Mmmmmm. Pasta. I love pasta…and cheese…and cream, which kind of makes this a perfect dish for me. Fettuccine all’Alfredo or, as more traditionally known, pasta in a cream and butter sauce. What could possibly go wrong? Well, more than you’d think. For a dish that is so easy to make, so many restaurants and stores (and therefore the patrons thereof) take ridiculous shortcuts. If you take one thing home from this post I hope it is this. Never buy Alfredo sauce in a jar, please. Part of the joy of a true Alfredo is that it is not a pre-made sauce. It comes together through heating the cream and butter, then tossing the pasta in it. At the last moment the cheese, the last bit of the cream and the seasonings come together and the resilient heat of the coated pasta is what melts everything together into a cheesy and creamy, yet sharp sauce that clings to the pasta rather than puddling around it. Kind of hard to reproduce in a jar.

I used to eye Fettuccine all’Alfredo on menus with longing and a bit of trepidation, because I could never tell whether the dish that would appear would be that bite of heaven or a gloppy mess with heavy muddled flavors.  So I just stopped ordering it. Good decision for my health? Yes. Good for my soul? No.

Then one day, several years ago, I was perusing the cookbook section of Barnes and Noble and came across this tome of a cookbook: Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan. I hesitated, would this book unlock the secret of the all’Alfredo sauce for me? I flipped it open and scanned the index in the back. It wasn’t there. I was a little stumped. This wasn’t a colorful book filled with glossy pictures of an immaculate kitchen and smiling cook. This book told you how to butcher a rabbit, with etched illustrations in black and white. How could this recipe not be there? I turned to the section on sauces and, wait, cream and butter sauce? Success! And, might I add, how clever of Italians to actually call things what they are rather than naming dishes after people. So through this book I unlocked the secrets of the all’Alfredo.

ingredients

1 C heavy whipping cream
2 tbsp good unsalted butter
1 1/4 lbs pasta (fresh is always better and there’s no law stating it must be fettuccine)
2/3 C grated parm, plus a little more for serving
salt
pepper
nutmeg

butter

Heat a large pot of salted water to boiling for the pasta. Remember, if using fresh pasta, it only takes a moment to cook, while dried will take longer, so adjust your timing accordingly. When the water is boiling, go ahead and add the pasta. Keep a careful eye on it, because we want it a little underdone. Firmer than al dente, so take a bite of it to make sure it still has that resistance in the middle when you take it out.

In a saucepan (or pot) large enough to accommodate both the pasta and the sauce, start to melt the butter. I made less than the full amount of pasta, so you may need a pan a little bigger than the one I used.

 

cream

 

 

When the butter is all melty, add 2/3 C of the cream to the pan and stir. Let the butter and cream heat up until thickened, but not boiling. This should only take about a minute. If you have not yet drained the pasta, go ahead and do so.

 

When the butter and cream have thickened together, turn the heat to low and add the pasta to the sauce pan, tossing the pasta in the sauce to make sure all the strands are coated. Add the cheese and remaining cream. Also grind some pepper over it and add salt to taste. Last, but certainly not least, give a shake or two of nutmeg (or if you are all fancy, grate a little fresh nutmeg over the pasta). The nutmeg may seem off the beaten path, but it is what really sharpens the flavors, rounding out the richness of the cream and the sharpness of the cheese. You’d really miss out if you skipped the nutmeg and that would be sad.

Serve the pasta right away with extra cheese and maybe a little extra pepper available at the table. As a hint, if the pasta gets too thick and it feels like the sauce is seizing up, add a little cream to thin it out. And seriously, who’s going to object to a little extra cream?

 

Okay, if you’re feeling into self-denial these days (read: healthy), then you could make this with milk instead of cream. It’s not quite as thick and rich, but I’ve done it and it’ll work in a pinch. There’s also all kinds of room here to experiment with other cheeses and seasonings so go to town on it and have fun!

 


Fettuccine all'Alfredo, or Pasta with Cream and Butter Sauce
 
Recipe By:
Ingredients
  • 1 C heavy whipping cream
  • 2 tbsp good unsalted butter
  • 1¼ lbs pasta (fresh is always better and there's no law stating it must be fettuccine)
  • ⅔ C grated parm, plus a little more for serving
  • salt
  • pepper
  • nutmeg
Instructions
  1. Heat a large pot of salted water to boiling for the pasta. Remember, if using fresh pasta, it only takes a moment to cook, while dried will take longer, so adjust your timing accordingly. When the water is boiling, go ahead and add the pasta. Keep a careful eye on it, because we want it a little underdone. Firmer than al dente, so take a bite of it to make sure it still has that resistance in the middle when you take it out.
  2. In a saucepan (or pot) large enough to accommodate both the pasta and the sauce, start to melt the butter.
  3. When the butter has melted, add ⅔ C of the cream to the pan and stir. Let the butter and cream heat up until thickened, but not boiling. This should only take about a minute. If you have not yet drained the pasta, go ahead and do so.
  4. When the butter and cream have thickened together, turn the heat to low and add the pasta to the sauce pan, tossing the pasta in the sauce to make sure all the strands are coated. Add the cheese and remaining cream. Also grind some pepper over it and add salt to taste. Last, but certainly not least, give a shake or two of nutmeg (or if you are all fancy, grate a little fresh nutmeg over the pasta). The nutmeg may seem off the beaten path, but it is what really sharpens the flavors, rounding out the richness of the cream and the sharpness of the cheese. You'd really miss out if you skipped the nutmeg and that would be sad.
  5. Serve the pasta right away with extra cheese and maybe a little extra pepper available at the table. As a hint, if the pasta gets too thick and it feels like the sauce is seizing up, add a little cream to thin it out.