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Fettuccine Alfredo

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Italy is a country so rich in exquisite foods that some of them are little known to Italians themselves. It’s the case, for example, of Fettuccine Alfredo: a typical specialty of the Belpaese, unknown to many and considered an invention ‘made in USA’ by some others, when, in fact, it’s without a shadow of a doubt, ‘romana de Roma’ (‘roman from Rome’). That said, let’s deepen our knowledge of this delicacy, with the precious collaboration of the historic restaurants that preserve its tradition.

Plate of Fettuccine Alfredo.

What is Fettuccine Alfredo?

Fettuccine Alfredo is an Italian specialty consisting of fettuccine pasta, seasoned, according to the original recipe invented by the Roman chef Alfredo di Lelio, with only two ingredients: butter and Parmigiano (Parmesan) cheese.
The result of their mixing (through a procedure known as ‘mantecatura’) is a tasty cream that gives the preparation its typical golden color: a feature that has made its fortune, especially among U.S. food lovers.

WebFoodCulture: the most traditional restaurants.

Fettuccine Alfredo: the most traditional restaurants

Two are the restaurants where it’s possible to taste the original Fettuccine Alfredo:

  • Ristorante ‘Alfredo alla Scrofa’
    Via di Ponte Quattro capi, 16, 00186 Rome;
    Official Website
  • Ristorante ‘Il Vero Alfredo’
    Viale della Piramide Cestia, 53, 00153 Rome;
    Official Website
The history of Fettuccine Alfredo.

The history of Fettuccine Alfredo.

Browsing the articles on this site, it’s easy to understand that it’s generally not easy to determine the exact origins of a culinary specialty. However, there are some exceptions: for example, it’s possible to pinpoint with precision the year of birth of Fettuccine Alfredo, a Roman delicacy (‘romana de Roma’) that is incredibly famous in the United States and, oddly enough, little known in Italy.

The birth of Fettuccine Alfredo.
It was the year 1908 when a Roman cook, Mr. Alfredo di Lelio, to feed his wife weakened by pregnancy, prepared some fresh fettuccine. He chose to make them very nutritious by using a large amount of butter and grated Parmigiano (Parmesan) cheese. The dish, prepared with love and quality ingredients, pleased the woman so much that was included in the menu of the restaurant where, at the time, the young chef worked (*1).

Restaurant 'Alfredo alla Scrofa' (Rome) - Entrance.

When, in 1914, Alfredo decided to open his restaurant in Via della Scrofa (in the historic center of Rome), he did not fail to offer the specialty of which, in the meantime, he had become so fond to give it his name: Fettuccine Alfredo. Most probably, it was precisely this affection for the ‘blondes’ (that’s how he called them), the real secret of their success.

Hollywood stars visit Alfredo’s.
A fame that grew further when, in the late 1920s, the famous American actors Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford got to taste them.

Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks

These legends of Hollywood cinema were so enchanted by Alfredo and his mastery that gave him, as a token of their esteem, two pieces of cutlery (a fork and a spoon) made of solid gold.
Most probably, their appreciation materialized not only in this welcome gift but also in the advertising that, more or less directly, they gave to their favorite restaurant. So it should come as no surprise that, in time, many stars visited it to taste the exquisite fettuccine.


The new restaurant.
It was 1943 when, right in the middle of World War II, Alfredo chose to sell his restaurant. However, this was just a goodbye since a few years later, in 1950, he decided to open another with his son Armando, calling it Il Vero Alfredo (*2) to distinguish it from the first one.

*1: The restaurant, which no longer exists, belonged to Alfredo’s mother: Mrs. Angelina.
*2: The restaurant, located in Piazza Augusto Imperatore, is in business still today.

Rome: the city of Fettuccine Alfredo.

Rome, the birthplace of Fettuccine Alfredo is also, and above all, the ‘Eternal City’. Located on the famous Seven Hills, it was founded, according to legend, in 753 BC by Romulus and Remus. Over the centuries it has become a real treasure chest full of historical, artistic, and cultural wonders: it’s therefore no coincidence that it has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Wine & Grapes.
Pasta with butter and Fettuccine Alfredo.

Pasta with butter: an ancient recipe.

Fettuccine Alfredo can be rightfully considered a variation, or rather an evolution, of ‘pasta al burro’ (pasta with butter): a simple and yet very tasty specialty, dating back to a distant past. As evidence of this, it’s often quoted a famous cookbook from the 15th century, Libro De Arte Coquinaria (1450), written by Martino da Como, a cook much appreciated in many Renaissance courts: in his work, he mentions maccaroni romaneschi (Roman macaroni), seasoned with butter, grated cheese, and spices.

