Milk Street: The Real Fettuccine Alfredo (Ep 603)

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Fettuccine Alfredo
Start to finish: 30 minutes
Servings: 4 to 6

Made the Italian way, fettuccine Alfredo bears little resemblance to the unctuous, cream-based pasta dish that’s popular in the U.S. We scoured Italy for the best versions, and our
favorite was prepared by home cook Francesca Guccione in Castelnuovo di Porto, just outside Rome. Rich, luxurious and elegant but neither heavy nor cloying, Guccione’s fettuccine Alfredo, like other Roman recipes for the dish, consists of only fresh pasta, Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, butter and salt. The secret lies in using high-
quality ingredients and combining them in just the right way, and in just the right
volumes. We adapted her winning formula but incorporated a technique we saw employed at a couple restaurants of putting softened butter (rather than melted) into the bowl in which the hot pasta will be tossed. Of utmost importance is the cheese. Purchase a hefty chunk of true Parmigiano Reggiano—not the pre-shredded stuff—trim off the rind (save it for simmering into soups and stews), cut 6 ounces into rough 1⁄2-inch pieces and whir them in a food processor until very finely ground. This helps ensure the cheese melts readily. High-fat butter also is key. In Europe, butter typically has a fat content of around 85 percent; standard American butter is only about 80 percent fat. That 5 percent
difference has a big impact on the flavor and consistency of the finished dish. At the
grocery store, some types of high-fat butter are labeled “European-style”; Plugrá and
Kerrygold are two widely available brands. If the butter also happens to be cultured, all the better, but this is not essential. We learned from Guccione that patience also is an
important ingredient. Tossing the pasta with the cheese in small additions and while
gradually adding some starchy pasta-cooking water takes time but yields a sauce that is
velvety-smooth. We highly recommend serving the pasta in individual bowls that have been gently warmed.

Don’t use more than 2 quarts water to cook the pasta. It’s a small amount by intention, as the starchy liquid is used as an ingredient in the sauce. Also, don’t drain the pasta in a colander. Use tongs to lift the noodles out of the water and drop them, with ample water clinging to them, into the bowl lined with the butter slices. You may need some pasta cooking water to adjust the consistency of the sauce just before serving, so don’t prematurely discard it.

INGREDIENTS
8 tablespoons salted European-style butter (see headnote), sliced about 1⁄2-inch thick
6 ounces Parmigiano Reggiano cheese (without rind), cut into rough 1⁄2-inch chunks
Two 9-ounce packages fresh fettuccine
Kosher salt

INSTRUCTIONS
Line a large bowl with the butter slices, placing them in a single layer along the bottom and up the sides of the bowl; let stand at room temperature until the butter is softened.

Meanwhile, in a food processor, process the cheese until very finely ground, about 40 seconds; transfer to a medium bowl (you should have about 11⁄2 cups).

In a large pot, bring 2 quarts water to a boil. Add the pasta and 11⁄2 teaspoons salt, then cook, stirring often, until the pasta is al dente, about 2 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat. Using tongs, transfer the pasta from the pot, with ample water clinging to it, to
the butter-lined bowl. Using the tongs, quickly stir and toss the pasta, incorporating the butter, until the butter is fully melted. Add 1⁄2 cup pasta water and toss until the water has been absorbed.

Add 1 cup of the cheese, tossing, 1⁄3 cup at a time, tossing and adding the next addition only after the previous one has been incorporated. Next, toss in 1⁄2 to 1 cup more pasta water, adding about 1⁄4 cup at a time, until the sauce clings to the pasta and only a
small amount pools at the bottom of the bowl.

Let stand for 2 minutes to allow the sauce to thicken slightly. If needed, toss in additional pasta water a little at a time until the sauce once again clings to the pasta and only a small amount pools at the bottom of the bowl. Taste and season with salt. Divide among warmed serving bowls and serve immediately with the remaining cheese on the side for sprinkling at the table.


Chocolate Biscotti with Pistachios, Almonds and Dried Cherries
Start to finish: 13⁄4 hours (45 minutes active), plus cooling
Makes about 3 dozen biscotti

These biscotti, our adaptation of a recipe from “Maida Heatter’s Best Dessert Book Ever,” are made with a combination of cocoa powder and bittersweet chocolate. With a flavor boost from instant espresso powder, they’re dark and rich and not too sugary. Each
satisfyingly crunchy slice is studded with pistachios, almonds and dried cherries. Once
the biscotti are fully cooled, they will keep in an airtight container for a few weeks.

Don’t use chocolate chips, as chips contain additives that help them retain their shape but give them a waxiness and affect their flavor. Rather, opt for bittersweet chocolate sold in bars.

INGREDIENTS

115 grams (3⁄4 cup) whole almonds
228 grams (13⁄4 cups) all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
214 grams (1 cup) white sugar
27 grams (1⁄3 cup) Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1 tablespoon instant espresso powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1⁄2 teaspoon table salt
228 grams (8 ounces) bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped (see
headnote), divided
3 large eggs
11⁄2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1⁄2 teaspoon almond extract
115 grams (1 cup) roasted pistachios
71 grams (1⁄2 cup) dried cherries, roughly chopped

INSTRUCTIONS

Heat the oven to 375°F with the racks in the upper- and lower- middle positions. Distribute the almonds in an even layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Toast on the upper oven rack, stirring once, until lightly browned and fragrant, 6 to 8 minutes. Let cool on the baking sheet; reduce the oven to 300°F. When the almonds are cool, transfer to a small bowl; set aside. Line the same baking sheet as well as a second baking sheet with kitchen parchment.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa, espresso powder, baking soda and salt. In a food processor, combine 1⁄2 cup of the flour mixture and 114 grams (4 ounces) of the chopped chocolate. Process until the chocolate is finely ground, about 25
seconds; do not overprocess or the chocolate may begin to melt. Whisk the mixture into the dry ingredients.

