Pasta alla Papalina; recipe from Rome.

Pasta alla Papalina: recipe from Rome

Pasta alla papalina is a creamy pasta recipe from Rome named after Pope Pius XII, who was the inspiration behind its invention. Usually made with fettuccine, this dish is super simple to make and a great way to use up leftover ham!

pasta alla papalina recipe from Rome

Italians love to talk about food and there is often a lot of discussion about what the authentic ingredients of certain traditional recipes should be. Among the many food and wine debates I’ve heard, a common one involves one of the jewels of Roman pasta recipes, fettuccine alla papalina.

pasta alla papalina recipe from Rome

People debate what cheese to use, pecorino Romano or Parmigiano? Which type of ham, cured or cooked ham? Use cream or not? Add peas or no peas? In order to understand why all these questions, it’s good to know the history of this relatively modern dish. Simply put, ‘alla papalina’ means ‘of the Pope’ . But actually the word refers to the Pope’s skullcap! The Pope in question was Eugenio Pacelli known as Pius XII.

ingredients for pasta alla papalina on white plate

A little alla papalina history.

Eugenio Pacelli became Pope Pius XII in 1939. There are different versions to this story, but one is that when he was still a cardinal, Eugenio Pacelli used to eat his meals at the La Cisterna restaurant in Rome. One day, he asked the chef to make him a different pasta dish than usual, one which respected Roman culinary tradition but was less fatty and more digestible.

fresh shelled peas in white bowl

Apparently, the chef then created this pasta alla papalina based on ‘alla carbonara’. He replaced the semolina pasta with egg pasta, guanciale with cured ham, Roman pecorino with Parmigiano cheese and added sautéed onion cooked in butter. However, the raw beaten eggs in carbonara remained.

chopped ham, shelled peas, chopped onion and beaten eggs in separate white bowls

The main problem with this story is that if it happened before the war, then the belief that carbonara was invented for American soldiers when they occupied Rome is false! Other stories date the invention of pasta alla papalina to the 50s, when Eugenio Pacelli was Pope Pius XII. The chef in question then was the Vatican chef!

chopped ham and chopped onion in frying pan

Whichever version is true, today fettuccine alla papalina is considered a traditional Roman pasta recipe. This dish is also still on the menu of the La Cisterna restaurant.

chopped ham, chopped onions and fresh peas in frying pan

Different versions of the recipe.

Obviously with all the debate, there are different versions of this pasta alla papalina recipe. However, the basics are mostly the same; Egg pasta noodles (usually fettuccine), ham often cured but many people use cooked ham, eggs and cheese. Peas may not be considered an authentic ingredient in this dish by some, but I have seen many versions with them.

chopped ham, chopped onion, fresh peas and heavy cream in frying pan

I added peas because they are in season now and they are a health addition to this delicious dish. Some recipes for this alla papalina include heavy cream, some don’t. I added the cream and loved the result. I think you will too!

sauce for pasta alla papalina in frying pan

Making this pasta alla papalina.

I also decided to use cooked ham instead of cured. Many people traditionally eat ham at Easter or other holidays, especially in US. Fettuccine alla papalina is a great recipe to use up leftover ham. However, if you prefer you can use prosciutto crudo, such as San Daniele or Parma ham.

pasta alla papalina recipe

This is a very quick and easy to make recipe. In fact, you can make the sauce while boiling the water for the pasta. Like in carbonara, the beaten eggs are added after the cooked pasta and sauce are mixed together. The result is a very creamy and flavourful pasta dish. One that I’m sure you will make time and again!

beaten egg with cooked pasta and alla papalina sauce in frying panIf you do try this pasta alla papalina recipe, I’d love to hear what you think. Please write a comment here on the blog or post a comment on the Pasta Project Facebook page.

Your feedback means a lot to me!

Buon Appetito!

pasta alla papalina ready in frying pan

Other traditional pasta recipes from Rome.

1.Pasta alla gricia

2. Cacio e pepe

3. Bucatini all’amatriciana

4. Spaghetti alla carbonara

5. Pasta with puntarelle

6. Romanesco broccoli pasta soup

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5 from 24 votes
pasta alla papalina recipe from Rome
Pasta alla Papalina: Recipe from Rome
Prep Time
15 mins
Cook Time
30 mins
Total Time
45 mins

This creamy fettuccine recipe from Rome is easy to make and seriously delicious. A great family weeknight meal and perfect for using up leftover ham! 

Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Central Italy, Italian, Rome & Lazio
Keyword: alla papalina, cream, fettuccine, ham, Italian recipe, pasta recipe, peas
Servings: 4
Author: Jacqueline De Bono
  • 400 g fettuccine or tagliatelle (14 oz) fresh or dried
  • 1 small onion peeled and finely chopped
  • 250 g peas (8-9oz) fresh or frozen
  • 300 g cooked ham (10oz) or cured ham
  • 250 ml heavy cream (1 cup)
  • 3-4 eggs depending on size. If large use 3
  • 200 g Parmigiano cheese (7oz) grated
  • 1 knob butter or olive oil
  • salt for pasta and to taste
  • black pepper to taste
  1. Shell the fresh peas (if using), peel and finely chop the onion, cut the ham into small cubes/pieces, beat the eggs in a bowl with the grated Parmigiano.

  2. If using fresh peas you will need to cook them in a little boiling salted water for 10 minutes before draining and adding them to the sauce. Fresh peas take longer to cook than frozen.

  3. Put a pot of water on to boil for the pasta. Add salt once it starts to boil and bring to the boil again.

  4. Cook the finely chopped onion in the butter or olive oil in a skillet or frying pan until translucent. Add cooked ham or prosciutto, and allow that to cook for a few minutes. Then, add the peas and cook for a couple of minutes more. If using fresh peas and they seem a little hard, add a little water and cook for a bit longer.

  5. Then add the heavy cream (Italians use panna da cucina) and allow the cream to reduce a bit. Add ground black pepper and salt to taste.

  6. Cook the pasta al dente according to the instructions on the packet. Fresh pasta will need only 1-2 minutes. When cooked, drain the pasta (but keep it a little wet) and add it to the cream sauce. 

  7. Then pour the beaten eggs and cheese over the pasta and sauce. Mix everything together well until the pasta is coated in a creamy sauce. Serve immediately, with generous sprinkling of ground black pepper and additional grated cheese if required.

Recipe Notes

Pasta alla Papalina is usually made with fettuccine but I also use tagliatelle. Although tagliatelle is slightly wider, there's often no difference between these two pasta ribbons.

You can leave out the peas if you wish. The original recipe is said to be without peas. However, nowadays many Italian include them. 

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pasta alla papalina

Pasta all Papalina

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  • Avatar
    Jennifer Mahan
    May 15, 2020 1:28 am

    It was DELICIOUS!! So creamy but not overly heavy, I added a few more sautéed veggies and was nervous about the eggs but it all came together and the bubbling hot sauce mixed with the hot pasta cooked the eggs. What a meal, so yummy!!

  • Avatar
    Sharyn Frisbie
    April 11, 2020 12:29 am

    Can’t wait to try this with Easter Ham looming in the future. Since we are sheltering in place in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, there will be no grandsons (8 + 10) along with their parents to help us finish it off.

    Enjoyed your garden and am so jealous of your Peony tree and others. The only sunny spot in my yard has a pool (not complaining but would like a vegetable garden. I do have lots of potted plants on our back deck which lifts my spirits amidst the pollen and sheltering.
    Glad to hear that the end might be approaching for you and hope ours will follow soon. In the meantime I’ll keep making homemade pasta and baking for just 2 of us. Stay safe and keep those lovely Italian pictures coming.

    Sharyn Frisbie

    • Jacqui
      April 11, 2020 8:23 am

      Hi Sharyn, so nice of you to respond to my newsletter! This recipe is definitely perfect for leftover Easter ham! I’m sure you’ll love it! Yes my peony tree really is special! But I’m jealous of your pool! I’d love to have one! Having a garden or outdoor space really helps during these lockdowns. Although the Itaian government has now extended the lockdown to May 3rd, we continue to be hopeful that life will start returning to normal soon! As I’m sure it will for you too! All the best!

  • Avatar
    March 26, 2020 1:01 am

    This pasta dish looks so delicious, creamy and hearty. It will for sure be a hit with my family, and I have all the ingredients, too! Thanks for sharing.

  • Avatar
    Kelly Anthony
    April 30, 2019 8:58 pm

    I love peas in my pasta and this recipe looks heavenly. I can’t wait to make this for my family.

  • Avatar
    April 16, 2019 4:36 pm

    I love the paste and peas combo, and thst looks so rich!

    • Jacqui
      April 16, 2019 6:09 pm

      Thanks Michael! I love pasta with peas too, especially fresh peas!

  • Avatar
    April 16, 2019 4:09 pm

    I love a good pasta dish! This looks so easy and delicious!

    • Jacqui
      April 16, 2019 6:10 pm

      Thank you Shanika! Yes this is a pretty easy pasta recipe and very yummy!

