Saturday, February 7, is a special day for creamy pasta fans across the United States (and, really, around the globe): National Fettuccine Alfredo Day. Nowadays when you hear the words “Fettuccine Alfredo,” you might think of the big bags or jars of “white sauce” you see at the grocery store or a ginormous platter at Olive Garden. But allow us to disrupt the paradigm: that’s not only the way the pasta has to be made!
The origins of Fettuccine Alfredo date back to 1914 and the Italian restaurant owner Alfredo di Lelio. Alfredo’s wife was pregnant and experiencing nausea worse than the usual bout of morning sickness. In an attempt to calm her stomach, di Lelio made her a white pasta dish tossed in butter and Parmigiano Reggiano. While Italians had been tossing together pasta, butter, and cheese for a couple hundred years, Alfredo’s idea of putting double the butter in the bowl beforehand, then throwing in the pasta and cheese, and then topping with even more butter worked like a charm. The missus began eating the pasta regularly, and di Lelio added it to the restaurant menu.
In 1920, American film actors Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford discovered the pasta on their honeymoon and liked it so much that they asked for the recipe and took it home with them. Due to their popularity—proof celebrity culture can be beneficial—reporters began writing about Alfredo di Lelio’s pasta, simply calling it “Alfredo’s fettuccine” (starting to see where the name comes from?). Reporters and other members of the Hollywood elite visited de Lelio’s restaurant in Italy, making it a popular tourist destination.
The dish has actually gained more traction in the US than in Italy, and it seems that we’re the only ones who refer to it as Fettuccine Alfredo. Italians might call it pasta in bianca (white pasta) or fettuccine al burro (fettuccine with butter). Regardless of what you call it, you can celebrate this fine food (now just over a hundred years old) by making some yourself.
To avoid the pre-packaged stuff and get the fullest, creamiest taste, use heavy cream and butter. Sure, it won’t win any health food awards, but the ingredients are fresh and unprocessed. Not to mention, they’re also super tasty.
Typically, Fettuccine Alfredo is made with only Parmigiano Reggiano sprinkled on top. However, culture has an alternative take that mixes things up a bit, making the recipe even cheesier by also adding the sheep’s milk cheese Pecorino di Parco. Throw in a clove of garlic and top the whole thing off with black pepper for that kick of extra flavor. Check out the recipe here. Sounds like the perfect way to celebrate!
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