Pasta alla Papalina, is a delectable creamy and cheesy pasta from Rome made with chicken, ham and peas, and named after Pope Pius XII. Created by the Vatican chef, this Pasta recipe is often considered a lighter version of pasta alla carbonara, because instead of egg yolks the sauce is made with cream, and indeed, for many years of my life this is what I pictured when I thought of pasta alla carbonara. It wasn't until I went to Rome as a twenty-year-old and saw the bright egg-yolk yellow carbonara topped with guanciale that I understood the difference (you can try my Spaghetti Carbonara with Sweet Potato here).
Pasta alla papalina sits somewhere between the traditional recipes of Cacio e pepe, Fettucini alfredo, Boscaiola, and Spaghetti alla Carbonara, which to me, is good company to be in!
The Pope's pasta makes me think that Cardinal Pacelli knew a thing or two about pleasure. Traditionally made as fettuccine all papalina, long strands of pasta covered in a creamy, cheesy sauce, with accents of mushroom, ham and peas, in this recipe, I'm using Ditalini, a short, round tubular pasta that catches the peas and the sauce magnificently.
Ingredients Needed to make Pasta alla Papalina
This is a simple dish that uses only a few ingredients, but as is often the case in Italian cooking, each one comes together beautifully.
- 200 g mushrooms white
- 2 clove garlic
- 100 g parmesan cheese (parmigiano cheese) or pecorino romano
- 400 g chicken breast
- 100 g sliced ham (a great way to use up leftover ham) or prosciutto crudo
- 375 g ditalini pasta (short pasta)
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tbsp butter salted
- 1.5 cups frozen baby peas (or fresh peas)
- 200 ml thickened pouring cream (heavy cream)
- ½ tsp salt and pepper
- ¼ tsp cracked black pepper - black pepper is the secret to finishing this dish, don't skip it!
- Gluten-free - Use gluten-free short pasta, or fettuccini to make fettuccine alla papalina.
- Dairy-free - Use dairy-free cream, dairy-free butter like Nuttelex, and dairy-free shredded parmesan.
- Pasta shapes - traditionally made as Fettucini alla papalina, long pasta (even your usual spaghetti) works just as well as the Ditalini (short tubular pasta) I've specified in this recipe.
How to make Pasta alla Papalina
Get ready to whip up a delicious meal with this easy recipe! Here's how to do it:
- Begin placing a large pot of water on high heat and adding a pinch of salt. Bring it to a boil.
- While the water heats up, let's prepare our ingredients. Slice the mushrooms, mince the garlic, and finely grate the parmesan cheese.
- Dice the chicken and slice the ham into small pieces. Your proteins are all set to go.
- Add your pasta to boiling water and cook until al dente, or 1 minute less than what the packet instructions recommend. This will give you perfectly cooked pasta.
- Grab a large pan, deep frying pan or a casserole dish and put it on medium heat. Add a drizzle of oil and butter and when the butter foams, lay the diced chicken in a single layer and let it cook without stirring until the edges turn opaque.
- Give the chicken a stir, then introduce the mushrooms, ham, and minced garlic into the pan. Sauté everything until they turn a lovely golden color. The cooked ham will deepen in colour and turn golden brown.
- As your pasta approaches its cooking time, reserve a cup of pasta water then add in the peas and let them cook for 1 more minute. Once done, drain the pasta and add drained pasta to the pan with the chicken mixture.
- Using the residual heat of the pasta, add the cream and finely grated parmesan cheese. Give it all a good stir to combine, until it forms a silky sauce. Don't forget to season with salt and fresh cracked pepper according to your taste.
- Now comes the exciting part – serving! Plate the creamy pasta and sprinkle some more finely grated parmesan on top. A dash of freshly cracked black pepper adds a nice kick.
There you have it – a scrumptious pasta dish. Buon appetito!
Top tip for serving later
If you find yourself with leftovers to reheat, simply add a bit of water to the dish to loosen up the sauce and restore that creamy goodness.
- If your child doesn't like cream, they may prefer the pasta served without the creamy sauce (as pictured).
- For kids, skip the cracked black pepper.
You will need a pot, a stovetop, a deep frying pan or casserole dish.
More Pasta Recipes
Pasta is the stuff dreams are made of, and if you are looking for some more creamy and comforting Italian pasta dishes, you should try my Garlic Butter and Sage Pasta with Ricotta or my Salmon Pasta Alfredo.
If you're looking for a different pasta dish, this Pasta e Fagioli Soup Recipe - Easy Italian Pasta and Beans is still very comforting, but made with beans and loads of veggies for a healthier option.
Pasta alla Papalina Recipe (Creamy Pasta with Ham and Peas)
- Deep frying pan or casserole dish
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 200 g mushrooms white
- 2 clove garlic
- 100 g parmesan cheese block
- 400 g chicken breast
- 100 g ham sliced
- 375 g ditalini pasta short pasta
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 tablespoon butter salted
- 1.5 cups frozen baby peas
- 200 ml thickened pouring cream
- ½ teaspoon salt and pepper
- ¼ teaspoon cracked black pepper
- Place a large pot of salted hot tap water on to boil.1 teaspoon salt
- Slice mushrooms. Mince garlic. Finely grate parmesan.200 g mushrooms, 2 clove garlic, 100 g parmesan cheese
- Dice chicken. Slice ham into small pieces.400 g chicken breast, 100 g ham
- Once water is boiling, add pasta and set a timer for 1 minute less than packet instructions.375 g ditalini pasta
- Place a deep frying pan or casserole dish on high heat. Add oil and butter. Add chicken in a single layer and don't stir until the edges turn opaque.1 tablespoon olive oil, 2 tablespoon butter, 400 g chicken breast
- Stir chicken then add mushrooms, ham and garlic, and sauté until golden.200 g mushrooms, 100 g ham, 2 clove garlic
- When pasta is almost ready, add peas and cook for 1 min. Drain. Option to reserve plain pasta with chicken and ham for your child. Add remaining pasta with cream and parmesan. Stir through. Season to taste.100 g parmesan cheese, 1.5 cups frozen baby peas, 200 ml thickened pouring cream, ½ teaspoon salt and pepper
- Option to serve kids pasta, chicken and ham. Serve adults creamy pasta with finely grated parmesan and freshly cracked black pepper. If reheating, add water to loosen the sauce.¼ teaspoon cracked black pepper