RECIPE: A Cauliflower Parmesan worthy of its cheese

Cheesy Cauliflower Parmesan is a plant-forward sheet-pan adaptation of an Italian American classic.
(Virginia Willis for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Virginia Willis

Credit: Virginia Willis

Cheesy Cauliflower Parmesan is a plant-forward sheet-pan adaptation of an Italian American classic. (Virginia Willis for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

When a dish is dubbed “Parmesan,” it means it’s cooked with a generous helping of the full-flavored, aged cow’s milk cheese known as Parmesan. With origins in the Middle Ages, Italy’s Parmigiano-Reggiano is the original Parmesan, although similar versions are made in the U.S. and other countries.

Most often a Parmesan or Parmigiana dish is comprised of a pounded meat cutlet, such as chicken or veal, or a slab of eggplant. The pieces are coated in seasoned flour or breadcrumbs augmented with grated Parmesan, then fried in oil. To complete the dish, the fried slices are smothered in a rich tomato sauce, topped with gooey, melted mozzarella cheese, and then crowned with more Parmesan. It’s an indulgent, savory and satisfying umami flavor bomb.

The trouble is that this Italian American classic takes a lot of time and effort. Is it possible to achieve the same flavor profile with less work? Yes!

In this plant-forward sheet-pan adaptation, cauliflower steaks are brushed with oil and roasted until tender. Store-bought marinara takes the place of homemade sauce, and a judicious amount of mozzarella is used to enhance, not hide, the cauliflower. Crunchy panko combined with freshly grated Parmesan makes a delicious crispy topping worthy of the dish’s namesake.

Authentic Parmigiano-Reggiano has been aged a minimum of 12 months and has protected designated origin (PDO) status. Look for the eponymous tattoo on the the rind. It has unbeatable flavor, especially pertinent when a recipe like this one is comprised of few ingredients.

Cauliflower Parmesan

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