Monday, June 14, 2010

Basic Training #4: Alfredo Sauce

Growing up, I learned to prepare sauces and soups in the exact same manner: by opening a can. Hence, they are general cooking weaknesses of mine. However, after learning a wonderful and easy marinara recipe from my friend Kristin, I was feeling a sense of independence from the jarred sauce. Though there is one traditional pasta sauce that I still depend on others for: Alfredo. I have never made an Alfredo dish at home because there isn’t a jarred version in existence that is edible. So I decided it was finally time I took Alfredo matters into my own hands.

I looked to three usual sources for guidance:, and On the Food Network site, I chose a recipe by Tyler Florence; then took two simple and similar versions from the other recipe sites. (See recipes below.) What I was looking for was a basic formula I could begin with, then experiment on using various spices. And I found that these three recipes used the exact same proportions of heavy cream and butter (if you cut the Tyler Florence recipe in half). The version, however, called for double the amount of Parmesan. So I decided to make two batches: one using a ½ cup Parmesan one using a full cup.

After I taste-tested the two versions, I would experiment with combinations of garlic, black pepper and nutmeg. I started by melting ¼ cup butter in 1 cup heavy cream over medium-low heat and simmering for 3-4 minutes.

Next, I whisked in a ½ cup grated Parmesan. Now, at this point, I was technically done. The flavor was mild, slightly salty and sufficiently cheesy. Upon starting this project, I assumed the ½ cup recipe would be weak in flavor, but I found it very tasty.

I started a second batch the same way and whisked in a full cup of Parmesan.

After it had melted I dipped a finger in the sauce and felt an immediate difference in thickness from the first sauce. The texture and taste were extremely different as well. Saltier, grittier and stronger in flavor, it felt more like a cheese dipping sauce than the light, creamy pasta sauce one expects from an Alfredo recipe.

To the first version, I began adding spices. I split the sauce in thirds, poured them into bowls, and in one I added crushed garlic, to another I added cracked black pepper, and to the third I added nutmeg.

My reactions were as follows:

Garlic. As much as I love garlic (and that’s a lot), adding raw garlic after the cooking process was over inhibited the flavors from blending and caused the garlic to overwhelm the sauce. I immediately recognized that a good Alfredo would need at least a little garlic, but decided it would taste better if it were added with the cheese during the cooking process.

Black pepper. An excellent addition. By itself, it adds a subtle enhancement to the sauce. Would be very good with garlic as well.

Nutmeg. This spice actually made the sauce LESS flavorful, somehow. It killed the creamy, salty aftertaste and tasted “homogenized,” like something from a cheap restaurant or frozen dinner.

For dinner that night, I poured the garlic version over pasta and topped with peas.

Overall, I was surprised to find how easy making Alfredo is: 3-4 ingredients and less than 10 minutes. PLUS!, it actually reheated well, as opposed to restaurant Alfredos, which separate when reheated. What I had left over, I put in a mason jar and refrigerated. Later that week, I scooped it out by the spoonful and reheated in a saucepan for a few minutes.

Below are the recipes I used as guides. You can modify them as you like to find your own preferred version.

Alfredo Sauce Recipes

1. Tyler Florence’s Recipe
• 1 pint heavy cream
• 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
• 1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
• Freshly cracked black pepper
• Chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, for garnish

To prepare Alfredo sauce: Heat heavy cream over low-medium heat in a deep saute pan. Add butter and whisk gently to melt. Sprinkle in cheese and stir to incorporate. Season with freshly cracked black pepper. Top with more grated cheese and chopped parsley. Serve immediately.

NOTE: For my project, I halved the measurements in this recipe.

• 1/4 cup butter
• 1 cup heavy cream
• 1 clove garlic, crushed
• 1 1/2 cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese
• 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium low heat. Add cream and simmer for 5 minutes, then add garlic and cheese and whisk quickly, heating through. Stir in parsley and serve.

• 4 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces
• 1 cup heavy cream
• Pinch grated nutmeg
• 3/4 teaspoon salt
• 1/8 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
• 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Toss the butter, cream, nutmeg, salt, pepper, and Parmesan.

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