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Just for Sue

April 19, 2011

Sure it’s Passover. But what better time is there to write about pasta. After all, if I can’t eat it, at least I can think about it, dream about it, and live vicariously through those who can enjoy it.

Have you met Sue?

Sue is among the rising number of non-foodies who have found their way to the FUSSYlittleBLOG. And she also joins the list of muses for whom I think about easy and delicious things to cook at home. It just so happens that she’s looking for a recipe.

Honestly, it never would have occurred to me to write up Fettuccine Alfredo (or more precisely fettuccine all’Alfredo, since the dish was named after its creator, Alfredo). There are a couple of reasons for this. One, most people are eating lighter these days. And two, it’s just so damn simple. Although perhaps that’s the perfect reason to write about it. It is decadent, to be sure, but what’s life without a little indulgence? And if you can make something this good at home, it will make you think twice about paying a mint for mediocre food at some overrated restaurant.

Here’s the thing about simple dishes though. You really need to get good ingredients.

All this dish requires is:
– Pasta
– Cream
– Butter, and
– Cheese
With just a bit of salt, black pepper and nutmeg for seasoning.

There are some who will insist that you don’t even need the cream. But this recipe comes from Marcella Hazan (Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, p.193), and I know that I cannot win an argument against her when it comes to classic Italian food.

With so few ingredients, each one needs to work extra hard in delivering flavor and texture. So if you use Kraft Parmesan Cheese out of the green tube, this dish will taste like ass. It will also taste decidedly better if you look beyond the local supermarket for cream and butter.

I would recommend finding fresh fettuccine, cream that hasn’t been ultra-pasteurized or adulterated with emulsifiers or stabilizers, a good butter, and a nice chunk of Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Here’s how it’s done for four to six reasonable servings:

–       2/3 cup of cream is added to two tablespoons of butter and heated in a deep sauté pan on medium for no longer than a minute until the butter is melted and the combined fat has thickened. Then turn off the heat.

–       Cook 20 ounces of pasta in well-salted water until it’s still just a bit underdone and still very firm. Drain the water and dump the pasta into the pan with the fat.

–       Turn the heat on low and “toss the pasta thoroughly, bringing it up and around from the bottom, coating all the strands with the cream and butter sauce.”

–       Add another 1/3 cup of cream, 2/3 cup of freshly grated Parmesan, salt, freshly ground pepper, and barely any freshly grated nutmeg. Toss again, add salt if needed, and eat immediately.

I would highly suggest warming your plates if you don’t want to see on your plate what your pasta sauce is doing to your arteries. And naturally you would serve this with additional freshly grated Parmesan on the side.

And that’s it. Where’s the garlic? There is no garlic. Seriously.

This is one of these great classic dishes that have gotten bastardized over time. Bolognese is another one. It has so few ingredients that many chefs feel like they must put their own spin on it. By the time they are done you are left with something that no longer resembles the original.

And I’m not saying that you shouldn’t feel free to express your creativity in the kitchen. Please, go right ahead. But if you make fundamental changes to a dish, all I’m asking is that you rename it. This is Alfredo’s preparation for fettuccine. If you come up with something new, then it should bear your name, and not his.

The bad news is that this isn’t a sauce you can make ahead of time and freeze, as Sue was hoping. The good news is that it’s so quick and easy, making it fresh is quicker than thawing something from the freezer. And while it is best with better ingredients, it would still be quite tasty with supermarket butter and cream and pre-grated Reggiano. Just don’t forget the salt.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. April 19, 2011 10:09 am

    Haha, i emailed Sue a very similar recipe. One major difference for my personal preference is that I am a fan of infusing the cream with a garlic clove prior to addition of the cheese (freshly grated parmigianno regianno – minimum 3 years old – and pecorino romano, mixed in a 50/50 ratio or so). It leaves a very faint background of flavor that breaks up the butter/cheese flavor. I’ve seen some cooks actually rub the inside of the sauce pot with a garlic clove prior to assembly of the sauce for an even fainter flavor.

    I also add a very small amount of roughly chopped Italian parsley at the end, but I like that.

    In my email to Sue, I urged her to consider that freezing a sauce that’s practically 100 % fat is a bad idea, and also noted that the sauce could be assembled in the time it takes to wait for the pasta to cook.

  2. Jean Patiky permalink
    April 19, 2011 10:24 am

    I thought that the original classic recipe had an egg yolk beaten into the cream. added after the cooked pasta had been tossed in the melted butter…..then sprink;ed with the grated cheese. What do you know about this?

  3. April 19, 2011 10:31 am

    Yay! Thanks so much for the recipe and thanks for the shout out.

    Based on the post, it sounds like the recipe derryX sent me should be fettuccine all’derryX?

    I think I should probably try it both ways. Healthy? Bah. This is education. Exercise for my mind. :)

  4. April 20, 2011 12:23 am

    Yay! Starring this :) I once, in high school, ate an entire serving fit for about 4 people of Fettuccine Alfredo and since then I haven’t had a bite (I also ate an entire cheesecake and haven’t had one since, this is a habit of mine) but I think it’s been long enough that I ought to give it a try.

  5. joni permalink
    April 20, 2011 11:59 am

    where’s the olive oil?

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