Wouldn’t it be grand if a recipe were named after you? Beats a tombstone, I take it.
The “Alfredo” in fettuccine Alfredo, likely America’s most favored non-red Italian noodle preparation, was a Roman chef named Alfredo Di Lelio.
The legend goes that Di Lelio created the dish of fettuccine, butter and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese to help strengthen and soothe his wife during the labor of delivering their first-born, Armando (if the legend dates to 1907), or convalesce from the birthing (if the legend dates to 1908).
Whatever the year of origin, Di Lelio later popularized the same recipe at his Roman restaurant which was located (and still is) along the Via della Scrofa. He never listed it on the menu as “Fettucine Alfredo,” but instead “pasta al triplo burro” (fettucine with triple the amount of butter), to this day its proper Italian culinary name. (If you ask for fettuccine Alfredo in Rome, apart from Alfredo’s namesake restaurant, they’ll both look askance at you and give you a portion of pasta al triplo burro.)
The name “Fettucine Alfredo” — and, more important, the cream used in it — came to the recipe when it moved to the United States in the 1930s. In Italian cooking, even simple “fettuccine al burro e formaggio” (pasta with butter and cheese, usually a children’s dish) never includes cream. We Yanks riched it up.
Any “cream” comes to the original fettuccine Alfredo from its preparation, which I want to teach you. With today’s recipe, method is key. Pay close attention to the details in the directions and you’ll come out with a creamy fettuccine Alfredo as Di Lelio made it.
But for dessert, some German’s Chocolate Cake. Note the apostrophe.
In the mid-1800s, Samuel “Sammy” German, an American of English descent and a chocolatier working for Baker’s Chocolate Company of Dorchester, Mass., came up with a formula for a sweet dark chocolate to be used in baking. It was called (and is so, to this day) Baker’s German’s Sweet Chocolate.
Baker’s is America’s oldest chocolate-making company, begun in 1790, now owned by the corporation Kraft Heinz.
The recipe for what we nearly always call “German Chocolate Cake” (no apostrophe) isn’t from Germany. It’s from a 1957 recipe by Mrs. George Clay in The Dallas Morning News (found here) that she called “German’s Chocolate Cake.” Because Sammy German is a proper name, Clay properly titled the recipe crediting his last name and using an apostrophe.
Somewhere along the line, the apostrophe dropped and generations of American cake eaters (and bakers) came to believe that the origins of the confection were from the country of Germany, not merely from a German, so to speak.
Like cake batter itself, it’s all mixed up. For example, in the 13th edition of the “Fanny Farmer Cookbook,” published in 1990, the recipe for “Sweet German Chocolate Cake” lists as the first required ingredient “4 ounces Baker’s German’s Sweet Chocolate.” In any case, both the mix and the mix-up are delicious.
Fettucine Al Triplo Burro (Fettucine Alfredo in the original)
Serves up to 4, depending on portion size.
- 1 pound fettuccine pasta, egg-based if possible
- 1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (about 1/4 pound chunk, not grated)
- Freshly ground black pepper
Prepare ahead all utensils, serving ware and ingredients.
Grate the cheese on the finest holes of a box grater or using a microplane (preferred). The cheese must be as light and fluffy as possible. Place the butter at the bottom of a metal or thick ceramic bowl that can be placed on a warmed heat diffuser or in a slow (180 degree) oven. Also ready the serving plates that will be warmed in the same manner.
Melt the butter, just, but do not let it bubble. Keep it handy. Warm the serving plates.
Cook the pasta in plenty of well-salted boiling water. If it is dried, follow the package directions; if freshly made, this will take but a few minutes. A couple of minutes before the pasta is al dente, pull off 2 ladles’ worth of pasta water, adding 3 tablespoons of the water to the melted butter. Stir or whisk the butter and water vigorously and well, until the mix emulsifies into a “cream.” Keep it warm.
When the pasta is just al dente, pull it out of the water using tongs, letting excess water drip back into the pasta pot, and place it into the butter emulsion. With your hand, sprinkle 3/4 of the cheese over the hot pasta and, again using tongs, repeatedly pull up the fettuccine, folding the cheese and butter back into the cooked pasta, creating even more “cream.” Do this over a warm spot such as a heat diffuser or a turned-off burner.
Use as much of the reserved pasta cooking water, tad by tad, to aid this process. You want a sauce neither dryish nor too wet, but creamy and shiny and rich.
Serve the fettuccine onto the warmed plates, scattering more cheese over each serving as well as liberal grindings of black pepper.