Fettuccine Alfredo, the True Story

Fettuccine Alfredo, the True Story

Jul 22, 2022Donatella Mulvoni

Named after its creator - Alfredo di Lelio, owner of a restaurant on the Via Della Scrofa in Rome – it is one of the most loved Italian dishes in the US.

A dish created to treat a wife

This "white pasta" is one of the most loved Italian dishes in the US. Did you also know that they are not so popular in their homeland? Is one of the world's most appreciated Italian dishes. Fettuccine Alfredo can be considered the "comfort food" par excellence. Fettuccine Alfredo are named after their creator, Alfredo di Lelio, owner of a beloved restaurant in the heart of Rome, on Via Della Scrofa. Fun fact, this pasta was created in 1914 to gently cure the upset stomach of Ines, Alfredo's wife, who was pregnant at the time (or had just given birth; there are two different versions of the story). It is very common in Italy to offer those with stomach aches some white pasta (we call it "pasta in bianco") without red sauce. To the salted and boiled pasta, Alfredo added parmesan cheese and butter. Needless to say, Ines loved the creaminess of this dish, and Alfredo decided to add it to his restaurant menu. Alfredo's secret? He prepared the sauce with triple cream butter and rich Parmigiano-Reggiano cut from the center of the cheese wheel. 

Discovered on a honeymoon

No one paid too much attention to the new dish until 1920 when Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford, two famous movie stars, arrived in Rome on their honeymoon. Douglas and Mary dined at Alfredo's and ordered the white fettuccine. They loved the dish and asked Alfredo for the recipe. And so the fame of this dish "took flight" to the United States. The two actors returned to Rome in 1927 and gave Alfredo the gift of a golden fork and spoon on which was the eloquent engraving: "to Alfredo the King of the noodles." The press loved the story; consequently, Alfredo's fame spread worldwide.

Can Fettuccine Alfredo be included in the list of Italian specialties?

There's still a vigorous debate over whether or not Fettuccine Alfredo can be considered an authentic Italian dish. Alfredo's original Italian recipe only contains three ingredients: fettuccine, Parmesan cheese, and triple-cream butter. The point is that once it arrived in the US, it was transformed into a different dish, including many rich ingredients like flour, cream, and milk, but also proteins like shrimp or chicken. So, if you come on vacation to Italy, order "pasta con burro e Parmigiano," it will be the closest thing to the original Fettuccine Alfredo. "Simplicity, said Leonardo da Vinci, is the ultimate sophistication, and, with the possible exception of the Martini, nowhere is that more the truth than with fettuccine all'Alfredo, for which we have an origins story, so we know exactly what goes into the dish - says John Mariani on Forbes in a very interesting article on the history of this beloved pasta - Which is: Fettuccine, butter and Parmigiano-Reggiano. What? No cream? No cream. No parsley? No parsley. Elimination of these last two ingredients is not just preference, it is Italian culinary history, so here goes." 

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