When I attended Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington, the little Garfield Street restaurant neighborhood had three or four dining choices. All small, cute and inexpensive; just perfect for a college crowd. The best, though, was the Italian, hole-in-the-wall, named Marzano’s. It was my favorite place to eat because the alfredo was something like $5.95 for lunch and it was TO DIE FOR. After I graduated, I obtained a full-time job at the University, and continued to enjoy Marzano’s. As I began to try my hand at cooking more interesting food (a.k.a. NOT Bisquick impossible pies, top ramen & Hamburger Helper), I asked one of the staff, the daughter of the owner (“mama,” straight from Italy with an accent to boot), how to make the Alfredo sauce. She said, “Mama said you take a little bitta butta, a little bitta cream and a little bitta Parmesan.” Since I had no clue about proportions and Parmesan, my first attempt, though good (and sadly attempted in front of friends) had WAAAAAY too much parm. It actually was kinda chunky! Ouch. So, I went back for lunch, and after I’d ordered, I asked, “So, HOW much ‘butta,’ cream and parm?” After consulting “mama,” she said, “One stick uh butta, one cuppa cream and about this much parm” (at the parm, she cupped her hand as if she was holding a delicate bunch of flower petals). So, I went home and tried again. This time, much butter. The third (and last, I promise) time I ordered, then asked, I got a couple more specifics that resulted in this alfredo recipe. It’s the recipe my boys ALWAYS request, including for this past weekend when we rented a condo at Mt. Baker in order to hole-up, relax, read & showshoe.
Fettuccine Alfredo a la Marzano’s (c. 1987)
- 1 cube of butter
- 1/2-3/4 c. Parmesan cheese + extra for serving
- 2 c. whipping cream
- 3-4 cloves garlic, minced
- kosher salt
- freshly ground pepper
- dried parsley
- 1 lb. fresh fettuccine noodles (preferred) or a box of dried noodles
Start: butter & minced garlic
In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium heat until it starts to sizzle. Add garlic to the butter, turn down the heat to medium-low and let it bubble for 3-4 minutes while whisking occasionally. If it starts to brown, remove the pan right away…burnt butter (it’ll be brown) or garlic (it’ll also be brown) MUST be tossed, and you’ll hate to burn through another cube of butter at today’s prices.
Next: whipping cream & spices
Once the butter has bubbled 3-4 minutes, add 1 c whipping cream (save the rest) and the spices. Let it start to bubble up in the pan, then turn the heat to low and let it simmer for 30 minutes. THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT PART. An old friend (who used to attempt this at the request of her daughters because they loved my dish so much), never was able to make it because she was too impatient. This simmering process, often called “low & slow,” is essential to thicken the sauce and infuse the sauce with the garlic & pepper flavors. Add more cream as necessary if you feel it’s becoming too thick for your preference.
In the meantime, boil the fettuccine noodles according to directions. If you can’t get good fresh noodles, dried supermarket pasta works fine. My kids like the Farfalle shape the best, and the thickness of the noodles stands up well to this rich sauce.
Finally: the parmesan cheese, grated on a microplane if possible or the smallest holes on a regular box grater.
After 30 minutes of simmering, SLOWLY add the cheese while whisking the sauce. This is important so the cheese doesn’t clump and so that it melts evenly. Continue to simmer, stirring occasionally, another 10 minutes. Add more cream if it becomes too thick.
To serve: Toss drained, hot (but not rinsed) pasta with Alfredo sauce. The purist will serve this with a dusting of more shredded Parmesan and some freshly ground pepper. I like to add diced, ripe tomato, sometimes sauteed shrimp, sometimes grilled, chopped chicken and sometimes walnuts that have been sauteed in olive oil with salt & pepper until toasted.
The boys: “Can we have Fettuccine Alfredo, please?” Never fails.