Pasta alla papalina is a creamy ham and peas pasta that's easy to make and beyond delicious. Think of these fettuccine alla papalina as carbonara on steroids, with lots of parmesan cheese, ham instead of guanciale, and a surprise ingredient in the form of peas.
Fettucine alla papalina is a lesser-known pasta dish but delicious nonetheless. It's a richer, more complex version of pasta alla carbonara, and a great way to use any leftover ham.
In true Italian manner, there's also a story behind the invention of pasta alla papalina. The name of the dish translates as "pasta for the Pope" as it was first served to Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, who would soon become Pope Pius XII.
According to the story, the cardinal asked the owner of a Vatican restaurant to make him a more refined version of spaghetti alla carbonara. The chef came up with a reinterpretation of the classic Roman dish by substituting fettucine for spaghetti and using prosciutto instead of the traditional guanciale. He also added a sauteed onion, used Parmesan instead of pecorino, and finished it off with a dash of cream.
There are numerous interpretations of pasta papalina out there, and some of them include peas. I chose to add them too, as I think that pasta with peas is something that should really be more mainstream.
So, if you're looking for leftover ham recipes with pasta, give fettucine alla papalina a try, especially if you're a fan of carbonara. The creamy sauce pairs perfectly with the ham and peas combo and the Parmesan is a bit more subtle than the pecorino used in carbonara.
What ingredients go into pasta alla papalina?
Fettucine or tagliatelle — I typically use fresh pasta for this recipe, which you only need to boil for 2-3 minutes. The original recipe uses fettucine, but you can substitute them with tagliatelle, as they are essentially the same shape and are often used interchangeably.
Prosciutto or ham — Use prosciutto cut into small cubes if possible. It's quite difficult to get prosciutto that's not already sliced in the UK, so I used cooked ham instead. If you have any kind of leftover ham, you can use it in this recipe.
Peas — These are not part of the original recipe, but lots of variations include them. They're great if you want to make this pasta just a bit healthier, and they also taste great when paired with the ham.
Double (heavy) cream — You want this pasta to be super creamy, so don't substitute this with single cream (half and half).
Parmesan — Use Parmigiano Reggiano that you've grated yourself for this recipe if possible, as it's so much better than the already grated variety.
Eggs — Three medium eggs are enough for 100 grams of grated Parmesan.
How do you make the pasta?
Pasta papalina is very easy to make, and you can have it on the table in under 30 minutes. You can make the sauce while you wait for the water for the pasta to reach the boiling point.
You start by melting the butter in a large pan. Fry the onion for 1-2 minutes until it softens. Add the ham and cook for 3-4 minutes until it changes colour a bit.
Next, add the peas to the pan and cook for 3-4 minutes or until tender (might take longer if using fresh peas). In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs and grated Parmesan.
Pour the double cream over the ham and peas mixture and continue to cook for 2-3 minutes until the sauce thickens. Stir in a bit of pasta water, then transfer the drained pasta to the pan. Toss it well to cover in sauce and turn off the heat.
Pour the egg and parmesan mixture over the pasta and toss immediately and thoroughly. Season with plenty of freshly ground black pepper and serve immediately, with extra grated Parmesan on top if you want.
Recipe notes and tips
- Make sure you turned the heat off before adding the egg mixture. You have to toss it quickly, too, so you don't end up with an omelette-like texture.
- If you use fresh peas, you may want to par-boil them for 10 minutes before using them in this pasta sauce because they cook slower than frozen peas.
- You can also add some mushrooms to this recipe if you like.
- Even though garlic is not part of the original recipe, you can make this white sauce garlicky if you want by adding four minced garlic cloves with the onion.
If you liked this pasta alla papalina recipe, have a look at some of my other pasta recipes:
- 300 g (10.5 oz) fettucine or tagliatelle
- 30 g (¼ stick) butter
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 300 g (10.5 oz) prosciutto cotto or cooked ham, diced into ½ inch pieces
- 150 g (5 oz) peas, fresh or frozen
- 250 ml (8 fl oz) double cream
- 3 medium eggs
- 100 g (3.5 oz) Parmesan, grated
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil, salt it generously, and cook the pasta according to the instructions on the package. Reserve 250 ml (1 cup) pasta water before draining.
- Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large pan and fry the onion for 1-2 minutes until it softens. Add the ham and cook for 3-4 minutes until it changes colour a bit.
- Next, add the peas to the pan and cook for 3-4 minutes or until tender (might take longer if using fresh peas). In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs and grated Parmesan.
- Pour the double cream over the ham and peas mixture and continue to cook for 2-3 minutes until the sauce thickens. Stir in a bit of pasta water, then transfer the drained pasta to the pan. Toss it well to cover in sauce and turn off the heat.
- Pour the egg and parmesan mixture over the pasta and toss immediately and thoroughly. Season with plenty of freshly ground black pepper and serve immediately, with extra grated Parmesan on top if you want.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 755Total Fat: 48gSaturated Fat: 26gTrans Fat: 1gUnsaturated Fat: 17gCholesterol: 330mgSodium: 2918mgCarbohydrates: 33gFiber: 3gSugar: 6gProtein: 48g
Nutritional information is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator.