The Original Fettuccine Alfredo
The original Fettuccine Alfredo – called fettuccine al burro in Italy – is a simple pasta dish consisting of fettuccine tossed with lots of butter and parmesan. With only 4 ingredients and ready in 15 minutes, this recipe is perfect to have on hand for when you are craving easy comfort food!
While time consuming recipes such as my Bolognese sauce or my Braised Beef Ragu are definitely worth the work, nothing beats quick and easy, especially when you are short on time and need a quick dinner.
I first had Fettuccine Alfredo when I was a pre-teen, while visiting EPCOT at Disney World. We dined at L’Originale Alfredo di Roma Ristorante, which is one of Alfredo’s sister restaurants, opened by the descendants of the Di Lelio family.
It was love at first bite! Being a girl from Brazil, this was the closest to a mac and cheese that I had ever tasted. And I became obsessed with it ever since!
So you can imagine my disappointment when, many years later, I moved to the US and ordered fettuccine Alfredo at another restaurant, only to be served fettuccine drenched in a heavy cream sauce. I thought it was a mistake, so I tried another restaurant, and then another, and then… you know where this is going, don’t you?
Unfortunately, I only had that same fettuccine Alfredo again once I found out that there was a L’Originale Alfredo di Roma Ristorante in NYC. But it has since closed!
I did learn to enjoy American-style Alfredo. It has it’s time and place! But the real fettuccine Alfredo has my heart. ♥️ And I was forced (twist my arm, won’t you?) to learn to make it homemade, as chances are this is not the Alfredo you will find at restaurants here in the States. Thankfully, it is one of the simplest dishes you could ever make, and you’ll only need 4 ingredients, including salt.
But don’t let the world “simple” fool you. This is one of the most delicious pasta recipes ever and I’d be eating it every day if it weren’t for the amount of butter that goes in it! 😂
If all you know is the American Alfredo, I beg you to try this version. But be careful: it is extremely addicting!
What is Fettuccine Alfredo?
Fettuccine Alfredo is an Italian pasta dish consisting of fresh or dried fettuccine tossed with butter and Parmesan cheese until it emulsifies, creating a rich, creamy sauce. In Italy, it is called fettuccine al burro, fettuccine al burro e parmigiano or pasta al burro e parmigiano.
Is it really Italian?
If you go to Italy and try to order fettuccine Alfredo at a restaurant, they’ll probably look at you like you have three heads. However, ask for fettuccine al burro and they’ll know what you are talking about!
So the answer is: yes. Fettuccine Alfredo, when made the authentic way (with only butter and parmesan) is Italian. They just don’t know it by that name!
Why is it called Alfredo?
The dish got the name Alfredo because Alfredo di Lelio featured this pasta at his restaurant “Alfredo” in Rome back in the early to mid-20th century. The ceremony of preparing it tableside was an integral part of the dish
Legend has it that Alfredo came up with this dish in 1907 or 1908, in an effort to get his wife, Ines, to eat since she had lost her appetite after giving birth to their first child Armando. To make the pasta extra appetizing, he added three times the amount of butter that he usually would, and therefore he first called the dish “fettuccine al triplo burro”.
It wasn’t long before the fettuccine Alfredo’s fame spread to the world.
In the 1920s, Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford – famous Hollywood stars – dined at Alfredo while visiting Rome for their honeymoon. They fell in love with the dish and asked di Lelio for the recipe, which he gladly gave to them. They later sent him a set of a golden fork and spoon engraved with the words “To Alfredo, the King of the Noodles” with their names and date of July 1927, to express their gratitude.
As soon as the couple got back to the States, they spread the word of the delicious pasta. Soon, Alfredo became a must-stop for celebrities visiting Italy. Everyone from Sophia Loren to Frank Sinatra visited Alfredo to taste the famous fettuccine Alfredo that everyone was talking about!
Somewhere along the way, here in the United States, fettuccine Alfredo transformed into a version containing heavy cream. Perhaps it was in 1966, when the Pennsylvania Dutch Noodle Company, in efforts to market their dried “Fettuccine Egg Noodles”, published a recipe for Alfredo sauce on the package of their pasta. The recipe included cream and Swiss cheese, as well as the usual parmesan and butter.
The American chain restaurant Olive Garden can also be credited to making the cream version of fettuccine alfredo famous. They carry several dishes that have “alfredo” in their names, including “chicken alfredo” and “seafood alfredo”. Those would have di Lelio turning over in his grave! 🙈🙈🙈
To make authentic Fettuccine Alfredo, you will need:
- Pasta – Fettuccine is the classic choice as its wide, long shape allows you to gather the most amount of the creamy sauce in every bite. You can use fresh or dried fettuccine.
- Parmesan Cheese – I highly recommend you go with Parmigiano Reggiano here. There are only 4 ingredients in this recipe, so make them count!
- Butter – A lot of butter goes in this recipe. Do not despair! It’s not like you’ll be eating this every day, right? 😉
- Salt – We’ll heavily salt the water to cook the pasta. After that, only a small pinch of salt should be enough, as Parmigiano Reggiano is already salty.
How to Make Fettuccine Alfredo
Welcome to the easiest pasta dish recipe you will ever make!
