The San Juan Daily Star
A cheesy, crunchy baked tofu to make right now
By Melissa Clark
As my quest for baked crispy tofu perfection continues, it’s led me down an untrodden path — one paved with Parmesan.
Of course, I’ve seen the recipes for tofu parmigiana, typically topped with mozzarella and tomato sauce, and baked until melty. And plenty of vegan-Parmesan-crusted tofu recipes exist around the web. But it only occurred to me to try a dusting of the real cheese, naturally, as I was recently gearing up for a trip to Parma, Italy.
I was making one of my go-to tofus, whisking together the cornstarch and oil that, when roasted at high heat, creates a golden, crunchy crust. This simple, brilliant technique, which I learned from cookbook author Jenny Rosenstrach, has become the standard play of my sheet-pan tofu game. Not only do the tofu cubes roast up gorgeously bronzed, but the technique also leaves room on the tray for seasonal vegetables — tomatoes or zucchini in summer, Broccolini or Brussels sprouts in winter, cauliflower or mushrooms in fall — to make it a one-pan meal.
This was an evening in early spring, so I had laid out sugar snap peas and red onions.
I was about to sprinkle some grated Parmesan over the vegetables, but as the fluffy wisps of cheese collected in the pan, visions of frico danced in my head: the sort of browned, shatteringly crisp disks that I can’t stop eating. I emptied the Parmesan container over the tofu, stuck the pan in the oven and hoped for a tofu grail.
Half an hour or so later, the kitchen smelled heavenly, a little like pizza.
What emerged from the oven was everything I had hoped. The tofu cubes were deep golden on top, and even browner on the bottom where the Parmesan met the hot metal of the pan. The sugar snaps and onions were caramelized and slightly charred. I squeezed on a little lemon juice and then ate where I stood, gobbling the tofu cubes like handfuls of hot buttered popcorn.
I’ve since made plant-based versions of this dish, experimenting with both vegan Parmesan and an equal amount of nutritional yeast — perfect options for anyone avoiding cheese.
After all, the quest for any sort of perfection can take strange and unexpected turns. But for this easy weeknight dinner, Parmesan was the right hero at the right time.
Crispy Baked Tofu With Sugar Snap Peas
Adding grated Parmesan to a coating of cornstarch and oil makes for especially crispy tofu with a fricolike crust. Here, the tofu is roasted on a sheet-pan alongside sugar snap peas and onions, which become tender and caramelized. It’s a colorful spring dish that can be varied endlessly depending on the season. Try broccoli or mushrooms in winter, cherry tomatoes in summer or butternut squash in fall.
Yield: 2 to 3 servings
Total time: 1 hour 10 minutes
1 (14- to 16-ounce) package extra-firm or firm tofu, cut into 1-inch-thick slices
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt (such as Diamond Crystal), plus more as needed
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more as needed
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon cornstarch
5 tablespoons grated Parmesan (see Tip; or use vegan Parmesan or nutritional yeast), plus more for serving
1 large red onion, cut into 1/4-inch wedges (about 2 cups)
12 ounces sugar snap peas, trimmed and halved crosswise
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice, plus more for servin
1/3 cup chopped fresh mint, cilantro or dill (or a combination), for garnish
1. Arrange tofu slices on a clean kitchen towel or paper towels. Cover with another kitchen towel (or paper towels), and place a flat cutting board or baking pan on top. If your cutting board is lightweight, stack a few cans or a skillet on top to weigh it down (or use a tofu press if you have one). Let tofu drain for at least 15 minutes and up to 45 minutes.
2. Heat oven to 400 degrees and line a rimmed sheet pan with parchment paper.
3. Transfer tofu slices to a cutting board and cut into 1-inch cubes. Pat them dry with paper towels and season both sides with 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper.
4. In a medium bowl, whisk together 1 tablespoon oil and cornstarch. Add tofu to the mixture and gently toss until evenly coated. Place tofu on one side of the prepared sheet pan. Sprinkle with 4 tablespoons Parmesan.
5. In a large bowl, toss together the red onion wedges, sugar snap peas, lemon juice, remaining 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Drizzle in remaining 2 tablespoons oil, tossing to combine.
6. Arrange vegetables on the empty side of the prepared sheet pan and sprinkle with remaining tablespoon Parmesan. Bake until tofu is crisp and golden brown and the vegetables are soft, 25 to 35 minutes. Halfway through baking, use a spatula to flip tofu and toss vegetables while keeping separate.
7. To serve, sprinkle with herbs and a little more Parmesan, and drizzle with more lemon juice and olive oil.
Tip: Most Parmesan is made with animal rennet in processing, but some are made with vegetarian enzymes. BelGioioso, a cheese brand available at major grocery stores across the United States, makes a vegetarian Parmesan that is labeled as such, and Organic Valley grated Parmesan lists vegetarian enzymes in its ingredients.