So you've decided to end your life, or at least the segment of your life during which you could walk from here to there without your chest making sounds like a whirring blender full of silverware. Because that is the only conceivable reason why you would choose to make Alfredo sauce, which, scientifically speaking, is precisely as nutritious a thing to insert into your digestive system as a motorized hedge-trimmer.
OK, maybe that's not the only reason to make Alfredo sauce. There's also the matter of it being impossibly, outrageously delicious, in about the most gratuitously indulgent way imaginable. But, still: you didn't get to the point in your adult life at which you thought, Hey, let's make Alfredo sauce! because you felt especially like clinging to your mortal coil, unless you're very, very stupid, in which case you were probably gonna tie your shoes together and waltz across a train track at some point anyway, so really, what are we preserving, here?
So we're not here to talk you out of your self-destructive impulse, so much as to ensure that, if you are indeed bent upon turning your vital bodily fluids into greasy, gluey, cheese-scented poison, you goddamn do it right. First, though, let's get on the same page about what exactly this Alfredo sauce stuff is.
You purchase a glass jar or plastic tub of white stuff labeled Alfredo sauce in your local grocery store, or you order Alfredo at your friendly awful Italian-styled chain restaurant, and what you're getting, essentially but with occasional minor variations, is a bunch of heavy cream with smaller amounts of butter and Parmesan cheese (and often flour for thickening) suspended in it. You eat it with fettuccine and the button explodes off the front of your pants and kills a bystander and your stomach turns into a bag of cement and they have to cart you home in a wheelbarrow and it's all very pleasing.
"Alfredo sauce" isn't exactly a misnomer for this stuff—this, after all, has been the basic formulation of the vast majority of things calling themselves Alfredo sauce for decades upon decades—but it's not precisely the same thing as the stuff which first, and still occasionally, bears the name. Which is unfortunate, since the original stuff is much more distinctive than the Parmesan-heavy and delicious but essentially generic cream sauce now generally described as Alfredo.
The difference is cream: the original Alfredo sauce didn't include any. In fact, the original Alfredo sauce wasn't so much a sauce at all, in the sense that it never really existed as a thing separate from the pasta on which it was served. Basically, Alfredo sauce, in its original formulation, was just scalding-hot fettuccine tossed with melting butter and grated Parmesan at tableside until the cheese melted and smoothed out into a silky coating for the noodles.
Because that's a huge pain in the ass, and because, well, heavy cream is fucking amazing, heavy cream came to be involved along the way as a shortcut to the smooth richness originally arrived at through lots and lots of tossing. The idea there is that the cheese and butter can be suspended in the cream while the pasta cooks, and then the resulting sauce can be tossed with the fettuccine, and nobody has to stand next to anybody's table like an asshole tossing pasta until the fucking end of time.
So, which one's better? What a stupid question, asshole! They're both good, because butter and cheese are good, and butter and cheese and cream are good. Here's how to make both. Try 'em and decide for yourself. You're sure to enjoy whichever one you choose.
And, if you enjoy both of them, you're sure to be in the ground by next weekend.
Let's get started.
No matter which type of Alfredo sauce you're making, the first thing to do is start a big pot of cold salted water heating to a boil on your stove. The salt is important: although your Alfredo sauce will include a frankly ludicrous quantity of Parmesan cheese, which is salty on its own, you may still wind up with a disappointingly bland-tasting result if the pasta your Alfredo sauce will be coating doesn't bring along at least a little bit of saltiness of its own. You don't need your pasta water to taste like the Dead Sea; add enough salt for the water to taste distinctly salty, and that'll be enough.
So now your pot of cold salted water is making its slow way to a boil; when it finally gets there, you're going to cook a pound of fettuccine in it. In the meantime, if you're making the more traditional cream-free Alfredo, the next thing to do is go ride a bicycle around your quaint hillside village or whatever until the water comes to a vigorous boil, because there aren't any cooking tasks for you to complete between now and then. We'll get back to you in a few minutes.
So your water is heating up; while that's going on, melt a stick of unsalted butter in a deep skillet or saucier pan over low-medium heat; bash a clove of garlic with the side of your fist and toss that in with the melted butter. (A note, here: you could decide to mince the garlic and cook it in the butter that way, if you want a garlicky-er Alfredo. That's up to you. However, since the real miracle of Alfredo sauce is its ability to turn total cardiovascular annihilation into something silky, smooth, and irresistibly seductive, we're using one crushed clove and removing it before serving, for consistent smoothness of texture. You'll get a milder contribution from the garlic this way, but a positive one nonetheless.)
