Alert reader Ian asks;
‘What’s the trick to making great Alfredo sauce? It never seems to come out nice and thick and creamy when I try to make it.”
It’s a great question, because as simple as great Alfredo is, making it isn’t as straightforward as it may seem. Let’s see why.
First off, let’s agree that the vast majority of the crap sold in restaurants and the grocery store called ‘Alfredo’ isn’t remotely authentic. Heavy sauces, often made with a generous dose of thickeners, have no business being called Alfredo. The real deal was named after the guy who invented it. He passed on decades ago, but his place still exists; it’s Ristorante Alfredo alla Scrofa, in Roma, where to this day you can dig into the original.
Now, here’s your first shocker; that dish contains no cream or milk. The dairy comes solely from butter and cheese. It’s that simple, and here’s the trick; it’s made with the best ingredients possible. That’s the secret; to make it at home, you need to use the absolutely highest quality, freshest ingredients you can find.
Real Deal Alfredo
1/2 Pound Fresh Fettuccini; homemade is best, but locally made is just fine.
1⁄2 Cup fresh, local Unsalted Butter
1/4 Pound genuine Parmegiano Reggiano
Preheat oven to warm, and thoroughly heat dinner plates and a large bowl or platter
Bring 4 quarts of well salted water to a boil. Add the Fettucini and cook for 2-3 minutes.
Fine grate the Parmegiano, cut butter into roughly 1/4″ cubes.
Drain pasta, and reserve 1 cup of the pasta water.
Transfer pasta to the heated bowl, and add the butter, cheese, and 1/2 cup of pasta water.
Using a serving fork and spoon, toss the pasta, carefully incorporating all ingredients.
Add more water, a tablespoon at a time, to achieve a uniform, smooth sauce. Baste any excess butter and cheese back onto the pasta until they’re fully melted and pasta is evenly coated; this will take you about two or three minutes of tossing.
Serve immediately on the warmed plates, with crusty bread and a nice, crisp heart of romaine salad.
Now, if you’d like to make a cream based version the right way, we can do that too. And here’s why it so often fails for home chefs; it fails because cooks think of it as a cheese sauce, instead of as a cream sauce thickened with some cheese. Good cream, standing on its own merits, only has so much ability to incorporate additional fats; load too much cheese into it, and you’re bound to suffer separation anxiety. That said, you certainly can apply the most common cheat and add flour, which will allow you to pile on more cheese, but what you end up with is more Mac and cheesy than Alfredo, frankly; you lose the magic. As with the original, cream-based Alfredo is simple, and made with the best local, fresh heavy cream you can get. Milk, in any form, ain’t gonna cut it, and neither will that mass produced, ultra pasteurized crap.
1/2 Pound fresh Fettuccini
2 Cups fresh heavy Cream
4 ounces fresh, unsalted Butter
1/2 Cup Parmegiano Reggiano
Grating of fresh, whole Nutmeg
Pinch of Sea Salt, couple twists of fresh ground pepper
Preheat oven to warm, and thoroughly heat dinner plates.
Fine grate the Parmegiano.
In a large sauté pan over medium low heat, melt the butter; do not let it simmer and separate, you want the milk solids to remain incorporated for this sauce.
Add 1/2 cup of cream and increase the heat to medium, whisking gently but constantly. Once the sauce starts to simmer, continue slowly but steadily adding cream, allowing the sauce to begin to simmer before you add a little more, whisking constantly. The sauce will thicken slightly throughout this process.
Boil 4 quarts of well salted water, add the fettuccini and cook for 2-3 minutes. Remove from the water into a colander, reserving 1/2 cup of pasta water.
Remove the sauté pane from heat, then add the Parmegiano to the cream sauce, about a tablespoon at a time, whisking steadily. Stop when you hit the thickness you like.
Add the pasta to the sauce and toss to incorporate. Add a tablespoon of pasta water, which will help smooth out the sauce.
Grate a pinch of nutmeg, season with salt and pepper to taste, and toss to incorporate.
Serve immediately on heated plates.