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Indulge your taste buds with Fettuccine alla Papalina, a luxurious Italian pasta dish that boasts aristocratic origins. This creamy, flavourful recipe features egg fettuccine, Parma ham, butter, onions, cream, and Parmigiano Reggiano, creating a delightful harmony of rich and savoury flavours. Perfect for special occasions or when you want to treat yourself, this dish is sure to impress.




Ready In:


25 min




Good For:



About this Recipe

By: Silvana Lanzetta

Let’s dive into yet another debate surrounding traditional Roman cuisine: the famous fettuccine alla papalina. Should we use Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese? What about raw or cooked ham? And do we really need cream? To answer these questions, we need to take a trip back in time to the birth of this scrumptious dish. It’s not that long ago, actually—our story starts with Pope Pius XII, born Eugenio Pacelli.

fettuccine alla papalina


An aristrocratic beginning

Imagine this: it’s the 1950s and Pope Pius XII is navigating a Rome where spaghetti alla carbonara is all the rage. So much so, that some say it was inspired by the eggs and bacon brought by American soldiers! Wanting a more refined and “aristocratic” version of this popular dish, Pius XII asked the Vatican chef for a little makeover. The chef then swapped guanciale for raw ham, Pecorino for Parmesan, and added onion (sautéed in butter, of course). And don’t forget the egg yolk, which, along with the butter, made it extra creamy. The pasta of choice? Egg pasta—specifically, the fettuccine typical of Ciociaria.

Variations of fettuccine alla papalina! 

First, the great ham debate: raw or cooked? The original recipe calls for raw ham—perhaps a salty Umbrian or Tuscan variety. But if you’re aiming for a more delicate flavour, you might choose Parma or San Daniele ham. Cooked ham is also an acceptable choice. Some versions even include peas, though that might remind you of the “chef’s pasta” of the 80s, where anything and everything found its way into the dish. And if you see mushrooms, well, we’ve strayed pretty far from the original papalina.

Butter, pasta, and cheese—oh my! 

The use of cream is hotly debated: adding it may be a later innovation that ups the creaminess without relying on butter. Instead, you could use extra virgin olive oil to sauté the onions. In Lazio and Umbria, you might even find pasta dishes where cream, eggs, and butter are replaced with gruyere cheese or other melted cheeses. And for pasta, consider tagliatelle straw and hay or short pasta as perfect pairings.

In the end, fettuccine alla papalina is an aristocratic and imaginative dish, open to interpretation. Just remember its delicate roots and don’t go overboard with the richness of ingredients. 

Today, I’m sharing a super popular version of the dish that many people just can’t get enough of. It features cooked ham, onions, egg yolk, and cream—yum! Now, this might not be the exact original dish that Pope Pius XII enjoyed, but it’s definitely a hit in Roman restaurants these days. And for all you cream lovers who felt a little let down by the lack of cream in carbonara, this version is sure to make you smile! Buon Appetito

Parma ham
grated parmesan



This fettuccine recipe is rich in flavour and high in calories and fat, mainly due to the butter, cream, and Parmigiano Reggiano. The pasta and Parma ham contribute carbohydrates and protein. Consume with moderation.

  • Proteins 18% 18%
  • Carbs 29% 29%
  • Fats 53% 53%
Pasta alla Papalina 1

The Ingredients


Ideally, you’d use raw ham like Parma ham, cut into one thick slice and then sliced into strips resembling lardons. But, I get it – finding that outside Italy can be a bit of a challenge.

Now, if your local supermarket has a deli counter, they might be able to slice the meat just how you want it. If not, you’ll have to work with what you can find. Remember, if you end up using pre-sliced ham, it’ll cook faster, so keep an eye on it to avoid making it too hard.

Another option is to use cubed cooked ham, like gammon. Sure, the flavour will change quite a bit, but hey, many versions in Italy use cooked ham too! It’s totally acceptable. But if you want to experience the real deal, stick with Parma ham.



Here’s another classic Italian food debate for you: should you use whole eggs or just yolks in this recipe? Now, my recipe calls for whole eggs, but sometimes when I’m feeling a little fancy and decadent, I like to mix things up – using half whole eggs and half yolks.

I wouldn’t recommend using only yolks, though, because let’s be honest, there’s already plenty of richness in this dish! Plus, it’s nice to get some protein in there, right? And don’t forget, always use super fresh eggs – that’s key to making this dish truly delicious!