The preparation of Fettuccine Alfredo.

Fettuccine Alfredo: preparation.

It’s difficult to find a recipe both simple and tasty as Fettuccine Alfredo. One of its secrets lies in the quality of the three ingredients (fresh fettuccine, butter, and Parmigiano), another is the care required by the preparation.

After the butter is placed in the serving dish, pasta is added along with a small quantity of its cooking water. Everything is then enriched with a good amount of grated cheese. The final step, of fundamental importance, is the ‘mantecatura’ (creaming): using cutlery, the mixture is stirred until the butter and the cheese, diluted by the water, reach a uniform creaminess.

Creaming butter and parmigiano cheese.

Mantecatura: the true secret of Fettuccine Alfredo.

The ‘mantecatura’ (creaming) is one of the secrets that make delicious a specialty only apparently simple as Fettuccine Alfredo. Thanks to this technique, butter is blended with Parmigiano cheese, resulting in a cream that is perfect for seasoning pasta.
Even today, at the two restaurants that are de facto the guardians of the tradition of the recipe (both mentioned in this article), the procedura is carried out directly at the table by the serving staff, using gestures that have been handed down since the days when Alfredo di Lelio himself performed them.

The preparation of Fettuccine Alfredo in video.

This video, shot at the restaurant ‘Alfredo alla Scrofa’, shows the method used to prepare the original Fettuccine Alfedo. Many thanks to the YouTube channel Italia Squisita, author of the footage.

La cottura delle Fettuccine Alfredo.
Fettuccine Alfredo: a fascinating show.

Serving Fettuccine Alfredo: a fascinating show.

Americans are known to have a fairly stereotypical view of Italians: sometimes this happens to be quite true. Among the customs they attribute to these fascinating people, there is their habit of gesticulating: a way of expressing considered extremely charming. Alfredo di Lelio most probably was aware of this, so it should come as no surprise that he served his renowned fettuccine with movements rich in theatricality. He used to stir and lift them showing off their splendor made of golden reflections, thus instilling in his customers a mixture of amazement and admiration, as if they were witnessing a spectacular rite. As proof of this, there are many photos in which the chef puts his specialty on display while serving at the table some of the most famous U.S. movie actors: stars clearly impressed by his exuberance and friendliness.

Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks.

The Hollywood stars love Fettuccine Alfredo.

Between the 1920s and the 1970s, many movie stars became enthusiastic admirers of Alfredo and his Fettuccine. The credit for the discovery of the specialty should most likely be assigned to the ‘golden couple’ of Hollywood at the beginning of the last century, namely Douglas Fairbanks (‘the King of Hollywood’) and Mary Pickford (‘America’s Sweetheart’). It was most probably them who promoted the recipe overseas, that’s why other famous actors wanted to try it: people like, for example, Ava Gardner, Frank Sinatra, Clark Gable, James Stewart, Burt Lancaster, Gary Cooper, Ingrid Bergman, and Jack Lemmon (to name a few).

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Fettuccine Alfredo: two restaurants, one tradition.

Two restaurants, one tradition.

Two are the Roman restaurants that represent (and defend) the tradition of Fettuccine Alfredo. The oldest one was founded in 1914 by Alfredo di Lelio in Via della Scrofa, hence the name ‘Alfredo alla Scrofa’. Although it was sold in 1943, the new owners followed in the founder’s footsteps. A few years later, in 1950, Mr. Alfredo founded, together with his son, another one, naming it ‘Il Vero Alfredo’ to distinguish it from the first. I strongly recommend visiting both the places: this gives the opportunity to taste the specialty in its original form, invented back in 1907 for the love of a woman.

Michelina's Fettuccine Alfredo.

Many variants in the U.S.

In the United States Fettuccine Alfredo stands for Italian cuisine, but it’s worth mentioning that, over time, some ingredients that originally were not part of the recipe by Mr. Alfredo (including just pasta, butter, and Parmigiano cheese), have been added: first and foremost, cream, which guarantees a good creaminess of the sauce.
Nowadays, it is possible to eat Fettuccine Alfredo with chicken, broccoli, or even tuna fish!

Carasuolo d'Abruzzo.

The right Wine.

A rosé wine can be a good accompaniment to a tasty dish of Fettuccine Alfredo. It should be acid and sapid enough to balance the fattiness and sweet tendency of the specialty. We suggest, for example, a Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo.

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