Alfredo is not a sauce. Not in Italy anyway. It is however a method of pasta preparation. Born from the traditional “al burro” or “in butter” an Italian "home cooking" recipe, one of the simplest ways to dress up your favorite pasta.
Let me explain. The whole Alfredo story points to Alfredo di Lelio, in 1908 at a small restaurant run by his mother Angelina at the now-extinct Piazza Rosa in Rome, Italy. The story goes that Alfredo’s wife, after giving birth to their first son, had trouble eating. As any good Italian grandmother knows, in a case of lack of appetite, make the food richer, heavier and fattier and serve it in larger quantities! You didn’t know that? Well now you are in the know, a little closer to being a true Italian.
So on with the story. Di Lelio decided to make a fettuccine “triplo burro” for his wife, meaning with three times the amount of butter, and three times the amount of cheese than the traditional recipe called for. He used young un-aged Parmigiano cheese, some say because his purveyor had not arrived with his order of aged cheese, but nobody really knows. Maybe he was just frugal that way, and would not use his expensive aged Parmigiano cheese for himself.
When he was done frothing the piping hot pasta into the butter and cheese, magic happened. The rest is history. When you mix fatty cheese with butter and froth them with heat, in this case piping hot fettuccine, it creates an emulsion, not unlike what happens when you vigorously beat olive oil and vinegar, this emulsified butter and cheese mixture coats the pasta, giving it a creamy gooey delicious quality only attainable by doing it this way.
Serving fettuccine with butter and cheese was first mentioned in a 15th-century recipe for maccaroni romaneschi ('Roman pasta') by Martino da Como, a northern Italian cook active in Rome at the time; the recipe cooks the noodles in broth or water and adds butter, "good cheese" (the variety is not specified) and "sweet spices".
Alfredo di Lelio opened his first restaurant “Alfredo alla Scrofa” in 1914 at Via Della Scrofa, Rome. With his main dish being called “Fettuccine all’Alfredo” The reputation of Alfredo’s pasta dish spread through Rome, then internationally mainly because of the way it was prepared at tableside. A cart would be rolled in to the table with a deep wide vessel, about a kilo (2.2 lb.) of piping hot pasta, a bowl of grated young Parmigiano cheese, a block of soft room temperature butter, and a kettle of hot water. After pouring the butter and cheese into the mixing bowl, the pasta was introduced and mixed with a dash of hot water, lifting the pasta high up in the air dramatically, frothing it in the mixture, and lifting it up again until a golden creamy sauce had been obtained, then moving this into a large plate on the table.
Alfredo’s place became so famous that by 1927 it was talked about all over the world, with raving reviews in socialite and high-end magazines and main newspapers from Paris to New York. Two American silent movie stars Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford celebrated their honeymoon in Rome and ate at Alfredo’s. To show their gratitude for his legendary hospitality, they sent di Lelio a fork and a spoon made of gold with the inscription “To Alfredo, the king of noodles” engraved on the handles. These pieces of silverware, or rather goldware, became the frothing tools for the pasta from thereon.
Since then, endless celebrities and dignitaries have frequented and eaten the famous dish. President Kennedy, Sophia Loren, Elizabeth Taylor, Pele and Sylvester Stallone to name a few.
His celebrity earned Alfredo di Lelio a knightship in the Cavaliere dell'Ordine Della Corona d'Italia (Knights of The Order of the Italian Crown). In 1946 di Lelio retired from the restaurant, leaving it in the hands of Armando di Lelio (Alfredo II) the son for which the whole thing had started in the first place. Di Lelio and his son Armando sold Alfredo alla Scrofa to two waiters that had been with them from the start named Urbano and Ubaldo in 1946.
In 1950 Alfredo di Lelio and his son Armando (Alfredo II) opened “Il Vero Alfredo” or "Alfredo di Roma" in Piazza Augusto Imperatore 30 in Rome, where it can still be found to this day March, 21, 2020, managed by his son Armando until 1982 and now by his son Alfredo (Alfredo III) with his sister Ines Di Lelio.
