Friday, February 08, 2013

Pasta Alfredo

I love Alfredo sauce. I know it's really not the healthiest sauce, being full of fatty cream, butter, and cheese, but that trifecta of ingredients make magic together on pasta. I grew up with my Mom making it rather frequently with many different types of pasta. It was actually quite rare that we would have the traditional pairing of fettuccine noodles and Alfredo sauce. My Mom also likes to serve it buffet style - a whole mess of cooked pasta in a pot, and pot full of creamy white sauce, and then bowls with various toppings and add-ins, like cooked chicken, fried bacon, roasted garlic, and chopped vegetables such as red onion, bell peppers, mushrooms, and tomatoes. My nephews now really enjoy having that meal at Grandma's house, and I think it's a fun spin on a traditional dish. Obviously, at home with just myself to cook for, I don't serve myself buffet style. Borrowing a few of my Mom's tricks to make a sauce that's not too thick or overbearing, here's my version of Pasta Alfredo.

Pasta Alfredo

3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 red onion, chopped finely
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 green bell pepper, chopped
3/4 cup cremini mushrooms, quartered
(2 chicken breasts, cut into small chunks, 1 cup spinach/baby spinach - I didn't use these ingredients this time, so you won't see them in the picture, but I do like to add them in when I have them).
3 tbsp butter
1/4 cup white wine
1 cup heavy cream (I usually use 18% rather than 35%)
1 tsp white sugar
3/4 cup - 1 cup Parmesan cheese, depending on taste
1 tsp parsley
1 cup whole wheat penne pasta (or bowties, or fettuccine, or whatever kind you like!)

Melt the butter in a large pan over medium-high heat. Add the vegetables, season with salt and pepper, and sauté for 5 minutes, stirring frequently to ensure that the garlic doesn't burn. Add the wine to deglaze the pan, letting it boil for 2 minutes to get rid of the alcohol. (This is not a traditional ingredient in Alfredo sauce. My Mom has always added some wine and I continue with her recipe as it adds a little more liquid and volume to the sauce and helps cut some of the thickness and richness of the butter, cream, and cheese).
Turn the heat down to medium and add the cream. Stir to incorporate and allow to come to a gentle boil. You will notice the cream thickening as it boils. Add the sugar and stir. (This is also one of my mother's tricks. Again, the addition of a small amount of sugar helps to cut the richness, especially if you elect to use 35% cream, and it balances out the sharpness of the cheese). Turn the heat down again to medium-low and add the Parmesan cheese. Stir until it melts into the sauce. (Start with 3/4 cup, and do a quick taste test of the sauce. If you want it more cheesy, add the last 1/4 cup). Add the parsley and stir. Turn the heat down to low.
Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain the pasta RESERVING SOME OF THE PASTA WATER. (This step is crucial particularly if you are going to have leftovers. Sitting in the fridge Alfredo sauce tightens up quite a bit, and if you don't have pasta water to add, you'll end up with pasty leftovers). Add the pasta to the sauce and stir to coat. Serve immediately garnishing with extra grated Parmesan cheese, parsley, and freshly ground black pepper.
If there are leftovers, before putting them in the fridge, add about 1/4 to 1/2 cup of pasta water and stir into the sauce. It might seem a bit runny, but 1 or 2 days later it will be perfect as leftovers.

Here's my pan full of creamy, dreamy pasta. This gave me three average-sized servings.

And my bowl with the garnishes. I enjoyed my bowl of pasta with a glass of white wine. Alfredo sauce pairs best with a glass of white or blush.

This dish for me is simple to make and an easy solution as a busy weeknight dinner since I've made it so many times. Like I say with most of my recipes, now I don't even measure the liquids anymore - I make the whole sauce by eyeballing. I find also that the quality of Parmesan cheese that you buy makes a big difference in the taste of the sauce, so if you're going to splurge on something, that would be the ingredient to choose.

My beat is a quiet and simple song that would act as a lovely background to this meal. It is understated but deep, much like this simple sauce gives a depth of flavour to the pasta. Here is Sparks by Coldplay.

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