Shane and I did the long distance thing for quite a few years while I finished law school. He lived in Boston, and I was down in Nashville (not exactly weekend driving distance), so we didn't see one another all that often during the school year. When one of us did travel to visit the other, we ate out 95% of the time. This was before I learned to cook, macaroni and cheese from a box was a staple of my diet at the time :) I did have a few other meals up my sleeve, though, and one that I made for Shane on one of his visits became a fast favorite. It wasn't exactly gourmet - I cooked pasta, then mixed it with a jar of alfredo sauce and a chicken breast cut into small pieces - but he *loved* that meal. He affectionately referred to it as Tracey pasta, and continued to request it for years to come. I don't often buy jarred sauce anymore, so I can't remember the last time we made that dish. I know Shane would be stoked if it reappeared on the menu someday, though, so I immediately added this homemade alfredo sauce to my plans when I came across the recipe.
This sauce is a lighter variation of Cook's Illustrated's original recipe for fettuccine alfredo. I've never made that recipe, but it calls for a combination of heavy cream and butter as the base of the sauce, and is (to put it lightly) a pretty indulgent meal. This lighter version substitutes a smaller quantity of half and half (thickened with cornstarch) for the heavy cream, and eliminates the butter entirely. I still wouldn't call it a light meal, but it has about half the calories of the original version and over 30 fewer grams of fat so a definite improvement. Plus we've eliminated all the mystery ingredients from the jarred version!
Oh, and the best part? If I hadn't known this was lightened, I never would have guessed. We both absolutely loved the alfredo sauce - it was cheesy and creamy, and coated the pasta beautifully. Try to use fresh pasta for this dish - dried won't hold onto the sauce as well. You don't have to make it, the refrigerated pasta you can buy at the store works great. This dish is definitely at its best when served immediately, which means it's not exactly food blogger friendly. No time for an elaborate set-up here, just throw it on the table and take a quick shot so you can dig in! We'll definitely have this again; next time I'll add chicken for Shane and I know it'll be leaps and bounds better than the Tracey pasta he loved years ago :)
Lighter Fettuccine Alfredo
from The Best Light Recipe
3/4 cup half and half
1/8 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg
1 tablespoon plus 1/4 teaspoon salt, divided
1 teaspoon cornstarch
9 oz fresh fettuccine
2 oz Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated fine (about 1 cup)
ground black pepper
In a large pot, bring 6 quarts (that's 24 cups) of water to a boil. Ladle about 1/2 cup of the boiling water into the bowls you'll be using to serve the pasta and set aside (the boiling water warms the bowls which will help the sauce keep a creamy consistency for as long as possible).
Meanwhile, add 1/2 cup of the half and half, the nutmeg and 1/4 teaspoon salt to a medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. In a small measuring cup, whisk the cornstarch with the remaining 1/4 cup of half and half until smooth. Add to the simmering sauce. Continue simmering, whisking constantly, until the sauce thickens, about 1-2 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and cover.
Add the remaining tablespoon of salt and the pasta to the boiling water and cook, stirring constantly, until the pasta is just al dente, about 1 to 2 minutes. Remove and reserve 3/4 cup of the pasta cooking water, then drain the pasta.
Set the saucepan back on the stovetop. Turn the heat to medium-low, and whisk in 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water. Gradually add the Parmesan, whisking constantly to incorporate, until the sauce is smooth. Add the pasta and cook for about 1 minute , or until the sauce thickens slightly and coats the pasta. (If necessary, you can add some of the remaining 1/4 cup pasta water to adjust the consistency of the sauce. I didn't need to.) Season to taste with with black pepper. Working quickly, empty the water from the serving bowls and divide the pasta among them to serve. (This dish is best served immediately, and doesn't reheat well.)