This delicious Roasted Cauliflower with Parmesan Polenta is so good you won’t even miss the meat!
“What’s for dinner?”, my husband, Scott asked late one afternoon. It was about a year ago, but I remember the discussion like it was yesterday. Well to be honest, it wasn’t much of a discussion. “Roasted Cauliflower with Parmesan Polenta”. I looked up to see his response.
“Hmmm…” It was a polite “hmmm…” but, after 40 years of marriage, I could hear the dubiousness (is that a word?) in his voice.
It definitely wasn’t the response I would have gotten, if I’d said “Steak and Potato Arugula Salad” or “Sugar Seared Salmon” or “Pork Tenderloin and Cashew Stir Fry” or”Italian Meatballs and Marinara” or a zillion other things I make.
I know this man. After all these years, we think each other’s thoughts, read each other’s mind, anticipate each other’s needs, laugh at each other’s dumb jokes, wipe away each other’s tears and call each other out when necessary (I need that more than he does). Yes, I knew right away, he wasn’t thrilled with the idea of “cauliflower steaks”. Until he took the first couple of bites.
Yes, we have been married 40 years, but I have to admit I was shocked when he said, “This is amazing!” and even more shocked, after he cleaned up the last little speck of polenta, when he said “This is one of my favorite dinners, ever! You can make it anytime. You HAVE to share this on the blog!”
Like I said, that was a year ago and somehow, time just slipped away. Winter came and went, and before I knew it, I was into asparagus, strawberries and fresh corn. I have so many ideas
sometimes, most of the time, (ALWAYS, editor’s note – sorry dear!), regarding what I want to share on the blog and many things just never make it. So, when I saw a big display of beautiful cauliflower at the market recently, I decided I would not let another winter season pass, without sharing this wonderful recipe.
The method for preparing the cauliflower is a bit unusual, as it’s sliced into thick slabs (steaks), instead of breaking it into florets. Once the slicing’s done, the recipe comes together quickly. The “steaks” are placed on a sheet pan, drizzled with olive oil and roasted in a piping hot oven. That’s where the delicious magic occurs, transforming anemic white slabs into golden, caramelized works of art (it pulls the natural sugar to the surface of the cauliflower). I love that you can have this beautiful, healthy and very gourmet meal on the table in less than 45 minutes. Now that’s my kind of dinner!
There’s a simple topping comprised of melted butter (only 2 teaspoons!), panko crumbs*, parmesan cheese, lemon zest and parsley. It’s sprinkled on just before serving, along with a handful of pine nuts**. It’s delicious and makes for a pretty presentation.
If you have lots of time, you can make the polenta from scratch, but I’m usually scurrying to get dinner on the table, so I like to use the instant polenta. I have a little trick that takes just a few minutes extra, but it takes the polenta up a notch, and you won’t even know it’s not from scratch. I just add extra liquid (in this case chicken broth) and cook it a few minutes longer than called for. The polenta comes out sweet, fluffy and super yummy. Of course, a handful of grated Parmesan cheese, doesn’t hurt a bit!
This would make a fun, unique and delicious entree for a dinner party. It’s hearty and healthy, but not heavy. It’s also easy enough to make for a weeknight dinner and is a great way to pack some great nutrition into your diet. Did you know that cauliflower is listed as one of the top 20 ANDI score (Aggregate Nutrient Density Index) foods? ANDI measures vitamin, mineral and phytonutrient content in relation to caloric content. To earn high rank, a food must provide a high amount of nutrients for a small amount of calories; pretty cool, huh?
Oh, and if you have a meat lover in the family, surprise him or her with this Roasted Cauliflower with Parmesan Polenta. They might not look at it as a wonderful surprise at first. They might even say “Hmmm…” when you tell them what’s for dinner.
But just wait. Till they take that first delicious bite…
- For the cauliflower:
- 1 large or 2 medium head cauliflower
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- For the panko crumbs:
- ½ cup panko crumbs*
- 2 teaspoons melted butter
- 2 tablespoons toasted pinenuts*
- 1 small clove garlic
- finely grated zest from 1 medium lemon
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley leaves
- 2 medium size sundried tomato drained and finely chopped (optional)
- For the polenta:
- 5 cups low sodium chicken broth or vegetable broth
- 1 cup instant polenta I really like the Dellalo brand
- ½ cup parmesan cheese
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt more to taste
Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 450°F. Drizzle a sheet pan with 1 tablespoons of olive oil. Set aside.
For the panko crumbs (make it now so it will be ready after the cauliflower is roasted) melt butter till bubbly in a small sauté pan. Add pine nuts and stir continuously for about 1 minute, till nuts and butter turn a light, golden brown. Remove pan from heat, then remove pine nuts with a slotted spoon (you want most of the butter to remain in the pan) to a plate lined with a paper towel. Add garlic to butter in pan and return to medium low heat. Cook for 15-30 seconds or until fragrant. Add panko crumbs to the pan and stir to combine. Cook, stirring continuously for 1 minute to crisp crumbs. Remove from heat, Add lemon zest, parsley and finely chopped sundried tomato
Remove any outer leaves from the cauliflower, but leave the stem intact. Place head stalk side down on a cutting board. Using a large chef's knife, slice cauliflower lengthwise into 3/4" slices. Some of the slices will crumble a bit into smaller pieces. That's okay. The center slices should remain pretty intact. Arrange cauliflower slices and any stray pieces in a single layer on prepared baking sheet, placing any stray pieces in the center of the pan. Drizzle with remaining oil and season with salt and pepper. Don't worry, at this point it will seem like you have way too much cauliflower but you'll be surprised at how much it shrinks during the roasting process.
Roast until underside is deep golden brown, 15–25 minutes (start checking after 15 minutes). Turn cauliflower over, season with salt and pepper, and continue to roast until other side is deep golden brown and crisp, 15–20 minutes longer.
While the cauliflower steaks are roasting, make the polenta. Bring broth to a boil in a medium large, tall pot. (When the polenta starts cooking it tends to bubble and splash so a tall pot keeps it from making a mess, but even more important, from burning you.) While the broth boils, slowly add polenta, stirring or whisking continuously to prevent lumps. Once all polenta has been incorporated, lower eat to a gentle simmer and cook, uncovered for 6-8 minutes. Add parmesan and salt and stir to incorporate. Polenta should be thick but spoonable. If it gets too thick, you can add a bit more chicken broth, to thin.
To serve, spoon polenta into four shallow bowls. Arrange cauliflower steaks on top and sprinkle with panko mixture. Garnish with parsley and lemon slices. Enjoy!
* Panko crumbs are Japanese bread crumbs. They're different than normal bread crumbs you might make or buy because they have sharp, angular edges and they stay super crisp and crunchy. You can buy panko crumbs at most larger grocers. You'll generally find them in the Asian section. You can also find them online.
** Pine nuts are ridiculously expensive but you only need a few for this recipe and they add a delicious, gourmet touch. I like to buy them at Trader Joes. They're decently priced there at 6.99 for an 8-ounce bag which is about as cheap as I've found. I store them in the freezer and they last a long time as I use them with discretion. You can also buy pine nuts in bulk at Whole Foods, definitely more expensive but you can purchase as few or many as you need.