Fettuccine Alfredo consists of four ingredients: Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, butter, fettuccine, and a pinch of salt. No cream. No eggs. Not even any black pepper. The cheese and butter should create a creamy sauce that thoroughly coats each strand of pasta. But this dish has been mucked up over the years with cream, thickeners, and worse. For our back-to-basics version, we limited our ingredient list to five ingredients (we added reserved pasta cooking water—a test kitchen favorite for creating a silky pasta sauce). After many tests, we found that the simplest method yielded the best results: Combine the pasta and sauce ingredients in the pot, stir, let rest, and then stir again before serving in warmed bowls.
Be sure to use imported Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese here and not the bland domestic cheese labeled “Parmesan.” For the best results, grate the cheese on a rasp-style grater. Do not adjust the amount of water for cooking the pasta. Stir the pasta frequently while cooking so that it doesn’t stick together. It’s important to move quickly after draining the pasta, as the residual heat from the reserved cooking water and pasta will help the cheese and butter melt. For best results, heat oven-safe dinner bowls in a 200-degree oven for 10 minutes prior to serving and serve the pasta hot. If you are using fresh pasta, increase the amount to 1 1/4 pounds.
- 1 pound fettuccine
- 4 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated (2 cups), plus extra for serving
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 5 pieces
1. Bring 3 quarts water to boil in large Dutch oven. Add pasta and 1 tablespoon salt and cook, stirring frequently, until al dente. Reserve 1 cup cooking water, then drain pasta and return it to pot.
2. Add Parmigiano-Reggiano, butter, reserved cooking water, and 1/2 teaspoon salt to pot. Set pot over low heat and, using tongs, toss and stir vigorously to thoroughly combine, about 1 minute. Remove pot from heat, cover, and let pasta sit for 1 minute.
3. Toss pasta vigorously once more so sauce thoroughly coats pasta and any cheese clumps are emulsified into sauce, about 30 seconds. (Mixture may look wet at this point, but pasta will absorb excess moisture as it cools slightly.) Season with salt to taste.
4. Transfer pasta to individual bowls. (Use rubber spatula as needed to remove any clumps of cheese stuck to tongs and bottom of pot.) Serve immediately, passing extra Parmigiano-Reggiano separately.