Mmmm, Fettuccine Alfredo is a creamy pasta dish made from fettuccine, tossed with Parmesan cheese and butter: such a simple recipe, but so so good. As the cheese melts, it emulsifies the liquids to form a smooth and rich coating on the pasta. The term is a synonym for pasta with butter and Parmesan cheese ( in Italian we call it “pasta al burro e parmigiano”), one of the oldest and simplest ways to prepare pasta. The dish was named by Alfredo Di Lelio I, a restaurateur who opened and operated restaurants in Rome, Italy, throughout the early to mid 20th century. While the term “Fettuccine Alfredo” is especially popular in the United States, in Italy the dish is largely unknown under that name. If you ask Italians what fettuccine Alfredo is, majority of them (us) won’t be able to give you an answer. The American version of fettuccine Alfredo is usually richer and very different from the original recipe created by Alfredo Di Lelio I almost a century ago. Americans need to thank movie stars Douglas Fairbanks Sr. and Mary Pickford, who in the late 1920s ate at di Lelio’s restaurant while on honeymoon in Rome, and brought the dish back to the States.
Bring a large pot of salty water to a boil and drop in the fettuccine, then melt the butter in a large sauté pan set over low heat. Add the cream to the butter as it melts. Stir often to combine the two; do not turn off the heat, but keep the heat at its lowest setting while the pasta cooks. When the fettuccine is al dente (it literally means cooked, but still a little firm) lift it out of the pot with tongs and move the pasta to the sauté pan. Do not drain the pasta. You want it dripping wet with the cooking water.
Turn on the heat under the sauté pan to medium and swirl the pasta and butter together to combine. Add half the cheese, then swirl and toss the pasta until it has incorporated into the sauce. If needed, add a few spoonfuls more of the pasta cooking water. Add the rest of the cheese and repeat. Serve fettuccine Alfredo with either a little black pepper (for classic version) or nutmeg (for creamy version) ground over the pasta.