Fear Conquered: Homemade Alfredo Sauce
The first time I fell in love, I was 12. And it was with Alfredo sauce.
Picture it: 1993, Pittsburgh, a young boy celebrating his much more worldly friend's birthday at Olive Garden. I was innocently looking at lasagna and spaghetti but he suggested the Fettuccine Alfredo.
I had never been to Olive Garden before as Eat 'n Park was fancy enough for my parents (a chain originating in Pittsburgh along the same lines as Bob Evans without the farm vibe). I had never even ordered "Italian" food - the closest to Italian I had eaten was homemade lentil spaghetti or microwave lasagna.
So when a big bowl of fragrant, steaming, flattened pasta smothered in creamy cheesy gloriousness arrived under my nose, I only had one thought: How had I managed to live 12 years without meeting Alfredo?
Years passed and when I finally got into the kitchen after college, Alfredo was one of the first sauces I tried to make. In my head, it sounded easy enough: start with white sauce, add cheese and garlic, toss with pasta. I knew how to make béchamel sauce so I just added a little ground-up parmesan (the kind in the green plastic bottle), garlic salt and some ground pepper (from a can). I didn't have fettuccine in the house, so I tossed my sauce with spaghetti.
The sauce was an abomination: heavy, pasty, lumpy and seized as soon as it touched the pasta.
So I gave up on Alfredo, deciding it beyond my fledgling cooking skills. In reality, I simply overcomplicated the sauce. Phenomenal Alfredo depends on just one key ingredient.
Say hello to mascarpone.
A lot of people compare mascarpone to cream cheese, but they're really nothing alike. Mascarpone is creamier and less greasy than cream cheese. It's slightly tangy, yet still somehow sweet. For a dense creamy cheese, it somehow manages to remain light and fresh. And it's the perfect ingredient for amazing Alfredo sauce.
Some recipes involve making bechamel, adding egg yolks, pint after pint of heavy cream and 5 types of cheeses. Forget all that. This recipe is suspiciously simple, but the results are delightful - all thanks to mascarpone.
|Grate 7 oz of fresh parmesan cheese (I use a food processor fitted with the steel blade)|
|If using a food processor, run the steel blade until the cheese is pulverized. You can also use a box grater or microplane.|
|You should end up with approximately 1 cup of grated parmesan cheese, lightly packed|
|Heat 2 cups of whole milk. I heat the milk in the microwave, but you can also heat in a pot on the cook-top.|
|You will need 8 oz of mascarpone cheese...|
|...and 4 Tablespoons of unsalted butter|
|Combine mascarpone and butter in a large saucepan over medium-low heat and melt together, whisking occasionally.|
|While mascarpone and butter melt, peel and mince 5 cloves of garlic. I use a garlic press.|
|Add minced garlic plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt to a mortar|
|Mash garlic and salt into a paste|
|Mascarpone and butter should be melted - whisk until smooth and combined.|
|Add garlic paste to sauce and whisk together.|
|Add cracked black pepper and ground nutmeg; whisk to combine.|
|Add hot milk to sauce, 1/2 cup at a time; allow sauce to cook and thicken for 5 minutes between each addition of milk.|
|Once all milk has been whisked into sauce, add grated parmesan cheese in 4 parts, allowing each addition of parmesan to fully melt into the sauce before adding more.|
|Allow sauce to cook over low heat for 10 minutes, whisking frequently. Sauce will thicken somewhat.|
|Add 3/4 pound of cooked fettuccine or other pasta to sauce|
|Toss to combine. Optionally, add cooked chicken, broccoli or other add-ins to sauce|
|Serve immediately for best texture and flavor|
Homemade Alfredo Sauce
Prep Time: 10 min
Cook Time: 40 min
Ingredients (serves 6)
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1/4 cup (4 Tablespoons) unsalted butter
- 8 oz package mascarpone cheese
- 7 oz (approx 1 cup) fresh parmesan cheese, grated
- 5 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 3/4 teaspoon cracked black pepper
- 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- Grate parmesan cheese (I use a food processor but you can also manually grate the cheese); set aside
- Heat whole milk in a small soup pot over medium heat to warm through (or heat milk in the microwave for 2-3 minutes on HIGH using a microwave-safe measuring cup); do not allow milk to boil
- Combine butter and mascarpone cheese in a large sauce pan over medium-low heat until cheese has melted into the butter, whisking occasionally
- While mascarpone and butter melt, use a mortar and pestle to mash minced garlic and kosher salt into a grainy paste
- Whisk the mashed garlic paste into the melted cheese and butter mixture; cook for approximately 1 minute until garlic is fragrant; whisk-in cracked pepper and nutmeg
- Gradually whisk in warm milk, adding 1/2 cup at a time; allow sauce to thicken and heat for 5 minutes between each addition of milk, whisking frequently
- Over low heat, gradually whisk in grated parmesan cheese, allowing each addition of cheese to fully incorporate and melt into the sauce before adding more cheese
- Allow sauce to thicken over low heat for approximately 10 minutes, whisking frequently
- Remove sauce from heat and allow to cool to room temperature before refrigerating or freezing; OR add cooked pasta (al dente) and pre-cooked protein or vegetables, toss together with sauce and cook together for 2-3 minutes before serving
An original recipe by Javelin Warrior. © 2010 Javelin Warrior. All rights reserved.
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Hungry for Tips?
- My favorite (and somewhat healthful) way to scarf down Alfredo is with pasta and broccoli. I roast the broccoli in the oven at 425F for 8 minutes, then toss in the sauce with pasta.
- If you don't have a mortar and pestle, you can mash the garlic and salt in a bowl with a fork; you can use garlic powder instead of fresh garlic (1 3/4 teaspoons is about right), but the flavor is less fresh and more harsh on the tongue.
- Heating the milk before adding to the sauce is very important as it ensures butter and cheese fats don't seize or separate.
- Don't use grated parmesan cheese in the plastic green bottles - buy a small block of parmesan and grate it by hand or using a food processor as I do. The fresh cheese thickens the sauce beautifully while keeping it silky smooth.
- Alfredo sauce is perfect for a whole variety of recipes: add it to marinara sauce for an creamy blush sauce (as show below from this recipe), spread it over pizza instead of marinara, serve with crusty bread as a dipping sauce, etc.