Cauliflower is a great vegetable. It's also greatly underutilized. Maybe cauliflower's size and whiteness are intimidating, but its hugeness actually contributes to the success of my recipe for Parmesan Crusted Cauliflower.
Slow cooking at a low temperature facilitates caramelization. Small cauliflower florets just don't have the heft to withstand an hour in the oven. While the oven preheats I trim any leaves and blemished spots from a whole cauliflower. I like to soak it in hot tap water for 5 to 10 minutes. This warms it up and also brings to the surface any hidden critters. I know - eeew -- but things that grow outside can harbor a hidden bug or two, and I prefer to find them before cooking.
The next step is to pat the cauliflower dry and place it in a baking dish. I pour a half a cup of water in the dish so that at the early stages in the oven the cauliflower steams a little. This helps warm the center, which facilitates even cooking.
Next I stir together mayonnaise, Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper. Mayo makes a great coating for vegetables. I've made the cauliflower rubbed with olive oil and I've made it with butter. Mayonnaise is, hands-down, the best way to coat the cauliflower. Basically mayonnaise is whipped oil. It sticks to the cauliflower. It holds the Parmesan and salt and pepper in place while in the oven. It browns and bubbles, and becomes as good as the crisp edges in a pan of scalloped potatoes.
I start spreading the mayonnaise on the cauliflower with a spoon, but I always end up getting to the nooks and crannies with my fingers. It comes out best if the entire surface is covered.
All of the above takes about ten minutes. The cauliflower cooks in a 325 degree oven until a knife glides in and the surface is brown. Depending on the size of the cauliflower this is an hour to an hour and fifteen minutes.
Ideally the cauliflower rests outside the oven for 10 minutes before serving, but I've been known to remove a slice immediately - for personal use.
Andy Broder is the chef/owner of AndyFood, A Culinary Studio.
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