Thursday, May 3, 2007

Pasta Weekend Part One: Fettuccine Alfredo Reconsidered

This weekend is hereby declared Pasta Weekend! What does that mean, you ask? Well, I suppose it means that I'll be sick of pasta by the end of the weekend. At any rate, I've decided to make three pasta dishes over the next few days, based on recipes by three of the greats: Linda Carucci, Mario Batali and Biba Caggiano. I began with a re-examination of Fettucine Alfredo, inspired by a recipe in Linda Carucci's book Cooking School Secrets for Real World Cooks.

Fettuccine Alfredo is sort of my ultimate comfort food, and I've been making it, any number of ways, for years and years. Rather than tossing the pasta in the sauce, I've typically cooked the pasta and the sauce separately, pouring the sauce over the pasta in the end. This would seem heretical, going by most of the recipes we see, but for the fact that Fettuccine Alfredo is a variation on fettuccine al burre, created in 1914 by a Roman chef named Alfredo di Lelio, primarily for North American tourists. Which is to say that it really doesn't exist in the canon of Italian cuisine. And as far as I'm concerned, that means that anything goes in the preparation of this dish.

The recipe of Linda's that I used as my jumping off point was Fettuccine Alfredo with Shrimp and Peas. A couple of things in this recipe caught my eye, the main thing being the use of egg yolks, which I hadn't seen before (they imparted a silky texture to the sauce). Another surprise in her recipe was the omission of onions and garlic (!!!). And she's included peas, something I normally associate with Carbonara.

In addition to making a few minor adjustments to amounts and proportions of the ingredients, I deviated from this recipe on several fronts. First, I included onions (shallots, in this case) and garlic. And I got rid of the peas. And I went with rock shrimp. Apart from that, I stuck pretty close to the original. My version, by the way, serves two (with leftovers). Here goes:

2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 shallot, minced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
2/3 lb fettuccine
6 Tbsp butter
2 C heavy cream, room temperature
1/2 lb rock shrimp
2 large egg yolks, lightly beaten
1 C fresh grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
4 leaves of basil, chiffonaded

Set a large saute (or frying) pan over medium heat for about a minute. Add the oil, give it a minute to come to temperature, then add the shallot and saute until just translucent, about two or three minutes. Add the garlic and continue to saute for another minute. Transfer the shallot and garlic to a small bowl. Wipe out the pan, and set back over medium heat. Add 2 Tbsp of the butter, and when the butter begins to foam, add the rock shrimp. Saute the shrimp until they've just turned pink. Transfer them to the bowl with the shallots and garlic. Wipe out the pan once again.

If you're using dried pasta, bring some heavily salted water to a boil in a large saucepan or a stockpot. Once the water is boiling, add your pasta. Now you can turn your attention to the sauce. Melt the rest of the butter over low heat in the saute pan. When the butter is nearly, but not completely, melted, add the cream and stir to combine as the butter continues to melt. Raise the heat to medium high and bring the butter and cream just to a boil. Reduce the heat back to low, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Using dried pasta will give you just enough time to work the sauce while the pasta cooks. If you're using fresh pasta, which will cook much more quickly than dried, drop it into the boiling water after the cream and butter have come to a boil and the heat has been brought back down.

When the pasta is done (I used dried whole wheat fettuccine, which takes about 10 minutes), strain and transfer to the saute pan. Toss the pasta with the sauce, bring to a boil, and immediately reduce the heat to the lowest setting. Add the reserved shrimp, shallots and garlic and simmer until the sauce has thickened a bit, maybe a minute. Whisk several spoonfuls of the sauce, one at a time, into the egg yolks to temper them, then stir the yolks into the pasta and sauce. Remove from the heat, sprinkle in 3/4 of the cheese, and toss.

Plate and garnish with the chiffonaded basil and the remaining cheese. Serve five minutes ago, and enjoy!


Anonymous said...

By coincidence I made fettuccine Alfredo today, although not as involved a recipe as yours. Six ounces of tri-colored fettuccine, scant one-half cup half and half, one half stick butter and one cup grated parmesan. If I had had some prosciutto I would have added it. Yum! LGS

tommy said...

Ah yes, prosciutto...