I have been mystified by the trend toward putting what is essentially a simple meal into a jar. Is the idea to make it even simpler? But at what cost. The perfect example is Alfredo sauce. I'm sure you have all (except for the lactose intolerant amongst you) enjoyed Fettuccine Alfredo at a restaurant. Some have probably made it from scratch (if so this recipe will be redundant).
But what worries me is that some of you have probably even purchased "Alfredo" sauce in a jar. But trust me, that is not Alfredo sauce.
Considering you can make your own Alfredo sauce in the time it takes the pasta to cook I can't understand why anyone would ever eat the weird white substance you can purchase at the supermarket.
For those of you willing to try it, here is my favourite Alfredo sauce.
• 240 g (8 oz) fettuccine (I prefer whole wheat)
• 90 ml (6 tbsp) butter (margarine if you must)
• 350 ml (1.5 cups) whipping cream*
• 240 ml (1 cup) Parmesan/mozzarella cheese
• 0.7 ml (1/8 tsp) nutmeg
• salt and pepper to taste
• Large pot such as a dutch oven or • Stock pot
• Large non-stick frying pan
• Wooden spoon (or a heat proof spoon/spatula)
• Large (deep) colander or strainer
• Large bowl, ceramic or glass preferred
• Cheese grater
*Be careful if you try to substitute something else for the whipping cream. Half and half or table cream can work but the finished sauce will be less rich. Never use a whipping cream look-alike, these are not made with milk/cream and simply don't work. And please don't try to use the aerosol whipped cream... it might work but you'll be there all day :)
Simple so far huh?
If your cheese is not grated yet do that first. Most Alfredo recipes call for only Parmesan cheese but I personally like to use a combination of mozzarella and Parmesan (1/2 cup each).
In the large pot put 700 ml of water (pasta cooks better with plenty of water) and bring it to a boil. You can add a little olive oil if you like but I find with enough water it's not really necessary.
Once the water is boiling add the pasta. If you are using fresh pasta hold off cooking until the Alfredo sauce is ready since it takes such a short time (less than 10 minutes). If you are using dry pasta it will probably require 7 - 15 minutes to cook (whole wheat may take the full 15 minute).
While the water is coming to a boil put the butter into the frying pan and on medium heat melt the butter until it becomes slightly frothy or brown. Be careful not to burn the butter. I prefer butter rather than margarine both because of the taste and because of the way it combines with the whipping cream.
Once the butter is ready slowly add 1 cup of the whipping cream, stirring as you pour it in. Gradually the yellow of the butter and the white of the cream should combine and start to bubble. Once the bubbling starts the two should mix into a creamy sauce. Don't over cook the sauce, you are better off turning the heat down and letting it sit for a couple of minutes if the pasta needs to cook longer.
Once the pasta is al dente (for a description of al dente see below) strain it in the colander. I recommend a deep colander rather than a bowl shaped one. The pasta can easily spill or slosh out of a shallow colander and unless you've just cleaned the sink you probably won't want to pickup the stray noodles and put them back. Some people recommend rinsing the pasta, others don't. Personally I don't but I'll leave that to your discretion.
Put the pasta in the large bowl. Add the Alfredo sauce from the frying pan and mix well, coating the noodles. Add half the cheese and mix some more. Then add the remaining whipping cream and mix. Finally add the remaining cheese, nutmeg, salt and pepper and mix. You're now ready to serve.
I often add the cheese to the Alfredo sauce about a minute before mixing it into the pasta. I find that the cheese melts into the sauce and then mixes more quickly and cleanly with the noodles, keeping the dish hotter. Purists would probably condemn me for such blasphemy but I say "if it works - why not."
The pasta should be served immediately. I often top it with a little more pepper and a little cheese but you might just make these available at the table and let each person handle it as they will.
For those of you who are looking at this recipe and only seeing the fat and calories don't panic. There are alternatives (although I don't think they taste nearly as good). You could replace the whipping cream with 1 cup of skim milk and add a tablespoon of flour, whipping briskly. And as for the cheese I've tried a soy based Parmesan and it wasn't bad. But personally I would recommend making it as described above and just limiting how often you make it.
I promised to explain the term al dente earlier so here we go. Al dente means "to the tooth" but that doesn't really help much. In simple terms al dente means firm but not hard. The noodle/pasta should give when bitten but then resist just a little.
In fact, if you place a noodle (spaghetti, linguine or fettuccine) that is al dente on a cutting board and press the flat side of a knife on it and flatten the noodle you should be able to see a thin white core, maybe twice as thick as a strand of hair, inside the noodle. This works best with semolina (white) pasta but is very hard to see in whole wheat pasta.
My Nona used to say if you throw the noodle against the wall and it sticks, it's ready. She used to say that but I don't remember her ever actually doing it. Give it a try though... I did.