The History of Fettuccine Alfredo

One of the most classic dishes on every Italian-American menu is fettuccine alfredo. But did you know that what we consider to be alfredo sauce is rarely eaten it Italy? The Italian-American version of alfredo usually consists of mostly cream and parmesan cheese. In Italy, however, cream is not used very often to make sauces. It’s considered to be too heavy and thick. So where did alfredo come from?

A small shop in Italy

The story goes that in 1914, a man named Alfredo di Lelio was trying to cook something that would please his pregnant wife. He created a sauce made from parmesan cheese and butter and poured it over some fettuccine. Di Lelio opened up a restaurant in Italy and served his fettuccine dish. Eventually, he moved to New York to open another restaurant, and that is how the dish came to America. We call it alfredo, named after di Lelio, but in Europe it is called “Pasta al Burro,” which means pasta with butter. Pretty much everywhere besides the United States, it's made with butter and no cream.

From Peasant Food, to High-Class

In most cultures, you can usually find a meal or dish that was once made only by low-income families, but has been transformed over the years into something eaten by everyone.

For example, meatballs started out as a dish made only by peasants in Italy. They would find any kind of scrap meat they could get, usually pork and beef, and combine it all into one little ball. To make the meat go farther, they would add bread to the meatballs to make them larger and more filling. As Italians immigrated to the United States, they brought their meatballs (called polpette, in Italian) with them.

Before the meatball had been brought to the United States, they were very rarely served along with pasta. Italian-Americans were really the first ones to start putting meatballs together with spaghetti and tomato sauce, which seems a bit strange seeing as they always accompany each other today.

Today, everyone eats meatballs and almost every culture has their own version of the meatball. And although we typically add more spices than Italians had done originally, most people still use breadcrumbs or cracker crumbs when making meatballs.

A similar history exists for polenta, which is a Italian dish of boiled cornmeal, and is very similar to American grits. Like meatballs, polenta also started out as a simple meal made by peasants. Fast-forward to now, and you will find polenta in a lot of up-scale restaurants. Chefs are making polenta popular by adding in spices, sauces and meats.


MSNBC - The Original Fettucine Alfredo

The Post-Gazette, Pittsburgh, PA - The History of Polenta

Yahoo - The History of the Meatball