Fettuccine Alfredo two ways, good and right
Last week, in a still unnamed restaurant, I had some of the most ghastly Fettuccine Alfredo I’ve ever had the misfortune to encounter. Was it straight off the food service truck? Was the cook just clueless? Does it matter? One reason I haven’t named the restaurant is that I just can’t believe they’ll be there much longer. However, they do seem to be doing a lively business in “to go” pizzas. Maybe I’ll try one. Or not.
Anyway, this weekend, I just felt like I needed to make some GOOD Fettuccine Alfredo. I knew I could make better than those jokers, if only because I have made better, repeatedly. So, to clear my memories of that ghastly Alfredo, I decided to make two Fettuccine Alfredos. C’mon along for the ride!
There are few Americans who haven’t heard of Fettuccine Alfredo. It is quite likely the most widely known, and most widely bastardized, dish from Italy. More interestingly, most Italians have never heard of it, or Alfredo. For an Italian, it’s just fettuccine and cheese. No big deal.
What we know of as Fettuccine Alfredo is largely a triumph of marketing and a renowned Hollywood couple, Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickwick, who stopped in at Alfredo alla Scrofa a restaurant in the old town part of Rome where they enjoyed the dish as prepared by Alfredo de Lelio, the creator of this dish and the owner of Alfredo alla Scrofa. To dress up a fairly straight forward dish, Alfredo prepared each serving table-side with gusto, flair and a great dramatic presence. A special night, a special place, a special dish, prepared by a charismatic chef for a special couple…. they talked this dish up back in the states and the great night they had, and marketing magic happened. Marketing magic that is still happening. As may be, the dish lingers in our minds and on our tongues because it is so very, very lovely.
The first time I was introduced to Fettuccine Alfredo was when a friend worked for the first Whole Foods Market in the cheese department. She helped open the second store. Neither are there anymore, at least not as Whole Food Markets. She brought me a recipe that the store was handing out. It was delightful. Rich, creamy, decadent, laden with excess calories. While normally sensible, this time she said, “Hang the calories this is heaven!” I’ve delighted many people when I’ve prepared this. Sadly, it’s not authentic. Oh well. We’ll do the authentic one later on.
- 1/2 cup unsalted (sweet) butter
- 1/2 lb fresh Fettuccine noodles (or a batch of homemade noodles),
- 1/2 cup light cream (or diluted Crème fraîche or Cremea Mexicana),
- 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (use some good Parmesan cheese, not the stuff in the grocery aisle near the pasta),
- a pinch of nutmeg,
- a pinch of fresh parsley (optional), and
- a little pepper (optional).
Instructions: Put water on to boil for the noodles. As the water comes to
a boil, start preparing the sauce. In a separate pan melt:
1/2 cup unsalted (sweet) butter
over very low heat – DO NOT LET IT BROWN!! Once the butter
has melted, stir into the butter:
1/2 cup light cream (or the diluted Crème fraîche or Crema Mexicana (I normally use the Crème fraîche or Crema Mexicana, and I never dilute it.)
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese.
Beat this with a whisk to keep the sauce from clumping. Once the sauce is smooth, season the sauce with:
a pinch of nutmeg,
a pinch of fresh parsley (optional), and
a little pepper (optional).
Turn the sauce down to a simmer and add:
1/2 lb fresh Fettuccine noodles (or a batch of homemade noodles)
to the boiling water. When the noodles are cooked al dente, drain and toss gently with sauce. Serve immediately.
The order of these steps is important, as it is better to make the sauce wait for the noodles than to make the noodles wait for the sauce.
This can be a meal in itself, of you can serve it as a side dish. We love it with pork or ham, and fresh veggies. A bit of wine never hurt anything either. In any case, serve it with some more grated Parmesan cheese in case someone wants more.
This dish is fantastic, and there’s really not much to complain about here. Except that it’s not authentic. The real deal is noodles, Parmesan cheese and butter. Italian cooks in this country often add cream, Crème fraîche or Crema Mexicana because American butter isn’t as rich as Italian butter. So, let’s make the real deal. Traditionally, Fettuccine Alfredo is prepared table side, with great ceremony. You may want to do that also – it costs nothing and makes a meal an event. Your special someone, your spouse, your kids, even your parents or in-laws or your boss will remember the show!
1/2 pound fettuccine noodles.
1/2 cup unsalted (sweet) butter, cut into small pieces, (the original recipe said, “about the size of an egg”).
1 cup freshly ground good Parmesan
If you want to be more authentic, go to an upscale market and get some European or Italian butter. Even without doing that, this was delightful!
Again, set on the water to cook the noodles. As the water starts to boil, put a few ladles of hot water into the bowl in which you will prepare the Fettuccine Alfredo to preheat the bowl.
Cook the noodles. When they are cooked, drain them, rinse them with cold water so they won’t stick together, then heat them again in hot water. Perhaps the hot water in the bowl.
Drain the water from the serving bowl, add the butter, the noodles, and the grated Parmesan cheese. Begin tossing the butter, noodles and cheese. The heat of the noodles (you DID rinse them in hot water, didn’t you?) and the bowl will melt the butter and the cheese. The agitation of vigorously tossing the noodles will form the sauce. Once the noodles are covered with the sauce, serve. Every description of the process of making this dish stresses how energetically Alfredo de Lelio, the creator of this dish and the owner of Alfredo alla Scrofa, tossed the noodles in the butter and cheese. Most articles stressed that no matter how busy the restaurant was, Alfredo took it as a point of honor to toss the noodles himself. So, go overboard! Toss vigorously, toss thoroughly, and make Alfredo proud!
In the picture above, we used home made fettuccine made with chestnut flour. You can get chestnut flour in many Italian markets and on Amazon. The noodles were delicious with rich earthy notes and a hint of chestnut flavor. (And they were even better as leftovers the next day!) However, the noodles were also very fragile because chestnut flour is a very weak flour and the noodles could not stand up to the vigorous tossing. Next time, I’ll use more conventional noodles
Despite the noodle issues, the dish was wonderful!
So which was better? The recipe from Whole Foods Market, the authentic recipe. or the dish from the (still unnamed) restaurant in Sanger? It wasn’t the dish from the restaurant in Sanger. Both of my dishes were great! However, the Whole Foods Market recipe emphasized the cream flavor and mouth feel end of the spectrum while the original celebrated the pasta and cheese. I liked both. A lot. And I’d have trouble saying which was better. Give ‘em a try, see what you think. Let me know!