Baked baby-cauliflower parmigiana
Last week, at my local market, I came across these adorable mini-me cauliflowers. It was truly love at first sight. Without question, they came home with me.
Baby cauliflowers taste the same as their larger variety. They can also be cooked exactly the same way as large ones, but their diminutive size makes them perfect for adding to a dish whole.
I have eaten whole cauliflowers baked in sauce many times before, but, to be honest, I often find this dish rather bland. The cauliflower tends to sit outside of the sauce, without really soaking up much of the flavour around it. The texture tends to become mushy and overcooked. Not exactly cauliflower putting their best floret forward!
This recipe really goes a long way in changing my perception of baked whole cauliflower. The difference is in the breadcrumbs. Crumbing them adds a game-changing flavour-absorbing layer to the cauliflower. Shallow frying them before adding to the sauce kicks off the cooking process and adds a lovely crisp depth. Right here is my new favourite baked veggie dish! Hope you enjoy it as much as I do.
Baked Cauliflower Parmigiana
Mini cauliflowers can be hard to source. Check your local farmer’s market or grocer. If all else fails, use normal cauliflower, cut down into florets. This baked cauliflower dish is incredibly saucy, cheesy and oozy, so serve with a long baguette to soak up the incredible flavours.
- 12 baby cauliflowers (or 1 large cauliflower which has been cut into florets)
- extra virgin olive oil
- 1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
- 1/3 cup breadcrumbs
- 400g fresh mozzarella, torn into small chunks
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- extra virgin olive oil
- 800g / 28oz (2 tins) crushed tomatoes
- ½ cup water
- ½ cup chopped basil
- sea salt and black pepper
Preheat oven to 190˚C / 375 ˚F.
In a saucepan, add a good glug of olive oil and the garlic and cook on medium heat. Cook just for 10 seconds, and then pour in the crushed tomatoes. Stir and then add the water. Season well with sea salt and black pepper. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 15-20 minutes.
While the red sauce is cooking, prepare the cauliflowers. Place the mini cauliflowers or cauliflower florets in a large bowl and drizzle over some olive oil, making sure that they are all well coated. Massage the oil into all the crevices of the cauliflower. In another bowl, stir together the parmesan and breadcrumbs. Dip each piece of cauliflower into the parmesan-breadcrumb mix, and roll it around, making sure that each piece of cauliflower is well coated in the crumbs. You won’t use all the crumbs – reserve remaining crumbs for later.
Heat up a large frypan to medium-high heat and add a good drizzle of olive oil. Add the cauliflower to the frypan, a few at a time to avoid overcrowding the pan. Cook the cauliflower on each side for just 1 minute until it is slightly golden all around. Make sure not to overcook at this stage. You just want the crumbs to crisp up a little.
In a large baking dish, place a layer of the red sauce. Place the whole cauliflowers on top of the sauce (or layer the florets on top of the sauce) and then spoon over the rest of the red sauce. Place the mozzarella chunks on top and then sprinkle over the remaining parmesan-breadcrumb mix. Bake for 25-30 minutes until the mozzarella is completely melted and the whole dish is starting to turn golden. Serve with crusty bread.