Fettuccine Alfredo is the most famous of the Roman pasta dishes, at least in terms of its preponderance on restaurant menus, mediocre buffets, and in frozen and sauce form available on supermarket aisles in this country. It is essentially unknown in Rome and seemingly only served in two restaurants in the Eternal City, both heirs to the establishment where the dish was created.
Fettuccine Alfredo is one of those rare widely influential dishes that owes its origin to a single restaurant, Trattoria Alfredo at 104 Via della Scrofa in the historic center of Rome. It was created in 1920 according to the original restaurant as a very rich version of a traditional pasta al burro – fresh pasta with butter – amping up both the butter and the Parmigiano to create a luxuriant, very rich dish, especially as a primo piatto, the pasta course. When honeymooning Hollywood stars Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks fell in love with the dish and presented owner Alfredo with a golden fork and spoon in honor of it, the attendant publicity made famous what become known as Fettuccine Alfredo.
In the 1940s, Alfredo sold the original restaurant, which is now known as Alfredo alla Scrofa. In 1950 he decided to get back into business and opened a trattoria called Il Vero Alfredo. Both claim the heritage of the original, and seem to be the only places in Rome that serve the dish. At least those are the only two places that I was aware of during my recent few days in Rome. We stumbled across Alfredo alla Scrofa and its dear 20-euro version of the dish, which did not seem to affect business at all, as the smart-looking establishment looked fully booked.
Maybe the dish is still served elsewhere in Rome, but I did not encounter it on any other menus. When I have asked Romans over the years about Fettuccine Alfredo – even in my limited Italian – nearly all have expressed a blank look, confessing never to have heard of the dish or anything like it. But, it appears to have once been popular in the city’s trattorias. A New York Times article from 1981 claimed at least 50 restaurants served a version of it under the name fettuccine alla romana.
Maybe it is the acknowledgement of excessively caloric and cholesterol-laden nature of the dish that has chased it off the Roman menus – visitors might not be ordering a second course after consuming a portion – but it has certainly found a permanent place in Italian-American restaurants and in (and on) the hearts of diners in the United States. We like hearty here.
This is the (minimal) recipe for the dish from the website of Alfredo alla Scrofa, “the original recipe of ‘Fettuccine Alfredo’”:
- Boil the water, salt moderately and add pasta.
- Once pasta is cooked (time of cooking depends from the type of pasta) remove it from the water and lie it on an oval plate that was warmed in advance and where butter was placed.
- Cover pasta with a lot of parmesan cheese and melt everything gently.
- When everything will be well melted and you will see a cream sauce coming out, you can serve and taste it.
Expertly and freshly made fettuccine featuring plentiful eggs, top-quality butter used nearly in excess and good Parmigiano-Reggiano help quite a bit, plus likely a bit of pasta water at the end.
Alfredo alla Scrofa
Via della Scrofa, 104, +39 06 6880 6163
Il Vero Alfredo
Piazza Augusto Imperatore, 30, +39 06 6878 734
Ristorante Alfredo alla Scrofa a few years ago