Between the Tuesday I entered the hospital for labor and delivery and the Friday my newborn and I were discharged, the last hints of summery weather had fled Denver. Autumn drenched the trees in our neighborhood in gold and red, the wind had turned cold and sharp, and the promise of snow tinged the afternoon light that slanted across our front yard. Those first few days home Cameron and I were busy adjusting to our new family member and helping her adjust to the unexpectedly bright world into which she’d been thrust, but even in my sleep-deprived delirium, I was craving homemade comfort food from our kitchen.
Today’s recipe, Cauliflower Parmesan, had been on my “to-make” list prior to the hospital stay (one of the planned freezer meals to get us through the first month of post-delivery life), so most of the recipe ingredients were already on hand. When I stepped out of the depths of postpartum recovery last week, I stepped into our kitchen and set to cooking.
A vegetarian version of Chicken Parmesan, the cauliflower florets in this recipe are battered and panfried until crispy and golden and then layered into a casserole dish with salty Parmesan, rich and buttery mozzarella, and plenty of homemade tomato sauce. If you’re short on time, you can substitute a jar sauce for the homemade version’s recipe offered at the end of the post. Either way the end product delivers on its comfort food promise: flavorful, rich, and ample enough to provide leftovers.
(a NY Times Cooking recipe)
– 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
– 4 large eggs, lightly beaten
– 3 cups panko or plain unseasoned bread crumbs (I used panko.)
– Kosher salt, as needed
– Black pepper, as needed
– 1 medium head cauliflower, trimmed and cut into 2-inch florets
– Olive oil, for frying
– 5 cups Simple Tomato Sauce (recipe follows)
– 1 cup finely grated Parmesan, preferably Parmigiano-Reggiano
– 1/2 pound fresh mozzarella, torn into bite-size pieces
1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees F. Place flour, eggs, and panko into three wide, shallow bowls. Season each generously with salt and pepper. Dip a cauliflower piece first in flour, then eggs, then coat with panko. Repeat with remaining cauliflower.
2. Fill a large skillet with 1/2-inch 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 plate to drain.
3. Spoon a thin layer of sauce over the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Sprinkle one-third of the Parmesan over sauce. Scatter half cauliflower mixture 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.
4. Transfer pan to oven, and bake until cheese is golden and casserole is bubbling, about 40 minutes. Let cool a few minutes before serving.
Simple Tomato Sauce
(a NY Times Cooking recipe)
Makes about 5 cups
– 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
– 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
– 1/4 tsp red chile flakes (optional)
– 2 (28-ounce) cans whole or diced plum tomatoes
– 2 sprigs basil or 1 bay leaf (I used a bay leaf.)
– 1/2 tsp kosher salt, or to taste
– 1/4 tsp black pepper
1. In a large pot over medium heat, warm the oil. Add garlic, and cook until just lightly golden. Add chile flakes if desired, and cook 30 seconds.
2. Stir in tomatoes and juices, basil or bay leaf, and salt and pepper.
3. Bring sauce to a simmer, and cook until sauce is thick and tomatoes have mostly fallen apart, about 30 to 40 minutes. Adjust heat as needed to keep at a steady simmer. If using whole plum tomatoes, mash them up with the back of a wooden spoon or a potato masher to help them break down. Remove sauce from heat, and discard basil or bay leaf.