Here’s a spin on the classic layered eggplant dish that’s associated with southern Italy and is particularly popular in Naples. Crumbed, fried cauliflower is perfect as the main ingredient, with the panko (don’t use any other type of dried breadcrumb) forming a lovely crunchy crust.
1.2 kg (2 lb 10 oz/about 1 large) cauliflower, trimmed
2 large eggs, beaten well
60 ml (2 fl oz/¼ cup) buttermilk
120 g (4¼ oz/2 cups) panko breadcrumbs
Olive oil spray
Large handful of basil leaves, torn
250 g (9 oz/2 cups) grated mozzarella cheese
70 g (2½ oz/2⁄3 cup) grated parmesan cheese
2½ tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste (concentrated purée)
2 x 400 g (14 oz) tins chopped tomatoes
170 ml (5½ fl oz/2⁄3 cup) chicken stock
250 ml (9 fl oz/1 cup) tomato passata (puréed tomatoes)
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar, or to taste
2–3 teaspoons caster (superfine) sugar, or to taste
For the tomato sauce, heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat, add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring, for 5–6 minutes, or until the onion has softened. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring, for 1 minute, then add the chopped tomatoes, chicken stock, passata, balsamic and 2 teaspoons of the sugar and season to taste with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Bring to a simmer then cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes or until reduced and thickened slightly. Add a little more vinegar or sugar, if necessary.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F) and line two baking trays with baking paper. Using a large, sharp knife, cut the cauliflower lengthways through the core into slices about 1.5 cm (5∕8 inch) thick, creating as many large slices as possible.
Whisk the eggs and buttermilk in a large bowl until smooth. Place the panko in a large dish. Working with one piece of cauliflower at a time, dip in the egg mixture, turning it to coat and allowing excess to drain off. Dip in the panko, pressing the crumbs onto the cauliflower to coat all over.
Arrange the coated cauliflower on the tray, then spray generously with olive oil. Bake for 20 minutes or until light golden. Turn over, spray with oil and cook for 15 minutes or until cooked through.
Spread the hot tomato sauce in a large baking dish then scatter with the basil. Place the cauliflower over the sauce, overlapping it slightly if necessary to cover. Season well with salt and pepper then scatter with the cheese. Bake for 20 minutes or until the cauliflower is heated through and the cheese is bubbling and golden. Serve immediately.
Extracted from Cauliflower is King by Leanne Kitchen, published by Murdoch Books, distributed by Allen & Unwin, RRP $22.99