If I were to describe a pasta with a creamy parmesan sauce and chicken, would you know what pasta I am talking about? Everyone knows what pasta/chicken Alfredo is. Everyone in the world knows except the Italians. Strange, isn’t it?
WHO IS ALFREDO?
When I came to Italy and mentioned the dish, “pasta Alfredo”, I was always given puzzled and borderline-offended looks, followed by the question: “Who the heck is Alfredo?” The conversation always ended with the conclusion that any dish related to Alfredo was something invented in the US, most probably by an Italian, named Alfredo.
Every time I came back home to Canada I boasted my inside information to my friends and family waving my finger at them every time they mentioned something about pasta Alfredo: “…no, no, no. You guys have no idea. Ask any REAL ITALIAN, they have no idea what Alfredo sauce is. There is no such thing. It wasn’t invented in Italy.”
SOME GROUNDBREAKING NEWS
Recently, while writing about this misconception about Pasta Alfredo, my brother phoned me. He said that he had some groundbreaking news for me. He forwarded me a photo of the restaurant in Rome, where pasta Alfredo was invented.
My immediate thoughts were: “IMPOSSIBLE! IT’S A TRICK. IT’S NOT TRUE. LIES!”.
After I read the story of the creation of pasta Alfredo on the website my husband came home and I greeted him with a not-so-friendly, “Alfredo sauce was invented in Italy!!! How come you don’t know that???”
My world turned upside down as I immediately thought of all those people I had waved my finger at, schooling them on their basic knowledge of Italian dishes.
THE TRUTH ABOUT PASTA ALFREDO
How do I save face? By sharing the story with you and giving you an explanation as to why Italians are unfamiliar with a dish made in their own backyard:
In 1908, Alfredo di Lelio was working for his family restaurant in Piazza Rosa, Rome. After the birth of his firstborn, his wife, Ines, was not feeling very well so, Alfredo tried his best to feed her with the best food in hopes to help her recover. In his efforts, he invented a simple pasta dish using Fettucine noodles, butter and parmesan. His wife enjoyed this dish so much that she suggested for him to put it on their restaurant menu. That is how Fettucine Alfredo, pasta Alfredo, and Alfredo sauce were invented.
In 1927, two famous American actors, Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford, went to eat at Alfredo’s restaurant and were so impressed that they gave him gold cutlery engraved with the phrase “To Alfredo, the king of noodles.” This could have possibly been the beginning of Alfredo’s fame in the US.
Now, why don’t any Italians know about this pasta dish? In Italy, this pasta dish does exist. However, it is known as pasta in bianco: white pasta or pasta with nothing, where “nothing” means butter and parmesan. It is such a basic, simple dish as its name suggests.
Pasta in bianco is something you eat when you are feeling sick or something you serve to little kids who are picky with their food.
I remember when I came to Italy for the second time, I was not feeling well at all. I had a bad stomachache, a 9 hour layover in Berlin, I had to pay 800 dollars for extra luggage and experienced my first migraine. When I arrived to my husband’s house, his parents thought it was best if I just ate pasta in bianco. The only reason why I didn’t recognize it as pasta Alfredo, is because it wasn’t drowning in cream and chicken: Two ingredients that were NOT in Alfredo’s original recipe.
Chicken on pasta is another issue and deserves its own separate post. Until then, I can say that I have eaten my humble pie and the next time I am in Rome, I will make sure to eat a plate of the not-so-famous Fettucine Alfredo at Il Vero Alfredo in Piazza Augusto Imperatore, 30.