This recipe comes from one of my dearest friends, Carla Lalli Music. We met while working together and discovered that her family also hails from Avellino, a small province outside of Naples, so we developed an immediate kinship. Alfredo is her favorite back pocket pasta. “My mom cooked this for me most Saturday nights when I was growing up, and I used to throw my body over the bowl to keep my dad from eating half of it out of my plate (then I’d yell at him to stop eating it straight out of the pot),” Carla told me. Her recipe is a true Alfredo, which means no cream, milk, or flour. The sauce is a glossy emulsion of butter and starchy pasta water, which she finishes with lots of black pepper, like you would a carbonara. “Whoever you make this for will know instantly that you love them very much. At least, that’s what it tastes like to me.” Spoken in true Carla fashion. Reprinted with permission from Back Pocket Pasta by Colu Henry (Ten Speed Press, 2017). —Food52
(1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into a few pieces
finely grated Parmesan cheese (but not Microplaned), plus more for serving
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add 2 tablespoons of the salt and return to a rolling boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente according to package directions. Reserving 1½ cups of the pasta cooking liquid, drain the pasta and let sit in a colander while you prepare the sauce. (I know I usually don’t drain the pasta, but in this one case I make an exception because it’s Carla’s recipe and I trust her implicitly when it comes to cooking.)
Return the pasta pot to medium heat and add the pasta cooking liquid. When it comes to a simmer, gradually whisk the butter into the pasta water, one piece at a time, waiting until one piece melts before adding another. Once you’ve added all of the butter, the sauce should look creamy and glossy, not greasy and broken. (It will seem pretty thin, and you might worry that it is too loose, but fear not.)
Gradually whisk in the Parmesan, adding it by the handful and making sure it has melted before adding more. Return the pasta to the pot and toss rapidly until all the noodles are coated and the sauce has thickened somewhat.
Plate in bowls topped with a few grinds of black pepper and more Parmesan cheese, if desired.