No complicated three-step breading process. No messy, splatter-y stovetop deep-frying. Cauliflower Parmesan is melty mozzarella cheese with those burnt bubbles, toasty panko breadcrumbs that stay crisp, and cauliflower instead of chicken.
Why Make This Version of Cauliflower Parmesan
There are more than 60 million versions of Cauliflower Parmesan out there (no, really, just google "cauliflower parmesan!"), and though I can't say I've tried them all, I can say that I do love this version because it just seems to work best with the rhythm of my kitchen and life style:
- Cauliflower "cutlets" vs. florets. Making just a few cuts through the cauliflower to make large cutlets is not only faster and easier than separating individual florets, but it also provides more flat surface area to develop "char" when roasting.
- No deep- or medium, or shallow- for that matter frying. Enough said. I am not afraid of oil. In fact, I probably "drizzle" as much olive oil over the cauliflower as I would use for frying! I just don't like cleaning up the splattery mess after frying. And deep-frying? I don't even want to talk about the guilt of what I'm supposed to do with the oil afterwards.
- No multi-step messy breading process. I hate, and I mean H-A-T-E using my hands for the usual flour-egg-breadcrumb process. Three less shallow bowls to wash, too!
- Breadcrumbs only on top means they stay crisp! And no breadcrumbs get wasted into a soggy soppy mess in a the tomato sauce.
Ingredients Notes and Resources for Cauliflower Parmesan
- Cauliflower: Buy the biggest, heaviest cauliflower you can, preferably with no brown spots.
- Olive Oil. I used this olive oil that's pretty widely available, though it is not organic.
- Kosher Salt. I use this brand Kosher salt in the dark red box
- Tomatoes: I used a box of this brand of Italian tomatoes because that's what I had in the pantry. There is also no shame in using a prepared tomato sauce to make this dish even faster/easier. I would still add garlic, dried herbs, and salt to a prepared tomato sauce because I just would. I am currently loving this all-purpose prepared marinara sauce in a jar.
- Panko Breadcrumbs: Panko is a Japanese-style of breadcrumb that is composed of crumbs that are larger and airier than regular fine breadcrumbs, and has more of a "crisp" rather than a "crunch" texture if you know what I mean. This is the panko brand that is in my pantry.
- Mozzarella Cheese: I used a large oval mozzarella cheese, which I cut into thin, round slices. You can use the softer "fresh" mozzarella in liquid brine, but I wouldn't use burrata, which is too runny, and also I hate the current "trendy" obsession with burrata.
- Plant-based. You can make this dish plant-based if you use plant-based parmesan cheese and mozzarella cheeses. However, I have tried this recipe with plant-based shredded "cheese," and to be honest, while the dish is not bad, the brand I used did not melt nor did it produce the dark, toasted bubbles under the broiler.
- All other fresh herbs and produce from either the Santa Monica Farmers' Market on Wednesday, or Whole Foods Market when I can't find what I need at the farmers' market.
- Advance Cooking. You can make the tomato sauce in advance. However, the recipe comes together so quickly, there's no need to do anything too far in advance
Tools and Equipment for Cauliflower Parmesan
- best large size cutting board to prep the cauliflower
- favorite all-purpose 7-inch chef's knife (expensive but worth it!)
- cast iron oval baker/casserole dish I use for everything
- favorite multi-purpose small condiment bowls
- this produce/vege wash to clean produce
Wine Pairing for Cauliflower Parmesan
Whatever wine you would drink with a Chicken Parmesan is going to work with Cauliflower Parmesan.
My favorite Italian red grape, Sangiovese, makes the familiar Chianti and Rosso di Montalcino, both of which are great with bright, tomato-based dishes like this. I love this Rosso di Montalcino, though it's a little hard to find in stores.
Cauliflower Parmesan Recipe
- 1 large head cauliflower
- ½ cup olive oil
- kosher salt to taste
- 1 medium onion finely chopped
- 4-5 garlic cloves finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon dried basil
- ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper
- 1 26- to 28- ounce can of tomatoes
- 1 cup panko breadcrumbs
- ½ cup grated parmesan cheese
- 8 ounces mozzarella cheese
- chopped fresh basil and parsley for garnish
- Heat oven to 400°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Trim and slice cauliflower into ¾-inch wide “steaks.” It’s ok if some florets come loose. Carefully place the cauliflower steaks on lined baking sheet. Drizzle with 4 tablespoons of olive oil and rub all sides of cauliflower. Generously season with salt; cauliflower requires heavy seasoning every step of the way. Roast cauliflower for about 30 minutes, flipping them over halfway through the roasting time, until both sides are deep golden brown.
- Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a pan over medium heat. If you use a pan that can also cook tomato sauce, you'll have one less pan to wash. Add breadcrumbs. Shake pan or stir until breadcrumbs are deep golden brown. Remove breadcrumbs from pan to a bowl right away. Residual heat from the pan can take the breadcrumbs from perfect to burnt pretty quickly, not that burnt is bad. That’s how I like my toast anyway.
Make Tomato Sauce
- While cauliflower is roasting, make tomato sauce. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. (You can wipe out the pan you used for the breadcrumbs if the pan is large enough.) Add onions and garlic and cook until onions are translucent. Add finely chopped or crushed tomatoes, basil, and red pepper. Bring the tomato sauce to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer. Season with about ½ teaspoon salt, taste, and add more if needed. You can let the tomato sauce simmer until the cauliflower finishes roasting, or turn off the heat.
Assemble Cauliflower Parmesan
- Spread about 2 cups of tomato sauce in a baking dish. Place roasted cauliflower steaks on top. Cover the cauliflower with all the breadcrumbs, then grated parmesan cheese, then mozzarella cheese.
- Set the baking dish under the broiler in the oven until mozzarella melts and starts to bubble and brown.
- Garnish with chopped fresh basil and parsley. Serve with extra tomato sauce on the side.