In a nutshell: cook the pasta and toss with butter, cheese and pasta water. Voila! 😋
The reality: yes, this is an easy recipe but there are a few tricks to ensure the sauce doesn’t curdle or congeal. You will find them below!
Recommended tools and equipment: large pot, colander, tongs, cheese grater.
Here’s how I make this Fettuccine Alfredo recipe. As always, you will find the printable (and more complete) version of the recipe at the end of this post!
Step 1: Cook the pasta
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Season the water generously with salt. If you taste the water, it should taste as salty as the sea!
- Cook the fettuccine according to package directions, generally 12 minutes. Stir it almost constantly for the first 3-4 minutes, then continue stirring occasionally to prevent the fettuccine from clumping together. Fettuccine is the most temperamental pasta shape and it likes to stick, so it requires a little more TLC than other pasta shapes!
- Reserve 1 cup of the starchy pasta water. We’ll use it to make the sauce.
- Drain in a colander. For the love of the food Gods, do not rinse the pasta!
Step 2: Stir everything together!
- Return the drained fettuccine to the hot pot.
- Add the sliced butter, 1/4 cup of the reserved pasta water, a small pinch of salt, and half the parmesan. Using tongs, toss the pasta, adding more cheese and more pasta water as needed to create a creamy Alfredo sauce.
- Serve immediately, with more parmesan and some freshly ground black pepper!
- To keep your Alfredo sauce creamy for as long as possible, I recommend you warm your pasta plates or bowls. Otherwise, the sauce will want to solidify due to the difference in temperature with the cold plates. You can do that by placing your plates in the oven on its lowest setting (usually 150ºF) for 15 minutes.
- Once your pasta is done cooking, you should work quickly. If the pasta cools down, you will have difficulty making the sauce, as you need the cheese and butter to melt fast to create a smooth sauce.
- If you are having trouble getting the sauce to thicken, go ahead and turn the burner on to low under the pot. That will encourage the cheese to melt faster and emulsify with the pasta water and butter. Just be careful to not get it too hot or the sauce can curdle!
- Fettuccine Alfredo should be served immediately. The longer it sits, the higher the chance that the sauce will harden.
The original Fettuccine Alfredo was always served by itself, as pasta and meat dishes are usually separated in Italian cuisine. Here in the US, it is often served with grilled chicken or shrimp. However, I personally think it goes great with a juicy steak! 😋
A nice green salad and some crusty bread will round up the meal if needed.
As for wine pairing, Fettuccine Alfredo can be paired with both white or red wines. Something slightly acidic to balance the richness of the buttery sauce, such as a Chardonnay or Pinot Noir.
Fettuccine Alfredo Variations
This fettuccine Alfredo recipe is the dish I make when I don’t have time to make dinner. Can’t beat 4 ingredients and ready in 15 minutes, amirite? It is also very versatile, so you can mix in veggies and/or protein if you want to make it more filling.
Here are some suggestions:
- Add some veggies or greens, such as broccoli, peppers, peas, asparagus, spinach, kale, etc.
- Mix in some mushrooms!
- Mix in or top with protein, such as chicken, sausage, shrimp or steak.
- Add olives, roasted red peppers or sun dried tomatoes.
Just don’t tell Alfredo Di Lelio! 🤫
Frequently Asked Questions
Unfortunately, Fettuccine Alfredo tastes best when freshly made.
No, Fettuccine Alfredo does not freeze well.
Leftovers will keep in the fridge, stored in an airtight container, for up to 5 days.
Reheated fettuccine Alfredo will never taste as good as freshly made. But that doesn’t mean it’s not delicious! If you plan on having leftovers, save some extra pasta water for when you reheat it. Then, reheat in a saucepan, adding a little bit of the reserved pasta water (or just water, if you forgot to save extra!) and butter, over medium-low heat.
More Italian Pasta Recipes
- Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe
- Spaghetti Carbonara
- Spaghetti Aglio Olio e Peperoncino
- Creamy Sausage Kale Pasta
- Spaghetti All’Amatriciana
- Spaghetti alla Puttanesca
- Lasagna Bolognese
The Original Fettuccine Alfredo
- 1 pound dried or fresh fettuccine pasta
- ½ pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter (preferably European style), at room temperature and sliced
- ½ pound finely grated parmesan cheese (preferably Parmigiano Reggiano)
- Kosher salt, to taste
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil, then salt generously with kosher salt. Cook the fettuccine, stirring often during the first 4 minutes and occasionally after that, according to package directions, until al dente.
- Drain the pasta, reserving 1 cup of pasta water (or more to reheat the pasta later, if you predict you will have leftovers).
- Return the pasta to the pot, off heat, and stir in the sliced butter, a small pinch of salt, half the cheese and a splash of the reserved pasta water (about ¼ cup). Toss the pasta vigorously, adding the rest of the cheese and more pasta water as needed for the sauce to emulsify. If you are having trouble getting the cheese to melt quickly, it's okay to turn the heat on low under the pot. Just work quickly so the sauce doesn't curdle.
- Serve on warmed plates (see notes) with more parmesan cheese and a fresh grinding of black pepper.