Comforting, creamy, satisfying, cheesy, and warm may or may not describe your perfect comfort food, but in the dead of winter, it’s pretty close to perfection in most people’s book. We are talking about none other than Fettuccine Alfredo, a dish so tempting and satiating, it has its own holiday. To help celebrate National Fettuccine Alfredo Day on February 7, let’s explore how this dish came about.
Like a lot of Italian-American foods, Fettuccine Alfredo is not really a dish you will find served in Italy. It began as the simplest of foods; a kind of basic recipe to serve in the house when you might want to prepare something quick and easy on the stomach. Americans added the cream to the dish, but that’s not how it’s done in Italy, where such a creamy sauce is thought to be very heavy and thick – and it is! Italians prefer lighter fare and typically would serve butter and parmesan cheese over plain pasta or a simple sauce.
In 1914, a man named Alfred Di Lelio was looking to prepare a dish for his pregnant wife, who had some stomach troubles (morning sickness) and lost her appetite. He mixed butter with parmesan cheese and poured it over egg fettuccine. His wife could only manage to keep this fettuccine dish down. This type of sauce is known as “bianco,” or a white and plain sauce, and is also called “pasta al burro,” or pasta with butter. It’s a dish to be made when you are hungry and in a hurry, and no true Italian had measurements for the ingredients written down anywhere.
He opened a restaurant in Rome, Italy and served his fettuccine dish. Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, the famous silent movie actors, were visiting Rome and were at Alfredo’s restaurant. They tasted the fettuccine dish Alfredo had been preparing his wife and loved it. They gave Alfredo a picture of them to hang on his wall, and they also gave him a golden spoon and fork. The actors asked for the recipe to take back to Hollywood. There, they served it to friends and explained about Alfredo’s restaurant in Italy. Suddenly, his restaurant became the “in” spot for Hollywood elite to visit while in Rome. The visitors were looking for “Alfredo’s Fettuccine,” so Alfredo added the dish to the menu. His restaurant was visited by many tourists from that point on.
He moved to New York and opened a restaurant there, as well, serving this dish with triple the amount of butter, where it came to be known as “Fettuccine Alfredo” after the chef himself. Somehow, restaurants in America picked up the recipe and added the cream, making this dish off-the-charts calorie laden, but oh-so-creamy delicious. And that is how we have Fettuccine Alfredo in America today, but never to be found in Italy! Try the following recipe to create the dish at home. If you prefer Italy’s version of pasta al burro, that recipe is provided, as well:
1 pound fettuccine
6 ounces butter
½ cup heavy cream
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 egg yolk
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
TIP: Whip up the sauce just before serving over the hot fettuccine. Add chopped parsley to top off the dish.
Prepare a double boiler and bring 6 to 8 quarts of salted water to a boil. While the fettuccine boils (note that when using fresh fettuccine, expect the cooking time to be 4 to 5 minutes; store-bought dried pasta may take 11 to 12 minutes), carefully melt the butter in the top of the double boiler. Add the heavy cream and half of the Parmesan cheese, whisking constantly. Drain the noodles and quickly toss them in a bowl with the hot sauce and the egg yolk. Mix rapidly so as to serve piping hot. Add the rest of the grated cheese and freshly ground pepper to individual portions, as desired.
PASTA AL BURRO
1 lb. fresh fettuccine
½ lb. butter, at room temperature
½ lb. parmigiano reggiano cheese, freshly grated
Place half of the butter in a serving bowl. Keep the bowl warm. Cook the fettuccine in salted water. When the pasta is al dente (firm, but not too soft), reserve a ladle-full of the cooking water before draining.
Drain without shaking the colander too much so that the pasta doesn’t become too dry. Drop the hot pasta over the bowl with the butter. Add the parmigiano reggiano cheese and a small quantity of the reserved cooking water if the pasta appears too dry; add the remaining butter. Toss vigorously and serve immediately.