Pasta Alla Nonna Recipe – Carina Contini


  • 160g De Cecco wheel-shaped pasta, or any chunky macaroni (80g per person for a main course, or 40g per person for a starter)
  • Salt
  • 50g unsalted butter
  • ½ very small onion, finely chopped
  • 100g pancetta, cut into small squares
  • 250ml double cream
  • 75g fresh garden peas, podded weight
  • 75g broad beans
  • 2 large handfuls of fresh spinach
  • A little freshly grated nutmeg
  • 50g Parmigiano Reggiano, very finely grated, plus extra to garnish
  • Freshly ground black pepper


  • Put the pasta in a large pan of boiling salted water and cook until al dente.
  • Meanwhile, make the sauce. Put the butter in a pan over a medium heat and when it has melted, add the onion. Fry until very soft and translucent.
  • Add the bacon and fry until crispy but don’t allow it to become too hard.
  • Add the cream and as it starts to thicken, add the peas, Parmigiano Reggiano and fresh spinach. Add a little nutmeg to taste. Season with a little salt and plenty of pepper. Cook until the cream has thickened and become glossy. If the sauce looks too thick, don’t be shy to add a little more cream.
  • Drain the pasta, reserving a little of the pasta water. If you think the sauce needs to be thinned, add some of the pasta water.
  • Serve immediately, sprinkled with more freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano and garnished with pea shoots if you wish.
  • Serve with a crisp green salad – and with a few luscious fresh figs for dessert, if you have a granny like I had!
Credit: Carina Contini is owner of Contini George Street; Cannonball Restaurant & bar; and The Scottish Cafe & Restaurant, all in Edinburgh.

Carina has fond memories of the fresh figs her grandmother brought from Italy…


Pasta Alla Nonna Recipe

Carina Contini

EARLY September was when my grandmother – or Nonna – came back from her annual two months in Italy. She seemed ancient. She was 80 when she died – I was 10 – but I thought she was about 140! She travelled with one of those old travel trunks, and an entourage of her favourite grandchildren.

I was too young to ever go to Italy with her, but I was the perfect age to get a present when she came home.

The present was never a toy or a game; as you’d guess, it was food. Pecorino, salsicce, but most importantly fresh figs.

In 1970s Scotland, Port Seton Co-op didn’t offer fresh figs. The dried version were as hard as rocks, and probably as old, so there was no love for the fruit in its packeted form, but fresh – wow! Who needed a holiday to Italy when one exotic taste of these delicious fruits did the trick?


This is a classic grandmother’s pasta! Normally made with “route”, the little wheel shaped pasta, so that the peas can stick in between the gaps and make it easier for you to enjoy.

Serves two as a main, four as a starter


They were so beautifully and carefully packed, in a handmade wicker basket that had a long handle and a wicker lid.

Nonna would carry the figs all the way back on the plane on her knee to ensure no damage would be done. She was the sole custodian of this treasure.

The basket was what you imagine Little Red Riding Hood having on her visit to her grandmother. Inside, each layer of figs was carefully packed with layers and layers of fig leaves to make sure the fruit never got bashed or bruised. The basket also allowed the figs to breathe so they could withstand the journey.

Most of all, it was the smell of the figs that was one of my most evocative childhood memories. The other would have to be the huge vats of hot vanilla ice cream being boiled in the back of the shop. The highlight would be getting a cup of the hot custard before it was pasteurised – amazing!

But back to the figs. I was 18 years old when I visited my grandmother’s house in Italy for the first time and in the back of the garden I found the fig tree, where breakfast was served.
But the exact same smell brought back all those happy memories of figs from my Nonna’s café when I was six or seven years old.


Pasta Alla Nonna Recipe



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