Once the butter's all melted, bring the heat down as low as it'll go and let the garlic hang out in there until the pasta water comes to a boil. Once that happens, dump a pound of fettuccine into the boiling water and set a timer for ten minutes. Also, add two cups of heavy cream to the melted butter and bump up the heat just a little bit so the cool cream doesn't stop things from cooking altogether. It's important not to rush the cream here, or you will scald it and all kinds of awful milk-solid-separating-type things will happen and your Alfredo sauce will be awful and you will end up chewing miserably on a head of cabbage in the dark. When the cream is steaming but not simmering, fish out and discard the garlic clove, and stir, oh, a cup-and-a-half of grated Parmesan cheese into your butter-cream mixture. Once the cheese is incorporated, turn the heat down as low as it'll go; your pasta's likely almost done, and you just need this stuff to stay warm until then without separating or scalding or being hit by a meteor.
Pasta done? Good. Toss the cooked fettuccine with enough sauce to coat it without pooling obscenely on the plate, and hold tight for a second while we deal with your cream-free brethren, those traditionalist bastards.
So, your pasta water is now boiling. Throw a pound of fettuccine into the boiling water and set a timer for 10 minutes. While that's happily bubbling away, grab a small saucepot and, in it, melt a half-pound (two sticks) of good butter along with a clove of crushed garlic. Please note the emphasis on the word "good" in the preceding sentence: you're not using cream to add richness to your Alfredo sauce, which means that, if your Alfredo sauce is to distinguish itself from any old shitty butter noodles with cheese, you need the butter you use to contribute something other than lubrication to the affair. This means: no Land O'Lakes stuff, here. Go to the stupid gourmet store or wherever and spend an extra dollar or two on some real Irish butter. Really. You'll be glad you did.
Keep the heat pretty low under your butter: you're not adding anything else to it, so there's no rush, and the lowest possible temperature will ensure that the milk solids in the butter don't burn and turn brown and ruin your life.
(Note: if you want to go extra fancy, here—which is to say, if you want to do even more work—you can boil a couple of tablespoons of water, lower the heat, and whisk—furiously, frantically whisk—the cold butter into the water one tablespoon-sized pat at a time, producing an opaque, slightly foamy melted butter in which the milk and butter solids remain blended. This approach may or may not produce the silkiest, richest possible Alfredo sauce. It may also make you angry enough to bite your whisking hand off of your arm altogether and spit it into the gutter. Just a warning.)
Pasta done? Good. Using tongs, remove the scalding fettuccine from the boiling water directly to a large serving platter. Time to work quickly. Remove the garlic clove from the melted butter, then grab the pot and drizzle the butter over the still-furiously-hot pasta on the platter.
Now, haul out your trusty tongs or a pair of serving forks and gently lift and twirl and toss the fettuccine while adding, one handful at a time, literally all the fucking finely-grated Parmesan cheese there ever fucking was (or, three-quarters of a pound or so is OK, too) to the platter. Lift and twirl and add cheese and lift and twirl and add cheese (and lift and twirl and add cheese). If the pasta gets too cool to melt the cheese, add a splash of the hot, starchy pasta water from the pot, and continue lifting and twirling and tossing.
Persistence pays off, here. You want to just toss the pasta with the cheese a couple of times, go, "Oh, what the fuck ever," and then think to yourself that, fuck, this is just fucking butter noodles with cheese, what a fucking ripoff, fuck that stupid internet food guy and his stupid internet food face. Please keep at it. Toss and twirl and lift and toss and twirl. Eventually the cheese will be melted and evenly distributed into the melted butter and smoothly coating the noodles, and somehow this thing that started out as just garlicky butter and a bunch of cheese will have transmuted into a new thing that is undeniably, unmistakably Alfredo sauce and that tastes for all the world like going into the light.
Serve your fettuccine with Alfredo sauce immediately, with some chilled white wine, before the shit gets cold.
Want to toss some broccoli into your fettuccine with Alfredo sauce? Some grilled boneless skinless chicken breast, sliced attractively on the bias into strips? How about some steamed shrimp—ooh, and maybe some sliced cherry tomatoes and some bright, prettily-green, healthful kale?
Fuck you! Make a salad with that shit. Fettuccine with Alfredo sauce scoffs at your nutritional half-measures—scoffs, I tell you! Leave it unencumbered by fucking cucumber for the 12 or so seconds you will spend eating an entire pound of it, and it will cram into those 12 seconds all the glorious, unhinged, hedonistic delight of an entire lifetime—which is a good thing, because, for real, you're probably gonna be dead soon.
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Albert Burneko is an eating enthusiast and father of two. His work can be found destroying everything of value in his crumbling home. Peevishly correct his foolishness at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can find lots more Foodspin at foodspin.deadspin.com.
Image by Devin Rochford.