02 August 2012

AUNTIE PASTA: Fettucine Papalina

SARONNO, Italy - This sophisticated version of spaghetti alla carbonara is quick and easy, and if you read the list of ingredients you know it is going to be delicious. The dish is called fettuccine papalina, a papalina being a cap with ear flaps. There's no proof the cap had anything to do with the dish, but there must have been some connection between the cap and the fettuccine, or the cap and the cardinal, or the cardinal and the fettuccine, some kind of a connection somewhere, don't you think?
 Ahh, the wonderful restaurants of Rome
The story of how this dish originated is one you have heard before and will likely hear over and over again throughout Italy. The story is always the same: a bishop, a cardinal or even the Pope himself visits a town or a restaurant and a local cook creates a special dish for the occasion; or, the bishop or cardinal or the Pope asked for a special dish in honor of something or other. Fettuccine alla papalina falls under the second story line.

It was created in the late 1930’s when the Papal Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, who would later become Pope Pius XII, asked the restaurant that prepared the meals for the Vatican to prepare a special dish that reflected traditional Roman culinary traditions.
 Pope Pius XII
The restaurant cook looked around his kitchen, and decided that if there was one dish that reflected traditional Roman cooking, it was spaghetti carbonara. But how could he keep the spirit of the recipe when it had so few ingredients, spaghetti, eggs and cubed guanciale (pigs cheek and jowl)? He decided to replace the guanciale with the highest quality prosciutto crudo he could find, and to boost the flavor even more, he chopped and fried an onion to add to it.  Then he added cream, a real luxury even in those pre-war days and there it was, fettuccine alla papalina.

There is another story line regarding the naming of a dish, that sometimes gets me into trouble, strozzapreti. Strozzapreti are thick spaghetti with a tomato and smoked pancetta sauce. Strozzapreti literally translates to ‘priest choker’, which I’m sure came about because the peasants in Lazio were getting sick and tired of the local priests knocking on their door every Sunday right about lunch time, but since they could not take direct action, they would stand silently by and hope for the best. I admit that is pure speculation on my part, but if you think about it, if they were happy to see the priests at their door, how come they didn’t name the dish ‘abbraciapretti’,hug a priest? I’m not saying that's how it happened, I'm just saying there’s a possibility, that’s all.

 Fettuccine alla Papalina
 Ingredients (2 servings)

250 grams fettuccine
80 grams butter
½ finely chopped white onion
200 ml heavy cream
60 grams parmigiano reggiano
100 grams proscuito crudo
3 eggs
Freshly ground black pepper

Cut the prosciutto crudo into strips (1) and then into cubes (2); then peel and finely chop the onion and cook it in butter untili it is soft and transparent (3).  

As soon as the onion is cooked (but not browned) add the proscuitto and let it cook for less than a minute (4). In a separate bowl, first beat the eggs and then add the cream (5) and then beat the eggs and cream together (6). 

Once the eggs and cream are well mixed, add the parmigiano and set the bowl aside (7). In the meantime cook the fettuccine. When they are al dente (8), drain them and put them into the frying pan with the onion and prosciutto crudo (9). 

Mix all the ingredients together and then turn the heat off. At this point add the cream, eggs and parmigiano, mix well and serve immediately with a little freshly ground pepper. 

There is another version of this recipe using small cubes of boiled ham instead of proscuito crudo, and peas that is also very good. 

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