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Chef Pete

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Classic Fettuccine Alfredo

March 12, 2019
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I remember the day of the epiphany—the revelation.

As with believing in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy, it was probably naive of me to believe that Kraft created the whole idea of mac & cheese, but I held onto the notion.

Then, in the spring of 1973, in a dimly lit alcove of the Great Hall of The Culinary Institute of America (Hyde Park, New York), I sat with my fellow classmates, taking in a demonstration lecture from our table-service instructor. He was proudly, ceremoniously, almost religiously teaching us how some of the most classic tableside dishes are made and then served—step by step by step.

The dish Fettuccine Alfredo was among them.

That The Culinary Institute of America (the CIA) is located in a former Jesuit monastery and that the Great Hall was its former chapel probably added to the drama of the scene, but it wasn’t until then that I realized how profoundly changed that dish had become since its inception.

It had gone from dairy-fresh butter, freshly made pasta, freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and freshly cracked black pepper to something dry, in a colorful box with a nuclear half-life.

Our instructor patiently made the dish in its original and then in its most practiced form, the former without cream and the latter with the addition of cream and egg yolk.

As mentioned, Fettuccine Alfredo is a pasta dish ORIGINALLY made from fettuccine pasta tossed with Parmesan cheese and butter. It was named by an Italian restaurateur, Alfredo Di Lelio, at his first restaurant named Alfredo. That was in Rome, back in 1914.

While there were similar dishes of that kind in Alfredo’s time, his name became synonymous with the dish because of his flair for preparation and presentation. It was almost theater.

As time went by, there were, of course, additions and modifications (dare I say improvements?) to the recipe, the most profound being the addition of cream, which took the dish to a saucier level and further encouraged the addition of vegetables and proteins to make it truly a meal.

How this popular Roman dish got stateside is literally a Hollywood story.

It appears that in the late 1920s, movie stars Douglas Fairbanks Sr. and Mary Pickford ate at Alfredo di Lelio’s restaurant while on their honeymoon in Rome. They loved the dish so much they brought the idea and recipe back to the states, and it’s been here ever since.

Both versions are here, the classic and the creamy. Regardless of which version you make, serve this pasta immediately. The sauces are weak emulsions, which will break if held too long.

Version #1 (below) is a dryer, thicker version and closest to the original.

Classic Fettuccine Alfredo (no Cream) Serves 2 to 3

10 ounces Dry Fettuccine Pasta
½ Cup (1 Stick) Unsalted Butter
1 tsp Fresh Garlic, Minced
To taste Sea Salt
To Taste Freshly Ground Black Pepper
¼ Cup Romano Cheese, Freshly Grated
¼ Cup Parmesan Cheese, Freshly Grated

1. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add fettuccine, and cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until al dente. Drain, BUT DO NOT RINSE.
2. In a large saucepan, melt butter and cook garlic for 2 minutes while stirring.
3. Stir in the cheeses over medium heat until melted; this will thicken the sauce.
4. Season the sauce with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
5. Lift the pasta from the cooking water, and add it to the hot sauce. Add enough of the pasta so that all of the sauce is used and the pasta is thoroughly coated.
6. Serve immediately, and top with additional grated cheese and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Version #2 (below) is by far the most popular nowadays. The additional step of whisking an egg yolk into some of the cream, then adding it to the hot sauce is called a “liaison.” It adds additional creaminess and color, but care should be taken not to simmer the sauce once it’s added to avoid overcooking.

Classic Fettuccine Alfredo (with Cream) Serves 2 to 3

12 ounces Dry Fettuccine Pasta
½ Cup (1 Stick) Unsalted Butter
1 tsp Fresh Garlic, Minced
¾ Cup Heavy Cream
1 Egg Yolk
To taste Sea Salt
To Taste Freshly Ground Black Pepper
1/3 cup Romano Cheese, Freshly Grated
¼ Cup Parmesan Cheese, Freshly Grated

1. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add fettuccine and cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until al dente. Drain, BUT DO NOT RINSE.
2. In a large saucepan, melt butter and cook garlic for 2 minutes while stirring, and then add ½ cup of the cream over low heat.
3. Stir in the cheeses over medium heat until melted; this will thicken the sauce.
4. Season the sauce with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
5. Whisk together the remaining ¼ cup of cream and the egg yolk, and add it to the sauce. From this point, DO NOT let the sauce come to a boil or the egg yolk mixture will overcook.
6. Lift the pasta from the cooking water, and add it to the hot sauce. Add enough of the pasta so that all of the sauce is used and the pasta is thoroughly coated.
7. Serve immediately, and top with additional grated cheese and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

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