I stopped eating Fettuccine Alfredo years ago. The once-beloved dish had become, to my tastes, a cream-laden tangle of starch, flat in flavor and leaden in the belly.
I had pretty much dismissed it as something of-a-time, when, perhaps, my palate was less sophisticated.
But what I didn’t know–and only recently learned–is that the original Alfredo, created in Rome by Chef Alfredo di Lelio almost a hundred years ago, possesses No Cream.
Ribbons of fresh pasta are coated in a silken sauce made from softened butter, grated parmegiano, and pasta water, artfully tossed on a warm platter.
And served immediately.
And, it’s that sheer simplicity that makes the Alfredo so seductive and lush–yet light. The real Alfredo is a Revelation to eat.
At our last Third-Thursday Community Pot Luck, Gigi and I asked our good friend and potlucker, Paulette Licitra, to make a fresh pasta dish. Paulette chose to introduce us to the “Vere” Alfredo–the Real Roman Way that will forever change your perception of the dish.
Italian-American by birth, Paulette has been immersed in the culture of Italian food. She grew up in Brooklyn, her parents first generation immigrants from Sicily. She lived and studied throughout Italy, making Rome, for a time, her home. She got her degree in Culinary Studies at ICE (Institute of Culinary Education in NYC) and interned for Mario Batali at Lupa.
Today, she is the Maestra of Cucina Paradiso–a cooking school she holds twice weekly in her home. Her students learn, hands-on, how to make marvelous and varied authentic dishes that she’s gleaned from her journeys all over The Boot.
She is also the Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of Alimentum, The Literature of Food.
Whether it’s in a saucepan or a poem, food is her passion.
She shared some simple tricks to the dish. With only three ingredients involved, the quality of those is key to success. Start with Butter. Paulette favors KerryGold Pure Irish Butter, the unsalted variety. It is, indeed, the Lamborgini of Butters. If you can’t locate KerryGold, use an unsalted butter that you know and like.
It must be softened, so that you can spread it with the back of a wooden spoon across the base of the bowl or platter from which you will toss and serve. That base will serve you well in the toss!
Use your favorite sea salt, and fresh grated Parmegiano-Regianno. Reserved starchy water from cooking the pasta helps bring the butter and cheese into a sumptuous, cream-like sauce.
When it comes to making the fettuccine, again, it’s a terse list of ingredients. Get large, farm-fresh eggs if you can. For flour, Paulette prefers the King Arthur brand of Unbleached All Purpose.
Paulette maintains that making your own pasta is not difficult at all. Following her recipe and procedure really demystifies the process. Patience, a little elbow grease, and a hand-cranked pasta machine (we love low-tech!) will take you far!
For the final step, it’s all about art in motion: Toss and twirl, spoon and swirl—-you want all those delicate strands to be coated with the sauce you are creating.
Place into warm bowls and Mangia! Mangia!
TRUE FETTUCCINI ALFREDO
2 Cups Unbleached All-Purpose Flour (King Arthur Brand)
3 large farm Eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 teaspoon Sea Salt
Hand-cranked Pasta Machine
Mix the flour and salt in a large bowl. Make a â€œwellâ€ in the mound and add the eggs. Using a fork, mix the flour into the eggs, until all the flour is mixed in and the dough comes together. Gather and knead the dough on a lightly floured surface for 10 minutes. It will become smooth and a little shiny. If itâ€™s too sticky, add a little flour—if itâ€™s too dry, add a little water. Wrap the dough tightly and let it set for 30 minutes.
Cut the dough into 4 pieces, and re-wrap the remaining pieces until it’s their time. Take the first piece, slightly flatten it, and run it through the pasta machine roller on the first setting. Fold the piece thrice and run it through the machine on the same setting. Repeat.
Then, move the setting to 2 and run it through. Continue this process until you reach the next to the last setting (mine was #7) If the dough gets sticky while you are working with it, dust it in flour. You don’t want a sticky mess!
Cut the long strip in half and run it through the fettuccine cutter.
Separate and drop the cut noodles onto a floured baking sheet. Toss in flour so they won’t stick.
Repeat with your other pieces of dough until you have stretched, rolled and cut into lovely fettuccine.
Paulette mixes and kneads the pasta dough. Ten minutes of kneading is necessary to achieve a smooth, elastic, and shiny ball of dough.
Don’t be afraid to use extra flour when working with the dough. You want to keep the beautiful strands separate.
12 Tablespoons softened Unsalted Butter (KerryGold Irish Cream Butter)
1 1/2-2 cups grated Parmegiano-Reggiano, solo, or in combination with Pecorino Romano
1 cup Reserved Pasta Water
a few grindings of Black Pepper
Spread softened butter on the bottom of a large platter or mixing bowl.
Bring a 6 qt. stockpot of lightly salted water to a rolling bowl. Add fettuccini, and cook for 3 minutes. (If you are using dried pasta, cook according to package directions–perhaps 8 minutes.)
Drain noodles, reserving 1 cup of the pasta water. Lay fettuccini on top of butter. Sprinkle with grated cheese–start with half of the amount—and vigorously, but gently toss, coating the noodles. Add a little of the pasta water as you toss. You won’t need the whole cup–perhaps half.
The noodles will glisten with the simple emulsion of butter, cheese, pasta water. Taste for salt, and season accordingly. Add more cheese as needed. Toss well and serve immediately. Garnish with a little chopped flat leaf parsley, if you like.
Pass the pepper grinder and bowl of grated cheese!
Paulette works with pasta water and grated cheese, quickly but thoroughly tossing the pasta until all those ribbons have become satin with the simple but delectable emulsion of soft butter, cheese, and starchy water. A revelation!