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People often debate whether to use Parmesan or Pecorino cheese in this dish. But honestly, it’s a no-brainer for me. The original recipe calls for Parmesan, so that’s what I’ll use when I want to make an authentic Papalina sauce. If I feel like experimenting, sure, I might switch things up. But keep in mind, Pecorino can be quite salty and strong, which could overpower the dish’s delicate balance of flavours. Plus, we’re using Parma ham here, which already has a distinct salty taste and unique flavour – so we definitely want to enhance that rather than create a clash.


You’ll definitely want to stick with either brown or white onions. Trust me, red onions just won’t do the trick here – their strong flavour can be a bit overpowering for this recipe.


To cream or not to cream? You see, the original recipe actually calls for butter instead of cream. But you know what? These days, most people add a little cream to their Papalina sauce, and it’s become quite popular among Italians. I mean, who can resist that creamy goodness, right? Of course, there are some purists in Rome who might gasp in horror at the thought of adding cream to Fettuccine alla Papalina – it’s just not traditional!

So, what should you do? Well, that’s totally up to you! Adding cream does make it easier to blend with the eggs, while using butter can be a bit trickier since it needs to be melted and cooled to the perfect temperature to avoid cooking the eggs. Personally, I’m a fan of both versions. But hey, the choice is yours – let the great debate continue!

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fettuccine alla papalina closeup

Fettuccine alla papalina

  • Author: Silvana
  • Total Time: 25 minutes
  • Yield: 4 portions 1x


Fettuccine alla Papalina is a luxurious Italian pasta dish with a rich blend of Parma ham, cream, and Parmigiano Reggiano.


Units Scale
  • 400 grams egg fettuccine, tagliatelle, or linguine
  • 80 grams butter
  • 80 grams onions
  • 150 grams of Parma (raw) ham
  • 150 grams double cream
  • 4 medium eggs
  • 80 grams grated Parmigiano Reggiano DOP
  • Black pepper, to taste
  • Salt, to taste
  • 1 ladle of water at room temperature


  1. Begin by slicing the raw ham into thin strips and set aside.

  2. Heat a non-stick pan over medium heat and add the butter, allowing it to melt.

  3. Add the finely chopped onions to the pan and cook for 8 minutes, until softened. Add a ladle of room-temperature water to help the onions cook.

  4. Stir in the raw ham strips and cook for an additional 2 minutes, using a kitchen spatula to combine everything evenly. Once cooked, remove the pan from heat and set aside.

  5. In a large saucepan, bring salted water to a boil. Cook the fettuccine for 3 minutes, or until al dente.

  6. While the pasta cooks, crack the eggs into a bowl, add the cream, and whisk vigorously to combine. Mix in the grated cheese and season with salt to taste.

  7. Drain the cooked fettuccine and transfer it directly into the pan with the ham and onion mixture. Sauté the pasta briefly to infuse it with flavour.

  8. Remove the pan from heat and pour the egg mixture evenly over the pasta. Stir quickly to combine all the ingredients.

  9. Season the dish with black pepper to taste, and serve your fettuccine alla papalina piping hot. Enjoy!


It is recommended to enjoy the fettuccine while it is piping hot and freshly made. Freezing the dish is not advised.

To make homemade fettuccine for 4  people, simply mix 300g of flour with 3 large eggs to form a smooth, slightly porous dough, let it rest for 30 minutes, roll it out into a thin sheet, roll the sheet up, cut it into 1 cm wide strips, and unroll the strips to create the your pasta.

For a delightful twist on this classic dish, consider incorporating sweet peas into the recipe. To do so, simply add the peas to the pan along with the onions, prior to introducing the ham. Proceed with the remainder of the recipe as instructed.

For this recipe, it’s important to use thick slices of ham that can be cut into hearty strips, similar in size to lardons. It might be challenging to find thickly-cut Parma (or raw) ham outside of Italy. However, you can easily request this from your local supermarket’s deli counter—they’ll be happy to slice the ham to your desired thickness. Alternatively, consider opting for a more affordable packaged ham, as these tend to be cut slightly thicker than their premium counterparts, ensuring the ideal texture for your dish.

For a more delicate and subtle flavour, consider using cooked ham in place of the raw ham.

For those who wish to experience the authentic taste of the original recipe, consider incorporating 100 grams of melted and cooled butter instead of the cream.

  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 15 minutes
  • Category: Pasta
  • Cuisine: Italian
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