In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, and vanilla and almond extracts. Add the egg mixture to the dry ingredients and, using a silicone spatula, stir and fold, mashing the mixture against the bowl with the spatula, until the dry ingredients are evenly moistened and no streaks of flour remain. Add the remaining chopped chocolate, the almonds, pistachios and cherries. Lightly flour your hands and knead gently until the ingredients are evenly distributed.

Lightly flour the counter, then turn the dough out on it and divide it in half. Moisten your hands with water and roll one portion into a 14-inch log. Place the log on one side of one of the prepared baking sheets. Shape the remaining dough in the same way and place on the other side of the baking sheet, spacing the logs about 4 inches apart.

Bake on the lower rack until the dough has spread into flat, fissured loaves that are firm on the surface and appear dry in the cracks, 45 to 50 minutes. Let the loaves cool on the baking sheet on a wire rack for 20 to 25 minutes; immediately after removing from the oven, reduce the temperature to 275°F.

Using a wide metal spatula, carefully transfer the loaves to a cutting board; reserve the baking sheet and its parchment. Using a serrated knife, cut each still-warm loaf on the diagonal into 3⁄8- to 1⁄2-inch slices; use a gentle sawing motion to slice about halfway
through the thickness of the loaf, then bear down on the knife, slicing straight down to complete the cut. (This slicing technique helps prevent breakage, as sawing through the entire thickness of the loaf has a greater chance of dislodging nuts, causing the
biscotti to break apart.)

Place the biscotti cut side up in a single layer on the prepared baking sheets. Bake until firm and dry, about 20 minutes, rotating the baking sheets and switching their positions about halfway through. Let cool on the baking sheets on wire racks for about 10
minutes. Transfer the biscotti directly to the racks and cool completely.


Lemon-Garlic Fettuccine
Start to finish: 40 minutes
Servings: 4

In Amalfi, Italy, Giovanna Aceto showed us a delicious pasta dish of handmade lemon
fettuccine tossed with a simple, quick sauté of garlic, olive oil and fresh lemon segments. To mimic the sweet, mild flavor of Amalfi lemons using the standard lemons available in U.S. supermarkets, we temper their tartness and acidity with a little sugar. We opt for store-bought fresh fettuccine but boil it in water infused with strips of lemon zest.

Don’t forget to remove the seeds from the lemon segments, as they have an unpleasant texture and flavor. Also, don’t use more than 2 quarts water to boil the pasta. The goal is to create starchy, well-seasoned pasta water with which to make the sauce.

INGREDIENTS

4 lemons
2 teaspoons white sugar, divided
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided, plus more to serve
9 ounces fresh fettuccine
2 medium garlic cloves, finely grated
1⁄2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1⁄4 cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Finely grated Parmesan cheese, to serve

INSTRUCTIONS

Using a vegetable peeler (preferably a Y-style peeler), remove the zest from 2 lemons in long, wide strips; try to remove only the colored portion of the peel, not the bitter white pith beneath. Grate the zest from the remaining 2 lemons; reserve in a small bowl. Using a paring knife, cut about 1⁄2 inch off the top and bottom of one of the lemons and stand it on a cut end. Working from top to bottom, cut away the pith following the contours of the fruit, exposing the flesh. Now cut along both sides of the membranes separating the sections to free the segments. Remove and discard the seeds from the segments, then add the segments to a small bowl along with the juices. Repeat with a second lemon. Reserve the remaining 2 lemons for another use.

To the grated zest, add 1⁄2 teaspoon of the sugar and 1⁄2 teaspoon salt. Mix together with your fingers, then stir in 1 tablespoon of the oil; set aside. To the lemon segments and juice, add 1⁄2 teaspoon of the remaining sugar and 1⁄2 teaspoon salt; stir to combine and set aside.

In a large pot, combine 2 quarts water, 11⁄2 teaspoons salt, the remaining 1 teaspoon sugar and the zest strips. Bring to a boil, cook for 2 minutes, then remove and reserve the zest. Add the pasta and cook until al dente, about 3 minutes. Reserve 11⁄2 cups of
the cooking water, then drain the pasta and return it to the pot. Finely chop the zest strips; set aside.

In a 12-inch skillet over medium, cook the remaining 2 tablespoons oil, garlic and pepper flakes, stirring, until the garlic is light golden, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the lemon segments with juices and cook, stirring, until fragrant and warmed through, about 30
seconds. Immediately add the mixture to the pasta in the pot along with 1⁄2 cup of the reserved pasta water, then toss to combine. Add the grated zest mixture, the parsley and the chopped zest, then toss again, adding more pasta water as needed so the pasta is silky
and lightly sauced. Taste and season with salt and black pepper. Serve drizzled with additional oil and sprinkled with Parmesan.


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PHOTO CREDITS: Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street