Perfecting pasta

A few shortcuts make fettuccine Alfredo a modern classic
JERRY ANNE DI VECCHIO

Fettuccine with Gorgonzola and Prosciutto

Researching a cookbook in Rome long ago, I received a serious amount of attention from restaurant staff when I ordered fettuccine Alfredo, where Alfredo himself had produced it. Before my eyes, tender ribbons of fresh pasta were lifted from a cauldron of boiling water and tossed into a silken sauce with lumps of golden butter, cascades of thick cream, and a blizzard of feathery parmesan cheese. It took three waiters in concert to produce this masterpiece in a shining copper pan on a tabletop stove. Rich to the point of indigestion; nonetheless, a landmark dish.

I bought a hand-cranked pasta machine to make the fresh fettuccine and headed home with the recipe for the sauce. Fettuccine Alfredo became a standard in our house. Even my young daughter and her friends loved it, especially if they could pull the impossibly long strands of fresh noodles, draped over their arms, from the machine while I turned the handle.

As the years rolled along, my taste for creamy pastas expanded, setting off a battle with the same shift in my waistline. A compromise was necessary. The pasta dishes I enjoy most now have far less butter and cream at heart but retain a vital level of richness. One of my favorite recipes, in fact, showcases creamy, ripened cheeses, from blues to bries, and omits the butter altogether. The dish can be tailored to individual tastes, and any well-stocked supermarket or deli offers a tantalizing selection of cheeses to choose from.

This pasta is also incredibly easy ― basically a one-pan affair. The fettuccine isn't boiled in water; it's cooked in wine and broth and absorbs most of the liquid (no draining). If it's too saucy for you, just wait a minute. Mix again, and the pasta soaks up more.

Traditional technique? No ― it's short three waiters. But traditional silky delectability? Definitely ― and though it's rich, it shows decidedly more restraint with the cream.