Kellie White’s Three-Cheese Chicken Parmesan with Pesto-Roasted Cauliflower Steak

Kellie created this recipe for the World Food Championships, but the dish of comfort food with a twist has become a family favorite as well.

Serves 4

Marinara Sauce >

  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1½ cups finely chopped (minced) onion
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 cloves garlic, pressed
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seed
  • 2 heavy pinches red pepper flakes
  • ⅔ cup red wine
  • 2 cans tomatoes (28 ounces each), hand crushed
  • 2 basil stems, whole
  • 2 Parmesan rinds, whole (2–3 inches)
  • Brown sugar, to taste

Chicken & Brine >

  • 4 chicken breasts, pounded thin
  • 1 cup barbecue sauce
  • 3 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons salt

Pesto >

  • ⅔ cup toasted walnuts
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped coarsely
  • 4 cups basil leaves, fresh and packed
  • Zest of 2 lemons
  • Juice of 2 lemons
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Cauliflower Steaks >

  • 1 head cauliflower, cut into steaks
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • Tomato powder to taste (optional, omit if you can’t find)
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

Breading >

  • Flour for dredging
  • 4 eggs
  • 1⅓ cups panko breadcrumbs
  • ⅔ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tablespoon tomato powder (optional, omit if you can’t find)
  • Peanut oil for frying
  • ¾ cup shredded fontina cheese
  • ¾ cup shredded gruyère cheese
  • ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

Garnishes >

  • Shaved Parmesan
  • Torn basil leaves
  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  2. To make the marinara, melt butter and olive oil in a medium pan. Add onion, season with salt and pepper, and sauté until onion is soft but not brown. Add garlic, oregano, fennel, and red pepper flakes. Cook 30 seconds to 1 minute, until fragrant.
  3. Add wine and simmer until wine is almost gone. Add tomatoes and crush further with a potato masher if necessary. Add basil, Parmesan rind, as much sugar as needed to balance, and salt to taste. Set aside.
  4. Trim the chicken and pound until even and thin. In a bowl, combine barbecue sauce, water, and salt. Add chicken to brine and let sit in brine 20 to 30 minutes.
  5. To make pesto, toast walnuts in 425-degree oven for 5 minutes. Place nuts and garlic in food processor or blender and pulse until in small pieces. Add basil, lemon zest and juice, and Parmesan cheese; pulse until all are pieces same size. Drizzle in olive oil while machine is running to finish pesto. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Slice the cauliflower head into steaks. Drizzle a 9-by-13-inch sheet pan with olive oil. Place steaks on pan. Drizzle steaks with olive oil, then season with salt, pepper, and tomato powder. Bake 15 minutes at 425, then flip and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Bake another 10 to 15 minutes until steaks are soft and browned on the edges.
  7. Reduce oven temperature to 375. Set up a dredging station. Put flour on a large plate for the first station. Whisk eggs in a medium bowl for the second station. For the third station, combine the panko, Parmesan, and tomato powder on a large plate.
  8. Remove chicken from brine and shake off excess liquid. Salt the chicken. Dredge in flour, egg, then panko mixture. Pour peanut oil about 1 inch deep into a straight-sided 12-inch skillet and heat to 350 degrees. Fry chicken pieces for 2 minutes per side. Remove from oil and drain on a paper towel, then place chicken on a rack in 9-by-13-inch sheet pan. Top with fontina, gruyère, and Parmesan cheeses. Bake 10 to 15 minutes.
  9. To assemble, swipe pesto on each plate and top with cauliflower steak. Brush cauliflower with pesto. Top with chicken. Ladle on marinara sauce. Top with 1 to 2 teaspoons pesto. Garnish with shaved Parmesan and torn basil leaves.