The origin of Fettuccine Alfredo came from an adoring husband, Alfredo di Lelio in 1914. Alfredo owned a restaurant on the Via della Scrofa in Rome, Italy. His pregnant wife was having terrible nausea and was having trouble eating and keeping down most foods. Alfredo made his wife, Ines, a simple dish, pasta in bianco, (white pasta). He simply tossed fresh pasta with butter and parmesan.
Ines had Alfredo make the dish regularly with whatever type of pasta was the special for the day, and Alfredo eventually added it to the regular menu. In 1920, Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. and Mary Pickford were on their honeymoon and dined in the restaurant. The day they were there, the house pasta happened to be fettuccine. They loved the dish so much, Alfredo gave them the recipe to take back to the U.S. The couple was so grateful, they sent Alfredo a gold fork and spoon engraved with their names, and a photo. Reporters began to write about this gift and “Alfredo’s fettuccine” to the Hollywood set. Many Hollywood stars would visit the restaurant when in Rome, and of course the local crowds would gather when the stars were there, which made the restaurant a popular tourist destination.
The restaurant was sold in 1943, and the new owner kept the restaurant’s name, menu and the photos on the walls. Alfredo and his son opened a new restaurant in 1950 called Il Vero Alfredo. This restaurant is now managed by his grandchildren.
In Italy, the dish never really gained popularity. To Italians, it was not much more than buttered noodles. However, this dish was immensely popular in the United States.
Fast forward to New York City 1977. My mother began a new job on East 53rd Street, diagonally up the street from then, the brand new Citicorp Center. At the base of the building was an indoor mall, filled with shops and restaurants, which was rare for New York at the time. The building is still a landmark in New York City. The thing that 7 year old me remembers most about the building however, was going to lunch with my mother in Alfredo of Rome, which was opened by di Lilio with a partner, Guido
Bellanca. At that point of my 7 year life, it was the very best thing I had tasted, and I have been a fan of the dish ever since. I went back many times through the restaurant’s tenure, until that location closed in 1995, well into my own working career. The restaurant reopened near Rockefeller Center at 4 W. 49th Street, and the classic dish was still delicious, but it never seemed the same to me. Sadly this location has also closed ending the original dish’s era in New York City. There were locations in Epcot in Disney World and Las Vegas, both have since closed.
I spent years trying to perfect a version of this recipe, and I finally acheived my goal.
1 pound of Fettuccine
Salt for water
½ pound room temperature UNSALTED butter (2 sticks)
3 cups finely grated Parmesan Reggiano cheese
Cut the butter into thin pats and set aside. Bring six quarts of water to a rolling boil. Lightly salt the water and add the pasta and cook until al dente. Reserve ¾ cup of the pasta water and then drain the rest into a colander. Return pot to the burner with very low heat. Melt the butter until just melted, and add the reserved pasta water. Add the pasta and cheese and gently toss until the pasta is evenly coated.