Why It Works
- Using a smaller pot to cook the pasta yields even starchier pasta-cooking water.
- Adding that starchy pasta-cooking water to the sauce helps emulsify it, ensuring it's smooth and creamy.
This is how you make fettuccine Alfredo like the Romans. It's an incredibly simple and quick dish with only a few key ingredients: pasta, butter, and cheese. The result is a pasta that's impressively elegant and rich, and loaded with the flavors of sweet, young Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and golden butterfat. The key is to use the starchy pasta-cooking water to form a smooth, creamy, emulsified sauce...minus the cream.
- 1 stick unsalted butter (115g), diced
- 4 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (115g), grated on the fine holes of a box grater, plus more for serving (see note)
- Kosher salt
- 1 pound fresh fettuccine pasta
In a large heatproof bowl, combine butter and cheese. In a medium pot of salted boiling water, cook pasta until al dente. Using tongs, a strainer, or a spider, transfer pasta to bowl with cheese and butter.
Add 1/2 cup hot pasta-cooking water, then, using tongs, toss repeatedly until butter is melted and a creamy, emulsified sauce forms. If pasta seems too dry, add a splash or two of additional pasta water until desired consistency is reached. Season with salt, if necessary. Serve, sprinkling more cheese on top at the table.
Look for a young Parmigiano-Reggiano, preferably aged for less than 18 months (a younger cheese will be sweeter and less spicy, which works well in this dish). Alternatively, Grana Padano makes a good substitution as it's a very similar cheese to Parmesan, but typically aged less.