Saturday, February 8, 2014

Fettuccine Alfredo

A couple of years ago I posted a variation on Fettuccine Alfredo.  It was an unusual thing for me to do—making a variation on this classic—because I love it in its pure and basic form:  fettuccine sauced with butter, Parmesan, cream and freshly ground black pepper.  It really doesn't need anything else.  It is simple...and delicious...and  its decadence makes it a truly special treat. 

Apparently the original dish was even more streamlined than the one that I make.  The sauce was simply melted butter with Parmesan.  Elise Bauer at Simply Recipes gives a brief outline of the history of the dish.  At some point cream was added and is now widely considered to be standard.  In any case, this later hybrid with cream is the version that I grew up with. 

Because my mother never bought into the low-fat craze, butter and cream were never evicted from our diets.  The version she made is not too different from the one that I make today.  Her recipe was from a basic Italian-American cookbook and called for 2/3 cup of heavy cream, a stick of butter and a cup of finely grated Parmesan (plus more to sprinkle over the top) for every pound of fettuccine. 

As I have played with this recipe over the years I have varied the individual amounts of cream and butter that I use, but I have kept the total quantity of liquid roughly the same.  As long as your volume of cream and butter total somewhere in the range of 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (18 tablespoons) and 1 1/4 cup (20 tablespoons) you should end up with enough sauce for a pound of fettuccine.  Even though the original sauce is all butter, I find sauces with more cream than butter to be nicer—a higher proportion of butter seems to produce an oily and slightly gritty result.  My preferred quantities of cream and butter are 3/4 cup heavy cream plus 6 tablespoons of butter...or 1 cup heavy cream plus 4 tablespoons of butter...or something in between...depending on the day.  No matter what your ratio of butter and cream, a cup of finely grated Parmesan (3 oz.) is just about right for a pound of is enough to give good flavor, but not so much that the sauce will be too thick or sticky. 

I would be remiss not to point out that since there are so few ingredients in this dish you should use the best ingredients possible.  Most importantly you should use real Reggiano Parmesan cheese.  It is expensive, but worth it.  (Even as a teenager—with my rather limited palate—I could tell when my Mom made this dish with "the good" cheese.)  Don't purchase pre-grated stuff.  Get a nice wedge of the real thing and use a microplaner to grate it yourself. 

It takes very little time (less time than it takes to cook the noodles) and it makes all the difference in the world.  The other ingredients should be best quality as well—first quality durum semolina pasta, unsalted butter and heavy cream that is just cream (no emulsifiers, preservatives, etc.).

Because I almost never have the need to cook an entire pound of pasta, the printable recipe that I'm posting below gives the quantities I use when I cook for two, as well as quantities for a full pound.  The former may seem like a rather small amount, but it is enough to satisfy my occasional craving for this delicious dish.  And, with the addition of something green (a salad....asparagus...a big pile of broccoli...), it really does make a very fine dinner.

Fettuccine Alfredo

For two:
180 g. (see note) Fettuccine
1/3 c. to 6 T. Heavy Cream
2 T. unsalted butter, cut into half inch cubes
Freshly ground black pepper
35 g. (6 to 7 T.) finely grated Parmesan
Grated Parmesan for serving

For four to six:
1 lb. Fettuccine
1 c. Heavy Cream
4 to 5 T. unsalted butter, cut into cubes
Freshly ground black pepper
3 oz. (1 c.) finely grated Parmesan
Grated Parmesan for serving

Bring a large pot of water to the boil. Season well with salt (it should taste salty—you'll want at least 1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons per quart of water). Add the fettuccine and cook until almost al dente. Ladle out some of the pasta water and set aside.  Continue to cook the pasta. 

When you drop the pasta, place the cream in a wide, straight sided sauté pan that is large enough to hold the cooked fettuccine.  Add a generous grinding of pepper and bring the cream to a simmer over moderately high heat.  Reduce the heat to low, add the cubed butter and whisk until the butter has melted into the cream.  Remove the pan from the heat, season generously with pepper, cover and keep warm while the pasta finishes cooking.

Drain the pasta.  Place the pan of butter and cream back over low heat and add the cheese.  Stir until the sauce is homogenous.  Taste and season with salt.  Add the drained fettuccine and toss until well-coated with the sauce.  If the pasta seems "tight" or sticky, add a splash of the pasta water and toss again.  Remove the pan from the heat, cover and let sit for 30 to 60 seconds.   Uncover and toss again to check the consistency, adding more pasta water if necessary—the goal is to have noodles that are coated in a light, fluid, creamy sauce.

Divide among serving plates, top with freshly grated Parmesan and serve. 

Note:  For appetites at my house one pound of pasta makes five portions...basically each person is getting a generous 3 oz. (or 90 grams) of dried pasta...hence, in the recipe for two, the odd measurement of 180 grams of pasta.  (If I lived in Italy where they sell pasta in 500 gram packages, I would calibrate my recipes to 100 grams/3 1/2 oz. per person.)    


Unknown said...

So, I had made fresh pasta yesterday and dried a serving for my 19 year old daughter's lunch today. I have only made cheese sauces with a roux before this recipe. I made a single serving, and I was pretty excited when it thickened when the pasta was added and tasted wonderful. I did use good imported Parmesan, which seemed critical as it is the main flavor. She was impressed that it was restaurant quality, but I was impressed with how easy it was. Thank you, I appreciate your recipes, instructions, focus on vegetables and offering recipes for just two servings.

Paige said...

Hi Amy, Thanks for letting me know how well this turned out for you! You are correct about good Parmesan making a huge difference... Fresh pasta, too, really makes this special.

Thanks also for your kind words about my blog...I love hearing back from people who are reading, cooking and enjoying the things they find here.