Fettuccine Alfredo, History and Recipe

Todays post is by a guest poster — Enjoy!

This is an exerpt from Esquire Magazine. I made this myself for Christmas, wow. Add some garlic and lemon pepper to this to make it zesty. Cook some chicken on the side with more garlic and you’ve got yourself a wonderful meal. Some might view the additions as sacriligious, but it’s still good, and, to me, it’s the taste that matters. You have to walk a fine balance between being creative and being authentic, a question I plan to discuss in a future post, but it is a line you can indeed walk, if you know what you’re doing. Anyway, serve this along with a salad and crusty Italian bread. I personally dislike wine, but follow the instructions at the end, I’m sure they work. I drink a fine espreso after this, myself.

Fettuccine all’Alfredo is one of those dishes everyone I’ve ever met swoons
over. They imagine it to be the richest, most extravagant amalgam of
ingredients ever to send a palate reeling, but it’s also comforting, sensual,
and entirely satisfying, strand after creamy strand. Indeed, the dish was
created to restore the appetite of a woman, and I cannot imagine any woman not
being impressed by a man who knows how to tum out this classic pasta with
finesse.

This is a cute story: Back in the 1920s Alfredo Di Lelio ran a little
restaurant on Rome’s Via della Scrofa, not far from the Piazzo Navona. His
wife had just given birth to their first son, an experience that left her
exhausted, without an appetite, and therefore without milk for the baby, which
meant Alfredo had to stay up half night rocking a squalling infant. “It was
really a hell of a life,” he wrote. “So one day I decided to take the bull by
the horns and solve the problem once and for all.” He whipped up a dish of egg
noodles, extra-rich butter, and the best parmigiano cheese he could find.

Naturally, his wife gobbled up the noodles with gusto, and soon Alfredo began
serving the dish in his restaurant.

The dish became legendary when Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford visited
Rome in 1927 and ate at Alfredo’s place, proclaiming him the “king of
fettuccine” and presenting him with a golden fork and spoon as a memento. From
that moment the dish became part of a tradition among celebrities, who had to
eat at Alfredo’s when in Rome-and to get their photos in one of the two
competing Roman restaurants that now call themselves Alfredo’s.

What happened was that during the war Alfredo retired, handing over the
restaurant to two of his waiters, but afterward decided to open a new place
called Alfredo l’Originale. Over the years both places have claimed to be the
“original” Alfredo’s, but the Di Lelio family is still in charge of the newer
restaurant and has opened three outposts here called Alfredo, the Original of
Rome-one in New York, another in Philadelphia, and a third at the Italian
Pavilion in Walt Disney World’s EPCOT Center-all serving the ilustrious dish
better than anywhere else I’ve ever had it. There’s no secret to making the
original fettuccine all’Alfredo, but most people botch it anyway. Alfredo’s
own printed recipe is deliberately vague: “water-salt-extra fine flour of the
highest quality, mixed by hand with fresh eggs-a most carefully selected
butter and finally Parmesan cheese, but not dried and aged Parmesan (I just
take the core of fresh cakes and grate it by hand).” That’s it? No
proportions? No pots or pans?

Well, I’ve come up with an estimable home preparation that’s as close to the
mark as I think you’ll come. The key is in the ingredients and in the cooking
time. If you have no intention of going out to buy these kind of ingredients,
don’t bother with the dish at all. You may come up with a nice-looking plate
of noodles, but it’s like wearing a blue-flannel blazer with a polyester tie:
it’s a cheat and someone will notice.

NO STRINGS ATTACHED

If you have a pasta machine at home, by all means make the fettuccine fresh,
using nothing but flour and eggs (no water, no oil in the dough), but be aware
that Alfredo’s uses three different types of flour-semolina, durum, and a
high-gluten variety-for their noodles. Or buy a fettuccine freshly made at an
Italian pasta shop-and I don’t mean the “fresh” fettuccine put up in plastic
boxes and stored in the refrigerator section of the supermarket. Otherwise,
use a good imported brand such as De Cecco.

Put on a large pot of water (at least sixteen cups) to boil. While you’re
waiting for it to boil, melt one stick of sweet butter (not margarine) in a
saucepan and allow it to melt but not to sizzle. Add about four tablespoons of
heavy cream (not light cream, not half-and-half, not milk), and stir it in.

(You’ll notice that the original recipe does not contain cream, but I’ve seen
it added at the New York Alfredo’s; Americans seem to expect the dish to be a
little creamier.) Remove the mixture from the heat.

When the water is boiling furiously, throw in two tablespoons of salt. Then
plunge the fettuccine in the water. If it is fresh pasta, wait till the water
retums to the boil, then count to twenty: the pasta should be perfectly
cooked-al dente. If you’re using packaged fettuccine, figure on about eight
minutes in a rolling boil.

Drain the noodles well in a colander (do not rinse under cold water, which is
just plain stupid), then toss them into the melted butter and cream over low
heat. Grate into the mixture about one and a half cups of parmigano reggiano-

this is the true imported Parmesan cheese, and nothing else comes close. But
grate the cheese from the sweet, golden core, not from the harder, drier,
white part near the rind.

Toss together for about thirty seconds so that the cheese melts and the whole
thing comes together. Serve on a slightly heated plate. The consistency should
be satiny, and rich but not heavy, with the slight tang of cheese and the
lusciousness of butter, all buoyed by the slightly chewy texture of egg
noodles. Once you learn how to do this correctly, it’s like knowing the
“thirteen times” tables. Nothing to it really, but something so few ever
bother to master.

With fettuccine all’Alfredo, you should drink a good Italian red, like
Lungarotti’s Torgiano or Antinori’s Tignanello.
-John F. Mariani
From “Esquire” – March 1986

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