Today I’m sharing a recipe that has two ingredients considered kind of taboo in some circles: potatoes and cheese. Carbs? Gasp! Dairy? Oh my! These pecorino roasted potatoes remind me of an encounter in Gilmore Girls in season 5 (I’m still making my way through the series again, post-revival). There’s a scene in Luke’s diner where Lane introduces french fries to a Korean exchange student. The girl quotes Mrs. Kim in referring to them as “the devil’s starchy fingers [and] a gateway food that leads to other foods like pizza, movie popcorn, [and] deep-fried Snickers bars.”
I know it’s just a TV show, but there is SO MUCH wrapped up in that statement. It reflects how our society condemns certain foods and food groups. We judge people for the food choices they make.
If you follow me on Facebook, you know that I posted about orthorexia nervosa this week. The post was a result of something that’s been something stirring in my circles lately. My friend Amal over at The Studio Fig gave an inspiring talk about perseverance, persistence, and all things taboo at a Creative Mornings event. Then we had a chat about vulnerability, honesty and the struggles of being a solo female entrepreneur. I also had a chance to catch up with a wonderful friend who works at The Edible Schoolyard Berkeley and talk about how our work helps others heal their relationships with food. A third friend (who is a marriage and family therapist) shared an image on Facebook that comments on how ridiculous the dialogue around eating cake can be.
As a part of this online (and offline) food space, there was just something in The Food Chain podcast about orthorexia that really struck a chord with me. I have not battled an eating disorder, though I know men and women who have and are recovering. But I have struggled with and obsessed over diet, health, wellness, exercise, body image, etc like so many of us. It’s not surprising really, with the years of figure skating, sorority life, and working in the intersection of food, health, and education. And I have struggled with judgement of myself, and of others, especially around food.
With many competing fad diets, contradicting health and nutrition recommendations, and overwhelming food marketing, knowing what to eat and what “eating healthy” truly means can be confusing. Many diet recommendations are debated, marketed, and promoted on social media. And people get ALL UP in a tizzy!
So, sometimes, it’s hard to figure out what you should really eat. But in trying to find a diet that works for you, it’s equally important to remember that what works for you may not work for someone else. And that just focusing on the physical side, without socioeconomic and political components of food. No matter how you describe your eating preferences, I firmly believe you have to do what makes you feel good physically, mentally and emotionally.
Sometimes, those food choices may include budae jjigae with spam and Kraft American singles to nourish your soul or Utica greens with smoky bacon, cheese, and spicy peppers. Other times, the only thing that will satisfy you after many days of travel is a baby kale salad with quinoa and sweet potatoes. You may choose to serve these pecorino roasted potatoes or indulge in chili cheese fries at a baseball game. Our emotional, mental, and physical health are all affected by the food choices we make. Balance is important. Ultimately, guilt and anxiety around food have no place at the table. And let’s be clear, those chili cheese fries? The primary reason I go to baseball games.
So today, in sharing this recipe for pecorino roasted potatoes, I want to emphasize my goal to provide recipes that inspire you in the kitchen to enjoy making and enjoy eating food. Sure, my recipes are a mix of vegetable forward, vegetarian, vegan, gluten free, etc. But those are secondary benefits rather than the driving force. My hope that The Seasoned Vegetable can be an inspiration and a resource to meet your needs, whatever they may be.
Back to the recipe, I honestly think these pecorino roasted potatoes are one of the best things I’ve made in a while. It’s a simple side dish with comforting salty, cheesy goodness. It has roasted potatoes, which, come on, who doesn’t love roasted potatoes in all their starchy glory? And the lemon zest just brightens everything up alongside the crunchy fennel. Because I love fennel. Seriously. I know some people have an aversion. But when it’s roasted this way, the licorice flavor almost disappears and a beautiful sweet crunchiness emerges.
Others may see the food I create as healthy. And that’s neither a good nor a bad thing. Honestly, I feature vegetables in my recipes because I love them and I’m inspired by them. I hope you are too.
Pecorino Roasted Fingerling Potatoes and Fennel
- 1 1/2 pounds fingerling potatoes, scrubbed well
- 2 medium bulbs fennel, fronds removed (about 1 1/2 pounds)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1/4 cup finely grated pecorino romano
- Zest of 1 lemon (about 1 tablespoon)
Preheat oven to 425°F.
Slice potatoes in half lengthwise, then into quarters or sixths depending on size. The potatoes should be about 1-inch pieces or just a bit larger. Place on a baking sheet and toss with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, salt and pepper.
Slice off the end of the fennel bulbs, then slice in half. Remove the outermost layer of fennel. Slice each half into 3 to 4 wedges and cut out the core. You should have large, separated pieces of fennel. Lay fennel on a baking sheet. Drizzle with remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil and sprinkle salt and pepper.
Roast potatoes and fennel in the oven and roast for about 15 minutes. Remove from oven and flip potatoes and fennel. Roast another 15 minutes until almost tender.
Remove potatoes and fennel from oven. Sprinkle half pecorino romano over the potatoes and half over the fennel. Return to oven and roast another 10 minutes.
When cheese is crisp and vegetables are tender, remove from oven. Let cool slightly, then transfer to a serving dish and sprinkle with lemon zest. Serve immediately.
I love fingerling potatoes because they’re so cute! They also tend to be of different varieties than your standard red, yellow, Yukon or Russet potato. This lets me play with different flavors for these pecorino roasted potatoes and see which ones I like best! With the fennel, be sure to trim the cores so your fennel pieces separate and caramelize. I like mine in big pieces, but you could cut them smaller so they cook more. Be sure to add the lemon zest after roasting to retain that bright flavor! Otherwise, it can get lost in the roasting.
Omit the pecorino cheese in this recipe to keep it vegan. Use a coarse ground sea salt to season the dish to retain that bite of salt in these pecorino roasted potatoes without the pecorino.
CHECK THE FRIDGE
If you can’t find pecorino cheese, a nice block of parmesan would be great too with the roasted potatoes and fennel. Any kind of potato will work for these pecorino roasted potatoes. So, if you can’t find fingerlings, red potatoes or Yukon gold potatoes cut into 1-inch cubes would be a good substitution. The fennel is a key component of this dish, but if you don’t like any anise flavor, you can roast the potatoes with the pecorino and add lemon zest at the end.