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Spaghetti Alla Carbonara

2 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
6 1/8-inch-thick slices lean pancetta or thick-cut bacon, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
2 tsp freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese (or grated Parmesan cheese)
4 large eggs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 lb spaghetti
6 quarts boiling salted water

Heat the oil and pancetta (or bacon) in a 12-inch saute pan over medium heat, cooking until the pancetta is crisp. Take care not to burn the glaze that appears. It should be brown and cover the bottom of the pan. Cover and set aside.

In a bowl, beat 2 teaspoons of the cheese into the eggs, along with a little salt and pepper.

Cook the pasta in fiercely boiling water, stirring often, until tender yet slightly undercooked. Just before draining, remove 1/4 cup of the pasta water and add it to the pancetta. Drain the pasta in a colander.

Reheat the pancetta over medium heat, scraping up the brown glaze. Add the pasta to the pan, tossing to blend. Mix in the eggs and keep mixing until they're firm and clinging to the pasta. Taste for salt and season generously with pepper. Turn into a warmed bowl and serve immediately. Season with additional cheese as desired.

Serves 6 to 8 as a first course, 4 as a main dish

* Pancetta is Italian bacon cured with salt, pepper, bay leaves and cloves, rolled into a cylinder and aged several months. Pancetta's intensely meaty taste brings body and robustness to a dish. It is safe to eat raw and keeps well frozen up to 6 months. Reliable brands to look for are Molinari and Rapelli. Substitute a good quality, meaty, thick sliced bacon if pancetta is unavailable.

* Pecorino Romano is an aged sheep's milk cheese. It should have a big, bold, tangy flavor with no bitterness and unpleasant sharpness. Avoid domestic brands; they're bitter, exceedingly salty and generally terrible. A reliable import is made by Sini Fulvi Sini and may be found in cheese shops and specialty stores. If unavailable, substitute sharp provolone found in most supermarkets.

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