- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 25, 2006

So many people hear that warning message whenever they even dare to think about coming up with their own version of something that’s considered time-honored and perfect - whether it’s a recipe, a movie or a song.

That was certainly what I thought whenever guests at Spago would come up to me years ago and ask me why I didn’t have fettuccine Alfredo on my menu. After all, especially in a restaurant whose name came from a slang word for spaghetti, why wouldn’t I want to offer the widely popular pasta dish made from fresh ribbon-shaped noodles bathed in a rich sauce of cream, egg yolks, and freshly grated Parmesan cheese?

To tell you the truth, I didn’t want to mess with such a classic, especially having eaten it myself in the restaurant in Rome where it was first invented, Alfredo alla Scrofa, where the waiters prepared it in a chafing dish right beside your table. Anything I did in my own restaurant couldn’t possibly equal that experience.

But guests kept on asking me. And slowly I began to think differently about fettuccine Alfredo. If I couldn’t possibly make it exactly like they did in Rome, why not play with the general idea and make it my own?

So I added a little bit of smoked bacon or Italian pancetta at the start of the recipe, to give the dish a hint of sweet, salty, meaty flavor reminiscent of the prosciutto I like so much in another Italian pasta classic, spaghetti alla carbonara. And because I was developing this recipe back in the 1980s, around the time that more and more people were interested in eating food that was at least a little bit lighter, I replaced some of the traditional cream with a mixture of the tangy Italian soured cream called mascarpone (available in Italian delis and many supermarkets) and some flavorful chicken broth. And, not wanting the old-fashioned touch of sending chafing dishes on carts through my restaurant, we made it in the kitchen.

The result was a delicious pasta dish that was reminiscent enough of Alfredo to please the people who had been asking for that classic. But it definitely wasn’t Alfredo. So, as a joke, I told one of my friends that I was going to call it “fettuccine Wolfredo.”

And the name stuck.

I hope the recipe will stick in your own kitchen, too. It’s easy to make, and also easy to add your own variations. I use dried fettuccine, linguine, or spaghetti instead of the traditional fresh noodles. You can feel free to go wild by topping the pasta with grilled, broiled, or sauteed chicken breast or shrimp.

In other words, feel free to keep messing with a classic, just as I did!

FETTUCCINE WOLFREDO WITH MASCARPONE CREAM SAUCE

Serves 4 to 6

2 strips smoky bacon, cut into 1/4-inch (6 mm) strips

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2/3 cup (180 ml) heavy cream

1/2 cup (125 ml) good-quality canned chicken broth

1/2 cup (125 ml) mascarpone

3/4 pound (375 g) fresh fettucine

1/4 cup (60 ml) freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leafed (Italian) parsley, plus more for garnish

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil while you make the sauce.

For the sauce, put a large nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the bacon and saute until it starts to turn brown and crisp, about 5 minutes. Pour off excess fat from the pan. Add the olive oil. Let it heat briefly, then add the butter and, when it is only partially melted, quickly add the cream and chicken broth. Bring to a boil. Spoon in the mascarpone and whisk as it melts and the sauce becomes smooth and creamy. Set the sauce aside, covered to keep it warm.

When the pot of water comes to a boil, add the pasta and cook until it is al dente, tender but still slightly chewy, following the manufacturer’s suggested cooking time.

In a colander set over a bowl in the sink, drain the pasta, saving 1/4 cup (60 ml) of its cooking water. Add the pasta, still slightly dripping, to the pan of still-hot sauce. Stir in the Parmesan, pepper, and 1 tablespoon of parsley. Toss the pasta well, adding little by little enough of the reserved cooking water to help the pasta and sauce blend together more easily.

Using a pasta server or tongs, transfer the pasta to individual heated pasta bowls or plates, mounding it attractively. Garnish with more parsley and serve immediately.

(Chef Wolfgang Puck’s TV series, “Wolfgang Puck’s Cooking Class,” airs Sundays on the Food Network. Also, his latest cookbook, “Wolfgang Puck Makes It Easy,” is now available in bookstores. Write Wolfgang Puck in care of Tribune Media Services Inc., 2225 Kenmore Ave., Suite 114, Buffalo, N.Y. 14207.)

©2006 TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.

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