CLASSIC pasta fettuccine Alfredo (the real, original version)








Editor's page

E-mail to the editor

A dish this classic, this well-known, this universal, has to have a secret background. Here it is:

Alfredo Di Lelio, the owner of his eponymous restaurant in Rome  invented this dish to provide a richer, more scrumptious dish than the basic fettuccine al burro - which is simply the pasta, butter and parmesan. So how is the Alfredo different? Butter, butter and more butter!

The dish became so popular that Alfredo bought a larger place on the Via della Scrofie,and his fame spread. Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks (who took the recipe back to Beverly Hills and wowed their famous guests); Hemingway; Sinclair Lewis (the restaurant shows up in "Babbitt) -- and more Americans by the scores.

But what is important in this history is that the original fettuccine Alfredo got distinctly changed as it became international. What happened? Cream!

There is no cream in the original Alfredo. And the secret of its success is in the serving. David Downie in his excellent cook book "Cooking the Roman Way" describes and relates the real, true, authentic process. Todd Coleman in an issue of Saveur does likewise.

At the original restaurant, the serving was a key to the success. It all happened tableside (perhaps with a strolling violin in the background). A portion of fettuccine, steaming, fresh from the pot, was placed on a very warm platter, on which dots of sweet butter had been placed. The butter, of course is starting to melt, The hot fettuccine adds to the process. The maestro Alfredo, with a golden fork and spoon, lifts, mixes, twirls the pasta with the butter, while also adding the parmesan in copious amounts. The performance was more than showmanship. The constant tossing of the pasta, the hot dish right at the table, the diners could start eating this delight immediately --  piping hot, thoroughly mixed, was the key.

\for the sauce:

  • ten tablespoons sweet butter
  • one-half to one cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • salt and freshly ground pepper.

for the pasta:

  • one pound freshly-made egg pasta, fettuccine or tagliatelle.

Put the butter and cream into a sauté pan; turn the heat to medium and boil gently. Stir constantly. Boil until the cream reduces somewhat, almost but not quite half. Add salt and pepper and the touch of nutmeg. Set aside.

Heat 4-5 quarts of cold water to a raging boil, add a tablespoon or two of salt, drop in the pasta, and stir regularly until it is almost al dente.

Heat a platter until it is quite hot (needing gloves). Slice the butter into pats and spread them around the heated platter. They will, of course, start to melt.

Reserve a cup of the pasta water, drain, and transfer it directly onto the platter with the butter.

Start mixing with the fork and spoon (need not be golden). Add the cheese and continue tossing and swirling. Add pasta water as needed to keep the dish moist -- you will probably use a couple of tablespoons.

Serve on pre-heated plates or bowls. OK -- a touch of parsley for color.

Here is a simpler version, courtesy of Todd Coleman of Saveur. Heat a twelve-inch saute pan, add the butter and a half cup of the pasta liquid, bring to a boil. Then toss in the pasta and add the parmesan and stir and toss over a continuing medium-low heat until thoroughly amalgamated.


Home | Pasta | Risotto | Wine | Ingredients | Restaurants | Library | Editor's page | E-mail to the editor

© 2006 classic pasta. All Rights Reserved.