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Kitchen Witch - Bacon and eggs for dinner

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

For a cook who prides herself on mindful moderation, this is a difficult culinary confession. No other comestible tickles my sensory neurons quite like smoked pork belly. All it takes is one little lardon, and I'm doing a jig, high as a kite. The problem is, I can't just have one. Within minutes, I morph into a ravenous heathen, licking my fingers and wolfing down every last bacony morsel.

As a result, I can't do bacon and eggs because the bacon will do me first. As you can imagine, the cholesterol consequences of such compulsive behavior are dire, and yes, I choose life over bacon.

It's a conundrum, all right, and what I've come up with to satisfy both my id and my conscience is spaghetti carbonara. Instead of bacon and eggs, I make bacon-and-egg pasta, a classic Roman dish that found its way into American kitchens after the boys came home from WWII.

Old-timers (and Mario Batali) use guanciale (say GWAHN-CHALL-AY), the jowl/cheek area of the pig, but the younger kids have their eyes set on pancetta, from the belly. What they have in common is their decidedly unsmoked nature, yielding a milder (and possibly less desirable) result for us bacon freaks. You know what I use.

Although I'm doing great in recovery, I do have a jones for the stuff every few months, and the carbonara does the job without pushing me into the gutter.

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

Adapted from the December 2007 issue of GQ magazine

The amounts below make enough for two servings, with a side salad. Amounts may be doubled.

1-2 tablespoons olive oil

6-8 ounces pancetta, or thick-cut or slab bacon

1/2 box spaghetti

2 large eggs

1/2-3/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and/or Pecorino Romano cheese

Salt and black pepper to taste

Optional garnishes: handful chopped fresh parsley and/or zest of 1/2 lemon

Bring at least 2 quarts water to a boil and add at least 1 teaspoon salt to the pot. Add spaghetti.

While spaghetti is cooking, chop pancetta or bacon into 1/4-inch matchsticks and heat olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add meat and fry until crisp. Turn down heat to low until ready to assemble the dish.

Break eggs into a bowl. Add a handful of grated cheese and a pinch of pepper. Beat mixture together, only enough to combine.

When spaghetti is al dente (about 10-12 minutes), drain it and add to egg mixture. Reserve some pasta water just in case. Add another small handful of cheese, and using two forks or a pair or tongs, toss the mixture until spaghetti is well coated.

Drain at least half the fat from the pancetta or bacon, and sprinkle the crisped bits into the pasta, plus remaining fat. Sprinkle with more cheese and black pepper. Do not stir immediately; allow contents of bowl to sit for about 30 seconds, then toss to combine. If mixture seems too dry, gradually add a few ounces of pasta water to make it creamier.

Taste for salt, pepper and cheese, and season accordingly. Add garnish of choice.

Culinary questions? Contact Kim O'Donnel at kim.odonnel@creativeloafing.com.

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