Mmmm. Fettuccine Alfredo. So simple, but so so good.
Most of us in America know this dish in its cream-based form, with a little nutmeg sprinkled on top.
But did you know that the original fettuccine Alfredo sauce didn’t use cream? Just butter, Parmesan, and black pepper.
Fettuccine Alfredo: A History
The “Alfredo” in fettuccine Alfredo is Alfredo di Lelio who operated a restaurant in Rome. Legend has it that he fancied up a basic pasta with butter-and-cheese to appeal to his wife, who was suffering from morning sickness. When he later served it at his restaurant, it was a hit, and fettuccine Alfredo was born.
Americans can thank Hollywood for our love of this simple Alfredo sauce.
In the late 1920s, movie stars Douglas Fairbanks Sr. and Mary Pickford ate at di Lelio’s restaurant while on honeymoon in Rome, and brought the dish back to the States.
Fettuccine Alfredo has been here ever since. Somewhere along the way, it morphed from a simple butter and Parmesan Alfredo sauce into a creamy version; how that happened is anyone’s guess.
Creamy or Classic Fettuccine Alfredo
I present both Fettuccine Alfredo versions here — the classic and the creamy. Both taste great! Whether you make one or the other just depends on what you feel like eating. Making the creamy version is just a matter of adding some cream to the sauce’s butter as it melts, and sprinkling with nutmeg instead of black pepper.
Fresh or Dried Pasta?
While I’ll usually choose fresh pasta over dried if given a choice, for this dish, I recommend using dried pasta. Dried pasta is firmer and will hold up better to the sauce. That said, you can use fresh pasta if you prefer, just cook it al dente.
Tips for Making Fettuccine Alfredo
- Serve the pasta immediately. The sauces are weak emulsions, which will break if held too long.
- Warm your serving dishes. Run your hot water over your dishes (or put them in a low oven, if they are oven-safe) before plating the food. Warm plates will help the sauce stay together.
What to serve with Fettuccine Alfredo
Serve Fettuccine Alfredo alongside baked or grilled chicken breasts, grilled or sautéed shrimp (like our shrimp scampi), a simply dressed crisp green salad, and a dry white wine. The pasta is already rich with butter and cheese (and cream if you are making that version), so something light and slightly acidic will help cut through the richness of the pasta.
Storing and Keeping Fettuccine Alfredo
Fettuccine Alfredo is the best served as soon as you make it, but it will keep, covered, in the fridge for up to 5 days. It can be reheated with a little bit of water or butter in a saucepan over low heat. It typically does not freeze well.
LIKE PASTA? CHECK OUT THESE FIVE CLASSIC DISHES:
Fettuccine Alfredo Recipe
For this dish we prefer dry fettucine noodles to freshly made because the pasta holds up better to the sauce. The instructions assume that you are using dry noodles. If you use fresh, adjust timing accordingly.
For the classic version:
- 1/2 pound dry fettuccine pasta
- 3 to 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2/3 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
- Black pepper
For the creamy version:
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- Ground nutmeg
- Additional cheese
- 2/3 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
1 Start the pasta: Bring a large pot of salty water to a boil and drop in your fettuccine.
2a For the classic version: Melt the butter in a large sauté pan set over low heat. Once the butter has melted, turn the heat off.
2b For the creamy version: Melt the butter in a large sauté pan set over low heat. Add the cream to the butter as it melts. Stir often to combine the two, keeping the heat at its lowest setting while the pasta cooks.
3 Swirl pasta in the pan with butter: When the fettuccine is al dente (cooked, but still a little firm) lift it out of the pot with tongs and move the pasta to the sauté pan. Do not drain the pasta. You want it dripping wet with the cooking water.
Turn on the heat under the sauté pan to medium and swirl the pasta and butter together to combine.
4 Incorporate the cheese: Add half the cheese, then swirl and toss the pasta until it has incorporated into the sauce.
If needed, add a few spoonfuls more of the pasta cooking water. Add the rest of the cheese and repeat.
5 Sprinkle with black pepper and/or nutmeg: Serve at once with either a little black pepper (for classic version) or ground nutmeg (for creamy version) over the pasta.
Leftovers keep for 3 to 5 days in the fridge, covered.
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