You know how when you go away for a day or two and you overindulge with the rationalization that you are away for fun so what you are eating is ok, but as soon as you get back it’s back to the straight and narrow? That’s what it was like in New York. We had poutine. We had buffalo chicken dough balls. We had cookies for the ride along with the obligatory McDonald’s stop. We had sandwiches from Zabars. We even had frozen yogurt for breakfast. We lived it up for our 24 hours away. But that’s ok, we’ll come home and right the ship. We’ll have salads. Maybe some power foods. Blend up a nice salmon and kale smoothie. We’ll have some quinoa encrusted açaí berries and be right as rain. Or, we could make ourselves a giant bowl of fettuccini and top it with a sauce made from cheese, cream and butter. Yep, that seems about right. So goes the rigors of this quest.
Today was National Fettuccini Alfredo Day – the pasta dish that four out of five cardiologists advise against (the fifth one is just looking for more business). The story goes that this dish was created in 1914 when an Italian restaurant owner, Alfredo di Lelio, made some plain pasta and tossed it with butter and Parmesan so he could give his pregnant wife who was suffering from nausea something to eat. It was something his wife could keep down, so it became a favorite of hers throughout her pregnancy. Alfredo eventually added it to his menu. In 1920, the famous American actors Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford were honeymooning in Italy and visited the restaurant where they tried the now famous dish. They loved the dish, asked for the recipe, and started raving about it to their Hollywood elite friends. This led more celebrities to visit the restaurant on trips to Rome and soon Alfredo di Lelio’s restaurant became a bit of a tourist attraction. While Italians regarded the meal as little more than buttered noodles, it became popular in the United States. In 1977, di Lelio and a partner opened up a restaurant in New York City which continued to grow the popularity of their signature Alfredo Sauce. The sauce is associated with fettuccini pasta, a flat thick pasta made of egg and flour, but the pairing is another one of those bizarre moments of coincidence. It seems that Alfredo would use whatever pasta he had lying around to make that dish, and he just happened to be using fettuccini when Fairbanks and Pickford first tasted it which cemented it as the typical pairing. I will say however that it is the perfect pasta choice for the thick, cheesy sauce as it gives you plenty of surface area for the sauce to stick to.
I’m a fan of Fettuccini Alfredo. Growing up, I was never a huge fan of tomato sauce. It was ok, but not something I would go crazy over. At some point as a young adult, I was in an Italian restaurant and bored with the tomato sauce options, so I thought I’d give this Alfredo thing a shot. Creamy, buttery and cheesy – what’s not to like? I was stunned that this sauce had eluded me for so long. It became one of my new craves. (Don’t get me started on Carbonara sauce).
Once you have made any type of cream sauce, you kind know the gist of how it goes, so I was not at all intimidated by having to make this sauce. I looked up some recipes online as a guide, but I kind of knew how to make it. I roughly followed Ree Drummond’s recipe mainly because it was super easy (and nothing says authentic pasta dish like a person that calls herself the Pioneer Woman). I got my supplies at the Dollar General which was another indication that this meal can’t be great for you. But they did have everything I needed to make it, so I was back home in a few minutes. I started to make it around 6 PM and it was ready in less than a half hour. You can put fast and convenient on the plus side of this dish. You start by boiling water for your fettuccini and then in another pot, you heat up some butter and heavy cream. When that is combined and warm, you start adding in some Parmesan cheese which thickens the sauce as well as giving it that cheesy flavor. I added in a squeeze of lemon juice, just because, and also a bunch of fresh ground pepper because I felt like that would offset the super-cheesy taste. It did somewhat, but it came out on the peppery side (which I like). When the pasta was ready, I combined it with the sauce and added in some more cheese. It was ready to serve.
Was it good? Of course. It was awesome. It was a thick, cheesy sauce that stuck to every al dente noodle like a seductress waiting to be devoured. It was nice and warm for a cold winter’s night and soothing to the soul. But it was heavy. Heavy like you want to hibernate after eating heavy. Plus it was harsh on the belly. I think my system was in shock, sending messages of, “WTF Guy?” to my brain. Lola’s reaction to it all was what I expected and could be summed up in her four statements:
- Fettuccini Alfredo? This has to stop.
- This is really good.
- This is really f*#@ing good.
- I hate you. I want to die.
The truth of the matter is it was delicious, but too much. It’s not something you could celebrate every day, not even once a month. But still good. I think that’s my relationship with Alfredo sauce. Loving it, eating it, saying never again, and than selective amnesia when it suddenly pops up as an option again. I suppose I could have made it with chicken to add in some protein. I would have actually preferred to make it with broccoli or peas, not just for the veggie factor but just to have the green color in there, but Lola is a firm disbeliever in veggies in cheesy pasta. We’ve had the pea argument before when I have wanted to add them to Kraft macaroni and cheese. Lola gives me a firm no. But that’s me, I like peas.
I would like to give thanks to Alfredo di Lelio for giving this dish to the world (and props to Douglas and Mary for binging it to the USA). It’s still a delicious meal that brings you warmth and joy. Let’s save this one for only special occasions. Everything in moderation, right? But today was a special occasion – a day to salute this delicious dish. So we celebrated. These celebrations should not be about regrets, but of joy, and I sure enjoyed it. There will be time tomorrow to right the ship, but for now, I’m going to salute all the good things about Fettuccini Alfredo, like cheese, butter and cream. Amen to that.
(Source for the history info: The Origins of Fettuccini Alfredo by Kimberly Kohatsu (Huffington Post))
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