Fettuccine Alfredo: The Recipe and The Story

Total Time: 20 minutes and less

Fettuccine Alfredo

Fettuccine Alfredo

Fettuccine Alfredo is a pasta dish very popular and celebrated in America, perhaps as bringing association of a certain Rome and la dolce vita.

It’s not a so in Italy. It’s likely to find this pasta dish mostly on a path traveled by tourists, especially American.

To Italians fettuccine Alfredo is not such an extraordinary dish, I don’t want to add “dismissed”, maybe because of its pale color which assumes a bland taste.

It’s in effect an ordinary simple recipe, reinvented with clever twists. Free effective advertising in the best market of the world: America, is what helped bring fame and profits to Alfredo. You’ll find out as you read on.

When I came to America, I was surprised at the popularity and celebrity of the dish.

The fettuccine Alfredo pasta dish enjoys a mystical aura, like of a divine food. Just the name “Alfredo” evokes veneration. Maybe I am exaggerating a bit, even so, I am pretty close to the truth in the matter.

This reverence for the fettuccine Alfredo recipe amused me. It’s a very simple and quick pasta dish. It requires no more than two minutes to prepare after the fettuccine are cooked.

Fresh from Italy, I worked in an Italian restaurant. Of course the fettuccine Alfredo recipe was in the menu. To my surprise, I came to discover that what remained of the fettuccine Alfredo recipe was just the name. The owner was Italian and he knew the difference, but he went with the trend. “When everywhere is that way, everybody expects the same”. That was his thinking.

The dish wasn’t bad, though. We would get the cooked fettuccine from the kitchen and they were finished in the presence of guests. We would melt some butter in a pan over a lamp, add the fettuccine and toss them until hot. Then add some cream. Stir and mix again. Last with the heat from the lamp off, we would drop egg yolks and mix quickly. The dish was finished with some parmesan cheese and two peppermill twists of black pepper.

This same dish, without the egg in Italy is called fettuccine alla panna – fettuccine with cream.

That was long time ago and I know it is still that way in many places. Variations and interpretations abound: with shallots, parsley, romano cheese, lemon juice, even garlic. One thing is sure, eggs have been dropped for health risks, but cream is always there.


How I met the “Fettuccine Alfredo” Alfredo

I am from Rome and never went to eat at Alfredo’s restaurant there. I had the venture of meeting Alfredo in New York. Actually his name was Armando. Alfredo, the dish originator, was his father.

I was looking for a job and I was directed to this new place, about to open. I was hired. The name of the new restaurant was “Alfredo of Rome” in a shopping center on 53rd street and Lexington Avenue. It moved since. The owner was Guido Bellanca, a friend apparently of the Alfredo family. The name was familiar. Mr Bellanca had been a car dealer in Rome. At the time his advertising was all over town.

Armando and his son Alfredo came weeks before the opening to supervise the process. His cook from Rome, Pietro, was there too. A mechanic came later from Italy to install the pasta machines.

The restaurant opened in late spring of 1978. There were some press releases. Some food critic from ABC television came over. I read about dismissing the fettuccine Alfredo recipe as a dish that had been around for ages all over Italy with cream…

There is no cream in the fettuccine Alfredo. See how even this American food writer had to rethink himself when he discovered the real fettuccine Alfredo (opens another window).


How Fettuccine Alfredo originated

The inspiration for the dish came out of a particular personal circumstance for Alfredo.

You can read the story here. (opens another window)

or here

It’s from Alfredo’s website in Rome. It’s in Italian. So, in case, here’s the story.

After the birth of his first son, Alfredo’s wife Ines, was feeling real weak. The husband, worried, was trying to make her strong again with healthy and nourishing food. It was then that he came up with the idea to prepare some fettuccine made with semolina and dressed with butter and fresh parmigiano Reggiano. He presented them to the wife saying: ‘If you don’t care for them, I’ll eat them myself”.

Ines not only enjoyed them, but she suggested the husband he should add them to the menu in his small restaurant. That was in 1908 in Piazza Rosa, in Rome. Then Alfredo moved to Via della Scrofa in 1914. The present location since 1950 is in Piazza Augusto Imperatore.

With his tireless work, combined with a great enthusiasm, Alfredo started to get customers from all over the world.

Another decisive step in his path to success and satisfaction was the meeting with Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford, the two famous American actors of the silent screen. After tasting his delicious and original dish during their honeymoon in Rome, they presented him with a fork and a spoon in solid gold with the engraving: “To Alfredo the King of the noodles”.

It goes without saying that the two movie stars back in America recreated the dish, or at least tried, and introduced the fettuccine Alfredo to their friends. From those momentous times fame and glory for Alfredo followed and spread.


So, what’s in the fettuccine Alfredo recipe?

The fettuccine Alfredo recipe is never been a secret as the ingredients are so obvious that just by looking and by tasting, if you want to make sure, you’ll know what it is.

Here is the true original fettuccine Alfredo recipe:

  • semolina
  • eggs
  • butter
  • parmigiano Reggiano

That’s it? You may ask. It is a simple YES.

The secret of the goodness of the dish is in the mix: semolina from durum wheat (not from flour which is from soft wheat) mixed with eggs to make the dough, sweet unsalted butter and young fresh parmigiano Reggiano, as it has a sweeter less sharp flavor. Parmigiano to be no more than 15 month old, Pietro, Alfredo’s cook, told me.

The fettuccine themselves are made fresh daily. That makes a big difference too. Note that Alfredo uses semolina, and, of course, for volume, commercial pasta machines.

The dish is just pasta butter and cheese, elevated, if I can make a comparison, from a Volkswagen to a Mercedes.

The “creamy” effect of the dish is derived by mixing the drained hot wet fettuccine with butter which melting creates an emulsion. That is most probably how cream in the American version found its place.

Riding on the popularity of the name more creations sprang up. So now there is Alfredo chicken, Alfredo shrimp, Alfredo lasagna, Alfredo dip, Alfredo sausage, Alfredo cauliflower, incredibly an Alfredo pizza… And who knows what else. There is even an Alfredo sauce, which to Alfredo himself past and present would be news. I doubt they would approve of the associations.

Fresh homemade fettuccine are the determining factor in Fettuccine Alfredo. Make your  your own. It’s easy. Watch the video below.


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