Fettuccine with Alfredo sauce is yet another Italian dish that has become a staple in the US. However, the version Americans are familiar with is a bastardized version containing heavy cream, chicken and other ingredients not used in the Italian classic.
Il Classico [No, not El Clásico]
The classic recipe comprises of fettuccine tossed with butter and Parmesan cheese, called ‘fettuccine al burro’, and is a particularly rich affair. This recipe dates back to the 15th century, and is attributed to a Rome-based cook named Martino da Como. In his book ‘Libro de Arte Coquinaria‘, da Como writes about a recipe called ‘Maccaroni Romaneschi‘ [‘Roman Pasta’], wherein the pasta is boiled in broth or water, cooked in butter, ‘good cheese’ and ‘sweet spices’.
The modern Alfredo sauce was invented around 1907-1908 by Alfredo di Lelio, a restaurateur based in Rome. Legend has it that he invented the recipe for his wife Ines after the birth of their first child Armando. Alfredo, in hopes of making the dish more palatable to the new mother, added ‘
After his restaurant at the Piazza Rosa was shut down, di Lelio opened his own restaurant [the former was his mother’s] in 1914, on the Via della Scrofa in central Rome. He called it ‘Alfredo de Scrofa’, but was simply referred to as ‘Alfredo’, where he served his signature fettuccine al triplo burro. News of the dish spread like wildfire, first in Rome [what’s with Rome and fires 🤔], then to other countries.
The Hollywood Touch
By now this restaurant in Rome had attracted visitors from far and wide. In 1927, Hollywood stars Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks visited Alfredo’s restaurant on their honeymoon. The couple, impressed by the dish, presented Alfredo a golden fork and spoon. Alfredo would, later on, use this golden cutlery for theatrical presentations of his signature dish.
Back in Hollywood, Pickford and Fairbanks served Alfredo’s dish to their friends and family, making it a Hollywood sensation overnight.
Il Vero Alfredo
Around 1943, during the War, Alfredo sold his della Scrofa restaurant to two of his waiters, who kept the name. Post World War II, around 1950, Alfredo opened another restaurant with his son Armando, called ‘Alfredo all’Augusteo’ in the Piazza Augusto Imperatore.
The competition was fucking fierce – his former employees were knowledgeable about Alfredo’s recipe(s). This forced di Lelio to adopt bylines/epithets like ‘Il Vero Alfredo’ [‘The Real Alfredo’] and ‘Imperatore Fettuccine all’Alfredo’ [‘Emperor of Fettuccine Alfredo’]. Here, Alfredo would conduct theatrical spectacles akin to opera while serving fettuccine with his golden cutlery.
Given his contributions, Alfredo di Lelio was awarded a Cavaliere dell’Ordine
Simplicity is key
Alfredo’s recipe is as easy as 1-2-3 – it contains fettuccine, butter and unaged Parmesan cheese. No secrets. Here’s my version of the Italian classic.
a) For the Pasta
- 300g all-purpose flour
- 3 eggs
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tablespoon salt
b) For the Alfredo Sauce
- 200g butter30g garlic, chopped175g Parmesan cheese + extra for garnish freshly ground black pepper
a) Pasta Dough
- In a large bowl, sieve the flour and salt together.
- Crack in the eggs in a medium bowl, beat well. Pour the beaten eggs and the olive oil into the flour.
- Mix well until the ingredients come together to form a shapeless mass. Transfer to a well-floured surface. Knead gently for 10-15 minutes until the dough is elastic. How to know when to stop? Simply, when you press the dough with a finger, it springs back.
- Cover the dough tightly with Cling Wrap, set aside to rest for at least 30-45 minutes. For best results, let it rest overnight.
- Cut the dough into workable portions. Roll out to a thickness of 2mm. Using a sharp knife, cut lengthwise into strips with the width of your index finger.
- Flour generously, divide into individual portions of 120g, and set aside to dry for about 15-20 minutes to a full day.
- Bring a stockpot filled with salted water to a rigorous boil. Boil the pasta for 5-6 minutes, a notch less than al dente. Drain, but reserve a couple of cups of water for the sauce.
b) Alfredo Sauce
- To a large fry pan or skillet, add a little butter. Sauté the chopped garlic.
- Pour in one cup of the pasta water and bring it to a simmer. Once simmering, whisk in the remaining butter gradually.
- Add the grated Parmesan, stirring constantly. Once completely melted, add the pasta. Toss the pasta to get an even coat. Adjust the seasoning.
Sprinkle freshly ground black pepper. Grate some more Parmesan cheese. Portion out and serve.
- Making the pasta dough might seem a tedious job, but trust me, it’s worth it. Use electrical appliances to make your job easier. I used my KitchenAid Mini stand mixer [not an advertisement] to prepare the dough, then kneaded it with my hands for a couple of minutes before wrapping it up to rest. Then I used the dough roller attachment to make thin pasta sheets, and finally the Fettuccine attachment to get the perfect pasta.
- If you plan to prepare your own pasta, I suggest you invest in a pasta rolling machine. This mechanical device gets the job done equally well. Start from the second thickest setting, and keep reducing until your desired thickness. Always pass the dough twice from the same setting. Don’t forget to flour your dough generously. This helps the dough from sticking to the roller.
- For the love of life, do not make a béchamel [white sauce] based Alfredo. I’ve had the white sauce menace at so many restaurants to the point where I’d stopped eating Alfredo altogether.
- Also, do not make a cream-based sauce either. Alfredo sauce, as mentioned before, is a silky smooth emulsion of the pasta water and butter. The Parmesan acts as an emulsifier.
- Elevate your Alfredo sauce by using compound [flavoured] butters. Use garlic butter, chilli butter, herb better, hell even bacon butter instead of plain ol’ salted butter.
What Wine to Pair with?
A classic Italian dish like Alfredo requires an Italian classic, such as Prosecco. If not, then try a full-bodied Chardonnay [Sicilian, if possible] or a light-bodied red such as Nebbiolo.