For about the past 2 years I have been a vegetarian. I decided to stop eating meat mainly for environmental reasons. The American meat industry is terrible for the environment and the excessive standard for large slabs of meat or fast-food burgers at nearly every meal is not sustainable. My uncle has been a vegetarian for decades and has always advocated it. He is an incredible chef so he also showed me you don’t need meat to create incredible meals.
That being said, before heading to Italy, I decided that if it felt right I would eat a little meat while abroad. Italian cuisine is something I have always dreamed about so I didn’t want to have to limit myself from trying new things and experiencing it all.
A group of us from my program took a cooking class through the organization Breaking Bread taught by Juli Stelmaszyk. Juli is an amazing chef who trained under Alice Water’s Rome Sustainable Food Project. The RSFP is apart of the slow food movement and prides itself on cooking seasonally, organically and sustainability. Breaking Bread teaches Italian cooking classes to groups while supporting sustainable farming through buying all ingredients locally.My roommates where chomping at the bit for me to indulge in their carnivorous ways ever since they found out I was debating breaking vegetarian, but the time had to be right. Once we were in the kitchen, Juli gave us the menus for the evening. The first recipe for the evening was Carbonara mezze maniche, a classic Italian pasta dish with an egg-based sauce, cheese, pepper, and… bacon.
Guanciale, to be exact, Italian cured meat form the cheek of a pig. Juli asked if any of us were vegetarian and I raised my hand. She said this meat was extremely delicious and she joked that her last class “…started with 3 vegetarians and ended with just 1.”
This was it. This was the perfect moment. An opportunity to try bacon that was locally sourced from a Roman butcher while cooking in a kitchen that focuses on conscious consumption. And it was delicious! Probably the best dish I’ve had thus far in Italy. The cooking class was an awesome experience! Learned how to make fresh handmade pasta from scratch in a black-kale pesto, the incredible carbonara, a roasted-potato appetizer, a fennel and cauliflower dish and a fresh pomegranate, citrus salad. And one of the other chefs we were working with, Carlo, who is the 3rd generation Roman pastry-shop owner, made us all a orange custard with chocolate letters reppin’ our UCEAP program. Twas an excellent night with good food, friends and of course some wine!