Fettuccine Alfredo is one of the most well-known Italian dishes. However, most people don’t know the history behind it and what its real ingredients are. Fettuccine Alfredo was invented by Alfredo di Lelio in 1914 at his Roman restaurant, Alfredo’s. As the story goes, his wife couldn’t eat after she gave birth, so he created this dish.
Fettuccine Alfredo is fettuccine in a creamy butter and parmesan “sauce.” At this point in time, this dish was really a basic pasta dish, pasta with butter and cheese, already eaten by Italians on any kind of pasta, and it is still eaten by Italians and Italian Americans today. Pasta with butter and cheese is not something one would typically find at a restaurant. It is something that is eaten at home. In fact, one can omit the cheese and just have pasta with butter as well. The typical Italian/Italian American doesn’t use this much butter or cheese when making this dish. So the novelty of Alfredo’s dish is that it contained a lot of butter–which makes sense because he was trying to nourish his wife who had just given birth and was having digestive problems.
The difference between the Italian and American versions is that in the Italian version, only butter and parmesan are used, and together, they create a silky butter sauce. Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford ate fettuccine Alfredo at Alfredo’s in 1920 while on their honeymoon and brought the dish back to America. In the American version, heavy cream is also used to get a more creamy, saucy consistency. This, however, is not how the dish was intended.
There are a number of ways to prepare fettuccine Alfredo. I tried Todd Coleman’s version from Saveur magazine.
1 1b. fettuccine (Cook according to package directions.)
2 sticks unsalted butter
1/2 lb. grated parmesan cheese (Parmesan from Italy is best here.)
The trick to making fettuccine Alfredo is to have a large platter, preferably warmed under hot water or in the oven a few minutes. Cut pats of butter all over the platter.
Drain pasta but reserve some pasta water. Add the pasta to the platter along with the cheese and 1/4 cup pasta water.
Toss with forks until the butter melts and all is well mixed–about 3 minutes. Add more pasta water if you need to. I used about 1 cup.
I think it is tricky to keep this warm, so if I make it again, I may try doing it in a skillet as recommended elsewhere or the quicker version Coleman suggests.