Sunday, September 21, 2014

Tofu Parmesan


Allow me to introduce you to my good friend tofu parmesan--or, as I like to think of it, the ultimate tofu dish for people who think they don't like tofu. I want to tell you all about its cheesiness, its crispiness, its sauciness, and its nearly magical ability to turn a tofu hater's head. But first, a word about tofu itself. Tofu (and soy in general) seems to be one of the latest in a line of polarizing foods--you have your soy cheerleaders and your soy disparagers, your soy zealots and your soy-phobics. One group's research says soy reduces the recurrence of cancer; another group's says it increases incidence. The science is vague but the fears are real. As for me, I try to keep a clear head and practice moderation in all things food-related. I eat soy as a small part of my regular diet (though I probably get more of it than I realize from whatever processed foods I might eat...isn't soy in everything these days?) and haven't seen any real convincing evidence that it's either extremely beneficial or terrifyingly dangerous. So my two cents is that it's a perfectly reasonable food to include sometimes, especially in an effort to reduce meat consumption. With that in mind, this tofu parmesan has been part of my ongoing effort to shimmy our family's meat intake down to 50% of our meals. Someday I'll write a separate post on all the reasons that propel that effort, but for now, let's talk about I'm such a fan of this particular vegetarian meal. 

In the reviews of the original recipe this version stems from, one made me laugh out loud. The reviewer said when she made it for her tofu-suspicious husband, he said he "knew there was tofu in the recipe, but was unable to find it between the 'chicken' pieces." Which is pretty much a perfect summation of tofu's greatest asset, one that stands out in this recipe: its ability to slip into whatever flavor we dress it with. It is the consummate food chameleon. To the reviewer's husband, it tasted like chicken. To me, tofu breaded and surrounded by cheese and tomato sauce just tastes comforting and Italian-y, like lasagna...which is the main reason it succeeds so well with tofu skeptics. 

The process of taking this:

  
to this:


does take some effort, but the payoff is worth it! You're gonna feel like a tofu pro by the end. 

Here's how it works. First, you slice extra-firm tofu into 1/4 inch thick slices, starting at the long end of the tofu rectangle:


Next (and this is crucial to the level of crispiness you'll get in the end), squeeze as much moisture as possible out of the slices by pressing them into paper towels:


Then, if you have time, it helps to freeze the tofu pieces for about 30 minutes. More time probably wouldn't hurt, either.

Wax paper on baking sheet = no-mess cleanup

Last, once the tofu emerges from the freezer nicely firmed, bread with a mix of herbed Panko bread crumbs and Parmesan and bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes per side. 


From here, you're ready to assemble and bake it into a gooey, savory meatless casserole nobody has to know isn't chicken!

Tofu Parmesan
(Inspired by Allrecipes.com)

Ingredients:

For the tofu:
12 oz. extra-firm tofu
3/4 c. Panko bread crumbs
1/3 c. grated Parmesan cheese
1 tsp. dried basil
1 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
salt and pepper, to taste
1 egg

For the sauce:
16 oz. tomato sauce
1 tsp. dried basil
2 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. salt

6 oz. shredded mozzarella cheese

Directions:

1. Cut tofu into 16 1/4 inch thick slices, starting on the long end of the rectangle of tofu. Squeeze as much moisture as possible from slices by pressing the slices into paper towels. If time allows, freeze tofu slices for about 30 minutes.

2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a shallow bowl, combine bread crumbs, Parmesan, basil, oregano, salt and pepper. In another shallow bowl, beat egg slightly. Remove tofu slices from freezer. Dip individual pieces first into the beaten egg, then into bread crumb mixture. Place on a greased baking sheet and bake 15 minutes on each side.

3. Meanwhile, prepare sauce. In a small bowl, mix tomato sauce, basil, oregano, garlic powder, and salt.

4. Increase oven temperature to 400 degrees. Spread a layer of tomato sauce in the bottom of an 8-inch square baking dish. Place 8 tofu slices in a single layer on top of sauce. Cover tofu with sauce, then a layer of mozzarella. Repeat once more: 8 tofu slices, sauce, and mozzarella. You may end up with extra sauce.

5. Bake about 20 minutes or until heated through with melty cheese on top.

Serves 4. 

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