The dish is quite simple and despite being more ‘refined’ is actually easier to make than carbonara. You saute some finely chopped onion in butter (or olive oil) until translucent. (NB: White onion, with its delicate flavor, works best, but ordinary yellow onion will do.) You add chopped prosciutto (or small cubes of ham which is what I used this time round) and allow that to saute for a few minutes, then, if you like and are feeling a bit heretical (see Note below), add some peas and allow to insaporire for a minute or two more. Then add cream and allow the cream to reduce a bit.
Cook fettuccine and when al dente, drain (not too well) and add them to the cream sauce. Then pour over a egg which you will have beaten with grated parmesan cheese. Mix well, letting the egg and cheese mixture to thicken the sauce. Serve immediately, if you like with additional grated cheese.
NOTE: A number of knowledgeable sources say that the additional of peas is not authentic. You will, nevertheless, often find fettuccine alla papalina made this way and I rather like it. I’ve also seen some recipes that call for sliced mushrooms as well as peas, but this is really going far afield, it seems to me. It must be very nice, but at that point I wouldn’t call it papalina…
This is not an ancient dish, by the way. Pope Pius XII was the controversial Pope who reigned during WWII, from 1939 to 1958. As Cardinal, he signed an concordat with Hitler’s Germany in 1933 and was, in the eyes of many, excessively deferential to Germany during the war. In any even, the chronology is interesting, since one story for the origins of spaghetti alla carbonara is that it was invented by Italians using the bacon and egg rations that US soldiers brought along with them as they moved up the ‘boot’ of Italy during the war. If so, then this dish could not have been invented while Pius was still Cardinal prior to his coronation in 1939.
Anyway, whatever its origins, the dish is really delicious!