Bucatini Alfredo with cream and a fistful of peas and spinach may be a diversion from the classic, original fettuccine al burro, but it's absolutely delightful.
What is original Alfredo sauce like?
One of the most popular pasta dishes, especially outside Italy, is pasta Alfredo; and the the most common pasta shape to be Alfredded is fettuccine. But I expect hardly anyone knows that the original sauce is called al burro in Italy - for a good reason, as it is nothing but butter and Parmesan.
That's right - pasta with cheese and butter. So my four-year old daughter who refused to eat pretty much everything apart from that, was onto something.
What's more, the Parmesan used in fettuccine al burro is the cheap kind, the non-aged cheese which melts easily into the butter. That’s correct: no cream, garlic or shrimp. And that’s how it’s been in Rome since 1892.
Food well travelled
How did it become the cream-ladden, garlic flavoured dish then? It's the usual story. As foods, recipes and dishes migrate away from their birthplaces, they tend to evolve/mutate/spoil (underline your preference).
They either lose the heat like Thai green curry or they become easier to grab and handle: hard shell tacos. Sushi might get adorned with avocado and special mayo while pasta and pizza acquire plenty of toppings, dressings and extra ingredients.
Of course it’s not to say that we should all be super-purists and never let a slice of pineapple near a pizza. Food is the migrant best travelled and always welcome. If we throw a fortune cookie in with our dinner of chop suey or chow mein (all largely American inventions), make chicken parmigiana without any aubergines or add cream to carbonara or Alfredo, we simply create a new version of the old and there’s no need to frown.
One trick pasta recipe
I’m offering the ‘new’ classic Alfredo with cream, and I have added a bit of greenery to it. A fraction of five-a-day won't go amiss I'm sure, and pasta with spinach is irresistible.
The pasta and the greenery cook in the same pan. It’s a dead simple trick of cooking the extra vegetable with the pasta, adjusting the cooking time according to the type of vegetable and the desired cookedness.
Here in my recipe the peas and the baby spinach leaves need just a minute or less. Then you can drain the lot but don't forget to reserve some cooking water - that's what makes the sauce. The residual starch in the water plus the salt from cooking the pasta works like the fanciest roux, thickening and flavouring the sauce.
Bucatini are also a deviation from the textbook fettuccine but I like that fat spaghetti, and the sauce clings to it beautifully.