand. Avoid anything that has too many strong flavors, like olives or artichokes. Just a simple marinara sauce, with tomatoes and basil is perfect. You will need the equivalent of 5 cups, so about 40 oz.
2 28oz cans of crushed or diced tomatoes
¼ cup olive oil
6 cloves of garlic, peeled and lightly smashed with side of knife
1 onion, peeled and cut in half
2 large sprigs of basil
2-3 large sprigs of fresh oregano (optional)
4 tablespoons butter
½ cup all-purpose flour
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
3 cups panko or plain unseasoned bread crumbs
Kosher salt, as needed
Black pepper, as needed
1 medium head cauliflower, trimmed and cut into 2-inch florets
Olive oil, for frying
1 cup fresh, finely grated Parmesan, preferably Parmigiano-Reggiano
½ pound fresh mozzarella, torn into bite-size pieces
First make the sauce. In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and stir occasionally until garlic is golden brown. Add the rest of the sauce ingredients, bring to a brisk simmer and cook for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Discard onion, garlic and herb sprigs. Taste the sauce and season it with salt to your liking. Make ahead: Sauce can be prepared up to three days ahead and kept in the fridge, covered.
Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Place flour, eggs and panko into three wide, shallow bowls. Season each generously with salt and pepper. Be really generous with the salt and pepper. Only a tiny bit will end up on the cauliflower. Dip a cauliflower piece first in flour, then eggs, then coat with panko. Repeat with remaining cauliflower. Place each piece of breaded cauliflower on a large baking sheet.
Fill a large skillet with about 1/2-inch olive oil. Place over medium-high heat. When oil is hot, fry cauliflower in batches, turning halfway through, until golden brown. Transfer fried cauliflower pieces to a paper towel-lined baking sheet. Spoon a thin layer of sauce over the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Sprinkle one-third of the grated Parmesan over sauce. Scatter half of the cauliflower over the Parmesan and top with half the mozzarella pieces. Top with half the remaining sauce, sprinkle with another third of the Parmesan and repeat layering, ending with a final layer of sauce and Parmesan.
Transfer pan to oven and bake uncovered until cheese is has melted and casserole is bubbling, about 40 minutes. Let cool a few minutes before serving.