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Crunchy cauliflower steaks alla parmigiana

Time 1 hour
Yields Serves 4 to 6
Crunchy cauliflower steaks alla parmigiana
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)
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The idea of using bread crumbs as a vehicle for extreme flavor atop a big slice of cauliflower came to me from Joshua McFadden’s cookbook “Six Seasons: A New Way With Vegetables,” which includes a recipe for cauliflower steak topped with a piquant mixture of bread crumbs, pickled peppers and cheese. I made it McFadden’s way first, then embraced the Italian aspect of the dish and added capers, olives, anchovies and Parmesan. The dish becomes a crunchy cloud of flavor sitting atop the tender slabs of roasted cauliflower, which have been garnished with tomato sauce — and more Parmesan — halfway through cooking.

Homemade bread crumbs are the exact opposite of the kind you find in the supermarket. They are coarse instead of fine. They have flavor, but not too much. Toasted with garlic and olive oil, they can lend a textural and flavorful crunch to a variety of foods. As for what kind of bread to use, it doesn’t really matter — although as with most things, the better the bread, the better the outcome.

Garlicky bread crumbs

1

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Tear up the bread slices and put in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse the bread until it is reduced to coarse crumbs.

2

In a bowl, combine the bread crumbs with the garlic, olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Mix well to get the olive oil over as much of the crumbs as you can.

3

Spread the seasoned bread crumbs on the prepared sheet and bake until they are golden brown, 10 to 20 minutes. Halfway through baking, stir the crumbs around so they bake more evenly. Be careful not to let them burn. Set aside.

Crunchy cauliflower steaks

1

Heat the oven to 450 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet large enough to hold the cauliflower slices with parchment, and drizzle the parchment with olive oil (this will help to color the bottom of the slices).

2

Trim the stem end of the cauliflower without cutting out all the core. You need the core to keep the florets together. Cut the head into steaks as thick or thin as you choose. Don’t worry if some florets fall apart; you’ll just add them to the baking sheet.

3

Lay the steaks out onto the prepared sheet pan and add the broken florets to the empty spaces of the pan. Drizzle more olive oil over the cauliflower. Sprinkle over salt to taste, along with a bit of chile flakes.

4

Bake the cauliflower steaks on the lowest rack of your oven until they just begin to become tender, 10 to 15 minutes, depending on thickness.

5

Carefully flip the slices over and bake until tender and golden brown (a knife should pierce easily), 10 to 15 minutes more.

6

Top the slices with the tomato sauce and about half of the Parmigiano. Return to the oven and continue to bake until the sauce is warmed and the cheese is melted, about 5 minutes.

7

While the cauliflower is baking, toss the bread crumbs with the olives, capers and anchovy, if using, along with the remaining cheese and parsley. Top the cauliflower steaks generously with the bread crumb mixture, then push the larger individual florets together, and top them with bread crumbs too. Return to the oven and bake until the bread crumbs are warmed, 2 to 3 minutes.

8

Remove from the oven and serve immediately.

Kleiman ran Angeli Caffe for 27 years. She’s the longtime host of KCRW-FM’s “Good Food” and a member of the James Beard Foundation’s Who’s Who of Food & Beverage in America.