Saturday, July 29, 2006

Fettuccine alfredo

Fettuccine alfredo is a luxuriously creamy and delicious pasta dish, yet it has only five ingredients, and is ready in the time it takes the fettuccine to cook. When you're salivating for something rich, creamy, and tasty, this is what you're salivating for.

The perfect fettuccine alfredo is harder to create than one might think. A few weeks ago my SO and I made a batch of fettuccine alfredo, and while we loved it, it wasn't quite perfect (the cheese clumped up when we added it). Thus, being scientists, we set about researching modifications to make our fettuccine alfredo ideal: this was the ultimate in scientific self-sacrifice. Long story short, our second batch1 (made last weekend) was darn near perfection, and thus fettuccine alfredo is this week's first end-of-the-week recipe blogging post.

Before I get to the recipe, I want to add a note on the healthfulness (or lack thereof) of this dish. Fettuccine alfredo is indeed calorie-dense and high in fat, but neither calories nor fat is toxic, and neither directly causes heart attacks. When eaten in large quantities, calorie-dense dishes do tend to lead to weight gain and eventually obesity; obesity is a risk factor for a number of health problems. However, as long as you eat sanely (say, stop eating when you're full, and don't eat another meal until you feel hungry), this dish is perfectly fine to eat occasionally. So please, ignore the "heart attack on a plate" nonsense, and enjoy some luxurious food every now and then.

1 pound dry fettuccine
~1 tablespoon salt (for the pasta water)
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter (we use salted butter)
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup grated pecorino Romano (or Parmesan) cheese, plus a bit extra for sprinkling on top

1. Cook the pasta in salted water until it's al dente; see below for more details.
2. While the pasta is cooking, melt the butter over medium heat in a saucepan large enough to hold the entire pound of pasta.
3. When the butter is melted, reduce the heat to low and add the cream; heat, but do not boil or simmer.
4. Just before the pasta is finished draining, stir the cheese into the cream and butter until melted.
5. Add the drained (but not rinsed) pasta and toss (or mix) until everything is combined.
6. Serve immediately, with a light grating of pecorino Romano (or Parmesan) cheese on top.


You can make a garlic alfredo sauce by adding 4 medium cloves of garlic (peeled and finely minced or pressed with a garlic press) to the butter while it's melting (in step 2), and then cooking that for about 2-4 minutes before adding the cream. To make a pepper alfredo sauce, add 1/4-1/2 teaspoon of ground black pepper with the cheese (in step 4). Or you can make a garlic pepper alfredo sauce by adding both.

This makes enough to serve four as a main course. Unfortunately, leftovers do not reheat well, so it's probably best to make only as much as you want on the day you cook it (we find a half-pound of pasta is good for the two of us). That said, if you do have leftovers, you don't have to throw them away. Store them in the fridge and then reheat in a 350F oven until they're warm (5-10 minutes, stirring at least once). Some of the fat will separate from the sauce on reheating (making the dish look less appetizing and even more unhealthful) but sprinkling it with more grated cheese makes it taste fairly good. At the least it will remind you of the deliciousness that was.

This recipe is slightly modified from Rombauer et al. (1997). Rombauer et al. suggest adding the cheese along with the pasta; we find that the cheese can form large clumps when we do this, and thus we think adding it earlier helps. However, if you were to sprinkle the cheese evenly over the pasta as you mixed the pasta into the sauce, you could probably add it along with the pasta and not form clumps. Rombauer et al. also suggest that you can substitute 1 1/4 pounds fresh fettuccine for the dry fettuccine. We've found that a half-recipe of our homemade fettuccine goes perfectly with a half-recipe of this sauce (making just enough for a full meal for the two of us).

Cooking pasta:

1. Fill a large pot with enough water to cover the pasta (at least 6 quarts), and bring to a boil.
2. Once the water is boiling, add the salt and pasta.
3. Cook for approximately the recommended time on the package, testing the pasta regularly (by tasting it). Do not remove the pasta until it is al dente (just slightly chewy inside); depending on the brand, your pasta may be al dente before, at, or after the recommended cooking time on the package. Don't cook the pasta solely by the time printed on the package.
4. Drain the pasta when it is al dente; do not rinse with water, but add to the sauce as quickly as possible.


Rombauer, I. S., M. R. Becker, and E. Becker. 1997. Joy of Cooking. Scribner, NY.

1 - I was really hoping it'd take us five or six tries to get it right.

[Update July 2007: Added information on pepper and garlic additions.  Update January 2011 to add a link to our fresh pasta recipe.]

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