  • Avatar
    April 16, 2019 4:08 pm

    I love all pasta – this is perfect for Spring! Thank you!

    • Jacqui
      April 16, 2019 6:21 pm

      Happy you like this recipe Tawnie! Yes this is a great spring recipe!

  • Avatar
    April 16, 2019 4:04 pm

    I love how creamy it is! So good!

    • Jacqui
      April 16, 2019 6:22 pm

      Thanks so much Toni! Yes very creamy!

  • Avatar
    April 16, 2019 3:51 pm

    I love when I can prepare the sauce while boiling pasta! For this recipe I have everything on hand so will be trying it soon. Thanks for the inspiration!

    • Jacqui
      April 16, 2019 6:25 pm

      I’m sure you’ll love this dish Julia!

  • Avatar
    Lauren Vavala | DeliciousLittleBites
    April 16, 2019 2:34 pm

    Definitely making a version of this with leftover ham – I love the cream sauce with peas!

    • Jacqui
      April 16, 2019 6:34 pm

      This is a great recipe for leftover ham Lauren!

  • Avatar
    Neli Howard | Delicious Meets Healthy
    April 16, 2019 2:31 pm

    The peas are a wonderful addition. The dish is sophisticated yet simple to prepare and I am certain delicious, perfect for entertaining at this time of year.

    • Jacqui
      April 16, 2019 7:16 pm

      Thanks Neli! Yes peas go so well with pasta, especially fresh peas!This recipe is perfect for entertaining or family meals!

  • Avatar
    April 16, 2019 2:31 pm

    I almost love peas in every food 🙂 This pasta looks absolutely delicious, can’t resist making one this evening.

    • Jacqui
      April 16, 2019 7:17 pm

      Thank you Meghna! I’m sure you will really enjoy this pasta recipe! The peas go so well in it!

  • Avatar
    April 16, 2019 2:29 pm

    This looks wonderful. I can’t wait to make this. Thank you Jacqui, and your photos are awesome!

    • Jacqui
      April 16, 2019 7:18 pm

      Aww thanks Bee! Happy you like this recipe and the photos!

  • Avatar
    April 16, 2019 1:20 pm

    Mmm this looks so yummy! Pasta is always a favourite in my house and this dish looks so perfect and comforting!! Totally drooling!

    • Jacqui
      April 16, 2019 7:19 pm

      Grazie Rosa! Pasta is a favourite in our house too, of course! This is a great family recipe that everyone is bound to like!

  • Avatar
    April 16, 2019 12:40 pm

    now this is my kind of dish. a creamy pasta with ham….so delicious! It’s 330 AM and I am already drooling over this!!

    • Jacqui
      April 16, 2019 7:20 pm

      So pleased you like this recipe Danielle! Creamy pasta with ham is a favourite of mine too!

  • Avatar
    April 12, 2019 8:49 pm

    Great recipe. And I loved learning about the papal history!

  • Avatar
    April 12, 2019 8:04 pm

    You are making me miss Rome now. I ate so much good food there. I am going to have to make this!

  • Avatar
    April 12, 2019 7:49 pm

    Oh my word, our family will go nuts for this! I’m so glad I found it, just in time for Easter leftover ham! 🙂

  • Avatar
    April 12, 2019 7:29 pm

    This looks so, so tasty! I love peas in, well just about everything!! And I need to practice adding more eggs to my pasta dishes!

  • Avatar
    Renee | The Good Hearted Woman
    April 12, 2019 7:21 pm

    I love learning the history behind different recipes, and this one is so interesting. I can imagine this with fresh peas from the garden – it sounds delicious!

  • Avatar
    April 12, 2019 7:15 pm

    This looks and sounds super delicious and easy to make.. I make always looking for some easy meals ideas and this fits the bill! Thanks!

  • Avatar
    April 12, 2019 5:01 pm

    This is my kind of pasta. I love the addition of cream and peas. Super delicious. I will be making this often. Oh and thanks for the history of the dish. Very interesting.

  • Avatar
    sue | the view from great island
    April 12, 2019 4:41 pm

    I love this recipe, it seems like there’s an authentic Italian pasta for every combination imaginable, but I never saw one with ham. The flavors sound so comforting!

  • Avatar
    April 12, 2019 4:11 pm

    Wow this recipe looks amazing! The sauce looks killer and I love the combination of peas and ham.

  • Avatar
    ali randall
    April 12, 2019 3:52 pm

    What an interesting backstory on pasta alla papalina. I think this dinner makes a perfect Spring presentation and who can say no to all these delicious ingredients. Seconds please!

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