Pam's Fettuccine Alfredo

What's the easiest, cheapest dinner you turn to when in a pinch? A box of pasta and a jar of sauce, right? Yeah, me too, until I learned to turn a box of noodles into a celebrated meal, minus the jar. With some help, of course.

Way back in the 80s, when I was a mere teen, my BFF's mom, Pam, used to make a fettuccine alfredo that would knock our aerobics socks right off. She'd cook the pasta, al dente, of course, saving about a cup of pasta water to use in lieu of heavy cream. This trick, which I would later learn is commonplace, was embedded in my brain by Pam's firm instructions to whoever was manning the pasta pot: "SAVE THE PASTA WATER! DO NOT THROW AWAY THE PASTA WATER!" Boy was she right.

A while back, I found what I thought was a version of Pam's recipe in Real Simple Magazine (which calls for broccoli). I read the recipe to my friend who confirmed my suspicions. I tried it out and while it'll never taste quite the same as Pam's, it's pretty darn close.


In a large pot bring to a boil:
  • 7-8 quarts water

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 16 oz. fettuccine (any noodle will work, but fettuccine is best)

While water returns to a boil, use tongs to stir and separate noodles. Do this every 2 minutes, or so, until noodles are al dente, 5-7 minutes.

When noodles are done turn off the heat then use a glass, liquid measuring cup to scoop out about 1 cup water. Drain noodles in a colander, then rinse them in cold water to stop further cooking.

Place pot back on the burner, turn flame to medium high, and add:
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup pasta water
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Simmer and stir until butter is melted. Throw in the pasta and, using tongs, combine. Taste and add more salt and pepper, pasta water, butter, if needed.

Sprinkle in:
  • About 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan Reggiano
  • 1/4 cup freshly chopped flat leaf parsley (optional)

Serve in individual bowls or in casserole dish. Top with a little more Parmesan.