Fettuccine Alfredo is a popular pasta dish made with fettuccine, a thick flat egg noodle, tossed with a sauce made from butter, cream and cheese. A number of recipes call for the addition of an egg to increase the viscosity and richness of the sauce. Some recipes are made lighter by replacing the cream with milk and using starch instead of cheese to thicken the sauce. Fettuccine Alfredo may be served alone or mixed with vegetables, poultry or seafood.
Some cooks believe that only freshly-made fettuccine noodles are appropriate for this dish as fresh pasta more readily absorbs the flavors of the dish than dried pasta. Others claim that the sauce of the dish is the star and works well with either type of pasta. In either case, high-quality, semolina pasta is generally preferred. Taking care to only cook the pasta to the al dente stage, which means the noodle should slightly resist a bite, is commonly recommended.
Another point on which some cooks differ is the type of cheese that is used. Those who insist on sticking to the earliest recipe instructions use only freshly-grated Parmesan or Parmesan Reggiano. Others maintain that Romano or Asiago cheese works equally well.
The construction and treatment of the sauce is another debatable factor. Certain recipes instruct to make the sauce in a separate pan and toss it with the cooked pasta right before serving. Other recipes recommend placing the hot, cooked pasta in a large dish and then adding the other ingredients. Both methods, when properly executed, should produce a rich, smooth sauce that clings to each individual noodle.
In most recipes for fettuccine Alfredo sauce, the butter is gently melted over low heat and then the cream is stirred into it. The mixture is normally simmered for a minute or two to meld together the butter and cream. The grated cheese is added to the sauce at this juncture. The mixture is then stirred until the cheese is melted and then poured over the noodles. Other versions suggest mixing the noodles with the hot butter and cream and then tossing the grated cheese into them.
The origins of fettuccine Alfredo can be traced back to restaurant owner Alfredo Di Lelio, who allegedly invented the dish for his wife in Rome, Italy, in the 1920s. He was reportedly desperate to get his wife to eat after she had gone through the rigors of childbirth and claimed her exhaustion had robbed her of her appetite. Her appetite returned upon being presented her husband’s concoction of noodles, butter, cream and cheese. Soon after, Di Lelio placed the dish on his restaurant menu. His family still owns and operates three Italian restaurants in Italy and the United States that dish up thousands of servings of fettuccine Alfredo every day.