Fettuccine Alfredo is generally made with cream in this country and frequently mixed with other ingredients such as shrimp, chicken or vegetables. In its original form, however, it is much lighter and more interesting. It is essentially pasta tossed with butter and cheese. The dish was popularized by Alfredo di Lelio in 1914 at his restaurant in Rome. The restaurant is still open today under the name Ristorante Alfredo alla Scrofa. While the dish is generally known in the United States as Fettuccine Alfredo, it is more likely to be called pasta al burro e formaggio in Italy. The quantity of butter used in Italy varies, but is usually less and cream is rarely used.
The history of Fettuccine Alfredo and a link to the original recipe can be found in Saveur.com. The recipe below is adapted from that recipe and the recipe for tagliolini al burro e formaggio or egg pasta with butter and cheese, from The Harry’s Bar Cook Book, by Arrigo Cipriani,
Serves 4 to 6
3/4 pound of fresh fettuccine, or good quality dry egg pasta, such as Cipriani”s Tagliarelle, Extra Thin Egg Pasta
1/2 cup unsalted butter at room temperature, diced
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano plus extra cheese to grate at table (see note below concerning quantities of butter and cheese)
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Bring 6 quarts of water to a boil and add 2 or 3 tablespoons of salt to the water. Cook the fresh pasta for about 3 minutes or according to the directions on the package is using dry pasta. You want the pasta to be tender, but still have a bit of bite to it (al dente). Reserve some of the cooking water and drain the pasta. Add the butter and cheese to the pot in which the pasta was cooked or a warm bowl and stir until the butter is melted and combined with the cheese. Return the pasta to the pan and stir with a fork, tongs or a wooden spoon until everything is combined and creamy. (This will probably take several minutes.) You can add a splash of the pasta cooking water if the mixture becomes too thick or tight. Taste and season with salt (but remember the cheese is salty and there was salt in the cooking water) and pepper. Serve immediately with some additional cheese.
Note: You can vary the amount and the ratio of butter and parmesan according to your own taste. For example, the recipe for the “original” for Fettuccine Alfredo in the Saveur article uses 1/2 pound of unsalted butter, 1/2 pound of parmesan cheese and 1/4 cup of reserved pasta water for 1 pound of fettuccine. While the recipe for tagliolini al burro e formaggio in the Harry’s Bar Cookbook uses 3/4 cup of unsalted butter and 6 tablespoons of parmesan for 3/4 pound of pasta. Experiment and enjoy.