Cacio e Pepe? Meet Alfredo.
What if — what if — two of the best, most satisfying pasta dishes known to man, fettuccini Alfredo and cacio e pepe, combined forces? I’ll save you the suspense. The result is absolutely delicious. The result, friends, is Fettuccini Alfredo e Pepe.
You will also like: Creamy Parmesan Polenta and Spring Ramp Carbonara
The Origin Story: Fettuccini Alfredo and Cacio e Pepe
The two pasta dishes hold such close similarities, it seems natural that they should work together here.
Fettuccini Alfredo originated as a simple, common dish of pasta with butter and Parmigiano cheese, which Rome restaurant owner Alfredo de Lelio prepared for his pregnant wife. His wife suffered from serious morning sickness and could not eat much during her pregnancy.
Alfredo served the simple butter and cheese pasta with whatever pasta was around in the restaurant that day. But one day, in 1927, the American silent film actors Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford, on honeymoon, came to eat at the restaurant. Fettuccini happened to be the pasta of the day when Alfredo served the couple served the butter and cheese pasta. They loved it so much that they spread the word back in Hollywood, and sent Alfredo a gift of two engraved, personalized golden spoons. Eventually, the dish made its way stateside and evolved into a recipe with cream.
Cacio e Pepe is another simple pasta. In its most authentic form, the ingredients are simply pasta with a sauce of pecorino-Romano cheese (cacio) and lots of black pepper (pepe), bound with starchy pasta water to form a sauce. No butter, nothing. Cacio dates back all the way to ancient Roman times. According to La Cucina Italiana, cacio e pepe:
[W]as born among the pastures during the seasonal movement of livestock. During the long migrations of the flock, the shepherds of the Roman countryside filled their sacks with high-calorie and long-lasting food. Among the dried tomatoes and guanciale they also found space for a few slices of pecorino cheese, a bag of black peppercorns and a good quantity of dried spaghetti prepared by hand with water, salt, and flour. There’s a reason why these last three ingredients were chosen. Black pepper directly stimulates the heat receptors and helped the shepherds to protect themselves from the cold. Aged pecorino keeps for a long time. And pasta guaranteed the right amount of carbohydrates and calories.
The Inevitable Health Question
Now, one might expect the answer to, “Is fettuccini Alfredo e pepe health food?” to be a solid no. After all, fettuccini Alfredo was dubbed a “heart attack on a plate” by C.S.P.I.
But on the “unhealthy” point, I must disagree. These are difficult times. And I say that mental health matters more than ever. And if eating a bowlful of the world’s most comforting, creamy pasta dish can do something to help? Well, I think that is just great. Eat a salad tomorrow.
Recipe Notes: Fettuccini Alfredo e Pepe
Fettuccini Alfredo e Pepe combines two closely-related pastas. Both pasta sauces taste uniquely creamy and make liberal use of good, aged Italian grating cheeses. Fettuccini Alfredo’s use of actual cream and butter combines with the peppery flavor of the cheeses and the pepper itself for an extraordinary result.
Here are some more tips:
- Use good cheese. Do not skimp. Use actual pecorino-Romano cheese and real, aged Parmigiano-Reggiano.
- In keeping with Alfredo sauce’s retro vibe, and to add a punch of color, I like to garnish with good old-fashioned Italian parsley, with some extra black pepper on top.
- Have leftovers? Reheat it correctly. Pasta dishes rarely reheat well in the microwave, which heats the pasta but also dries out the sauce. Fettuccini Alfredo e pepe is no exception. To reheat, add just enough water to coat the bottom of a skillet. Add the leftover pasta. Reheat on medium-low, stirring occasionally, until it becomes creamy again and warmed throughout.
Fettuccini Alfredo e Pepe
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
- 1 egg yolk
- 12 ounces fettucini
- 1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated
- 1/2 cup pecorino-Romano cheese, grated, plus more to serve
- 1 1/2 tablespoons freshly-cracked black pepper, plus more to serve
- kosher salt
- Cook the fettuccini in well-salted boiling water until just shy of al dente. It is done when the pasta is slightly undercooked.
- While the water comes to a boil and the pasta cooks, melt the butter in a deep skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and black pepper and cook until fragrant and sizzling, about one minute. Do not brown the garlic. It should only become deep yellow to slightly toasted in color. Lower the heat as necessary.
- Whisk together the heavy cream, egg yolk, and a large pinch of salt. Pour the cream mixture into the butter, garlic, and pepper. Reduce heat to medium-low and stir until the mixture is hot, but not bubbling. Keep warm, stirring occasionally, until the pasta has cooked.
- Using tongs, drag the fettuccini into the cream sauce, taking a little pasta water along with it. (Reserve the pasta water.) Turn the pasta in the skillet to fully coat and finish cooking. Taste for seasoning. If the sauce starts looking too dry or "tight," loosen it with pasta water, a tablespoon or so at a time.
- Serve, garnishing with a sprinkle of minced parsley, grated cheese, and some more black pepper.