Fettuccine Alfredo is undoubtedly one of America’s favorite Italian dishes but you’ll be hard-pressed to find it on menus in Italy. I actually spent the better part of my life assuming Fettuccine Alfredo was a pasta invented in the US: a dish inspired by Italian ingredients but adapted to suit American palates and eating styles, much like Spaghetti with Meatballs, Chicken Parmesan and Italian Dressing. Although these famous foods use Italian ingredients, they are widely regarded as culinary faux-pas that go against culinary convention and I had long believed Fettuccine Alfredo fell into this same category.
As it turns out, this famous, divisive and oft misunderstood dish originated in Rome, though it’s not traditionally included among the classic Roman pasta dishes: carbonara, amatriciana, cacio e pepe and gricia. According to the history, Fettuccine Alfredo were invented at Alfredo della Scrofa in the early 1900s by chef Alfredo di Lelio when his wife Ines was pregnant with the couple’s second child and suffering from a strong bought of morning sickness. Italians are masters at creating soothing comfort foods with household ingredients and I remember my own mother making me Pastina in Brodo (little pasta in broth) or Pasta in Bianco (pasta with a knob of butter) when I was ill. Alfredo threw together tender fettuccine, abundant amounts of butter and Parmigiano Reggiano to make this decadent dish for his wife. It was love at first bite and she went on eating it throughout her pregnancy, suggesting Alfredo add it to the restaurant menu so others could enjoy it as well.
A decade later, Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford, two leading Hollywood actors, came to Rome for their honeymoon and dined at Alfredo della Scrofa. They ordered Fettuccine Alfredo and became enraptured with the hearty dish so they asked the owners for the recipe and brought it back with them to the United States. Fettuccine Alfredo quickly became famous with famous actors, politicians, musicians and other celebrities who stopped by Alfredo alla Scrofa for this celebrated dish when they were in Rome: over the years, Audrey Hepburn, Cary Grant, Kirk Douglas, Brigitte Bardot, Ingrid Bergman, Ringo Starr and Jimi Hendrix are all commemorated in portraits lining the walls of the restaurant.
The fettuccine frenzy spread from the Hollywood crowd to dining room tables across America and today you’ll find it in thousands of restaurants across the country, often in elaborate combinations that include chicken, shrimp or broccoli. Of course the American version has some other important modifications that you won’t find in the Italian recipe: namely, heavy cream. Parmigiano Reggiano wasn’t easily exported at the time so the cream added a rich flavor and consistency to the noodles, though the same effect can be achieved by tossing the noodles with a few spoonfuls of starchy cooking water to thicken the sauce.
The original Fettuccine Alfredo recipe uses only three quality ingredients to prepare this dish:
- Butter sourced in Piemonte
- Parmigiano Reggiano aged 24 months
Ingredients are key but the real secret lies in the pasta’s preparation. The paper-thin fettuccine are gently tossed with the butter and cheese in a swift, elegant motion that amalgamates the ingredients and coats each noodle with the creamy sauce. A hearty portion is plated after several whirls and should be eaten instantly, when it is piping hot. The best time to eat this pasta? Each year on February 7th, National Fettucine Alfredo Day!
Alfredo alla Scrofa
Via della Scrofa, 104/a, 00186 Roma RM
+39 06 6880 6163