With the spread of popularity in the United States, cooks and food entrepreneurs made certain modifications to the original recipe, adapting it from the famous method, to a sauce that could be made – and sold – on its own.
The first knowledge I have of such an attempt is on the carton of “Dried Fettuccine Egg Noodles” by the Pennsylvania Dutch Noodle Company in 1966.
The introduction of heavy cream to a traditional béchamel sauce with the addition of some grated cheese and garlic laid the foundation of what would become “Alfredo Sauce” in America today.
One of the pioneers of modern Alfredo sauce marketing is the casual dining franchise “Olive Garden” where you can order “Alfredo” sauce drenched meats such as “Chicken Alfredo" among others.
Following please find a recipe for the sauce I found online called “Better than Olive Garden’s Alfredo” and a recipe from the Food Network's Network’s celebrity chef Ree Drummond. Last but not least the list of ingredients from a jar of Walmart “Great Value” brand “Classic Alfredo Pasta Sauce” “Made with Real Cheese”.
- “Better than Olive Garden’s Alfredo” by Parker’s Mom on Food.com
3 tablespoons sweet butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups heavy cream
1⁄4 teaspoon white pepper
1⁄2 cup grated parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish
3⁄4 cup grated mozzarella cheese
1 (12 oz) box angel hair pasta (or fettuccini)
2 tablespoons chopped parsley, for garnish (optional)
• freshly cracked black pepper, for garnish (optional)
• Melt butter in a medium saucepan with olive oil over medium/low heat.
• Add the garlic, cream, white pepper, and bring mixture to a simmer.
• Stir often.
• Add the Parmesan cheese and simmer the sauce for 8-10 minutes or until the sauce has thickened and is smooth.
• When the sauce has thickened add the Mozzarella cheese and stir until smooth. STIR FREQUENTLY.
• While the sauce cooks, boil noodles for 3-5 minutes.
• Place pasta on serving plates and spoon sauce over pasta.
• Garnish with parsley, freshly cracked black pepper, and more grated parmesan (optional).
- The Food Network Alfredo Sauce by chef Ree Drummond.
1 stick butter
1 cup heavy cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cups freshly grated Parmesan
Pasta cooking water, as needed
1. In a saucepan or skillet, warm the butter and cream. Season with salt and pepper. Add the Parmesan and stir until melted.
2. Toss to combine, thinning with pasta water if necessary.
- “Great Value” brand “Classic Alfredo Pasta Sauce” “Made with Real Cheese”.
Modified corn starch
Dairy product solids
Modified egg yolk (egg yolks, salt, phospholipase)
Contains 5% or less of the following:
Romano cheese, natural flavors, roasted garlic powder.
Autolyzed yeast extract, xanthan gum, blue cheese, spices, lactic acid, onion powder.
Contains milk, eggs, and traces of anchovies wheat, and soy.
Well, there you have it. Enjoy!
Post Scriptum (P.S.) - Today, March 22, 2020, I received a message on this post, by no other than Ines di Lelio, sister of Alfredo III who currently own "Alfredo Vero - Alfredo di Roma. She kindly corroborates our story, and adds the following:
"I must clarify that other restaurants "Alfredo" in Rome do not belong and are out of my brand "Il Vero Alfredo – Alfredo di Roma".
The brand "Il Vero Alfredo - Alfredo di Roma" is present in Mexico with 2 restaurants (Mexico City and Puebla) and 2 trattorias (Mexico City and Cozumel) on the basis of franchising relationships with the Group Hotel Presidente Intercontinental Mexico.
The restaurant “Il Vero Alfredo” is in the Registry of “Historic Shops of Excellence - section on Historical Activities of Excellence” of the Municipality of Roma Capitale.
Grata per la Vostra attenzione ed ospitalità nel Vostro interessante blog, cordiali saluti
Ines Di Lelio"