Weeknight Cooking

Colu Henry's Fusilli Alfredo

February 23, 2017
1 Ratings
Photo by Peden + Munk
  • Serves 4
Author Notes

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

What You'll Need
  • Kosher salt
  • 3/4 pound fusilli pasta
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into a few pieces
  • 3/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese (but not Microplaned), plus more for serving
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  1. 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.)
  2. 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.)
  3. 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.
  4. Plate in bowls topped with a few grinds of black pepper and more Parmesan cheese, if desired.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Änneken
  • agamom
  • Corduval
  • Jeannie'sgoodhomecooking
  • Darren Addy
    Darren Addy

24 Reviews

Rebecca March 13, 2019
Is the Trader Joe’s grated Parmesan in the plastic tub too fine of a grate?
SKF January 18, 2019
I just tried to make this recipe and cut the volumes in half. As soon as I added the pasta back to the sauce the cheese separated from the sauce. What did i do wrong?
beejay45 January 10, 2018
This was my favorite way to eat pasta when I was a kid. My mom made a tomato sauce that had friends and relatives almost begging for dinner invitations, but the kid didn't like tomato (except sunwarmed and fresh off the vine). So, whatever the pasta, including Mom's homemade ravioli, mine was prepared with this "sauce." I still love it but haven't made it in a while. Thanks for the reminder and for the real Alfredo recipe -- about two bites of those heavy cream sauces, and I've had all I can stand. ;)
Marie F. January 2, 2018
Use an old

Use a plain old box grater or the food processor to grate the Parm.

Änneken April 9, 2017
I made this last week and it was a huge success, especially on the second day. Contrary to some reviews mine turned out a bit too thick. I had added about 2 cups of pasta cooking water (that's all I had reserved) but it could have easily used at least an additional 1/2 cup. I used angel hair pasta (didn't have anything else in the pantry) and had it with a bright, fresh tomato salad to balance the umami of the parmesan.
Sharon R. March 25, 2017
Made this last night and loved it! I tried a similar recipe before, but it didn't emulsify the butter with the pasta water and then melt the cheese in. Those steps made a difference. It's not as heavy as the typical Alfredo with cream, but still has a creamy, comforting feel. It's exactly the kind of thing that I would want to make for someone who feels a little poorly and needs something that's not overly rich, but still satisfying. This will become a go-to.
jean March 7, 2017
Great flavor, but much too thin
Louise N. March 5, 2017
When in read the recipe and began to make it, I was surprised at the amount of salt to use. It it correct that the recipe says to use 2 tablespoons of salt to the water? The water was really salty and also the Alfredo. Yes, tasty, but too salty.
Louise N. March 5, 2017
I added grilled chicken and my kids (4 yrs & 6 yrs old) loved it, omitted pepper for the kids. They asked to have it for lunch the next day. I would like to try it using Olive oil. Please comment on amount of the salt.
stephanie March 6, 2017
are you using table salt? if so that would make it way too salty. but 2T of kosher salt to a large pot of boiling water should be fine. (i haven't made this recipe but i do generously salt the water when i make pasta & it really makes a positive difference, for me.)
Allison K. March 14, 2019
Your pasta water should always be salty otherwise the pasta won’t have any flavor. But definitely use kosher salt (diamond crystal if you have it) as it has much lower saltiness than table salt
agamom March 5, 2017
Absolutely delicious! Felt a bit like making risotto as I waited for each bit of butter to melt. The cheese may have been a bit too finely grated as it was a bit stringy in parts. Also may have had the heat a bit too high. Will watch it next time. We served with a blend of fresh greens sauté (just greens, olive oil and garlic) on the side. A wonderful weeknight dinner - just wish we had a nice wine at home to accompany!
Corduval March 5, 2017
My half-Italian ex taught me to mix pasta (usually spaghetti) with butter and cheese and black pepper, which his family called "poor man's spaghetti". It was a standby meal for their busy family. Thank you for this more finessed recipe ..I can't wait to try it!
Evan Kleiman taught us this, years ago in her book 'PizzaPastaPanini'.
Her method is different-you lay the drained pasta over the butter in a serving dish. Then add the remaining ingredients and toss. (Considerably less water than here). Sublime .
Will be trying this method soon!
Darren A. March 5, 2017
Was going to discuss this article with my wife and she told me she hates alfredo. I was surprised because, we just had a delicious pasta, ham & broccoli dish (made in a wok) that I could have sworn was an alfredo . She said no, it was just parmesean. (So she is apparently way ahead of you). :) However, she did not use butter either (which may be of interest to readers). She used Olive Oil, and a bit of chicken stock. So her Faux Alfredo has even less dairy than this recipe (and it was delicious)!
Jo March 5, 2017
Should you not toss the pasta with a touch of olive oil so that it doesn't stick while you make the sauce? I would love to try adding some lemon juice & grated zest similar to the lemon pasta you highlighted a few weeks ago was great.
Michele March 5, 2017
Jo, I'm no expert, but I believe tossing the pasta in olive oil will coat it to the point where it won't absorb all the yumminess of the sauce. Leaving the pasta "open and porous" if you will, allows it to absorb the sauce into the noodle itself as well as coating it beautifully. This is why you never rinse your pasta either (I believe) as it just makes the pasta absorb water and doesn't allow the sauce to drape the pasta as it should.
justin C. March 2, 2017
This is Cacio Pepe
Amy L. March 5, 2017
No pepper, which is the pepe.
lydia.sugarman March 5, 2017
No, it isn't. Cacio e pepe uses olive oil, no butter, and includes Pecorino. This is a completely different recipe.
meganireland March 1, 2017
Why, out of curiosity, can't you microplane the Parmesan?
Connor B. March 3, 2017
A microplane grates the cheese a little too fine, so it ends up clumping before it melts.
cranberry March 12, 2017
Now that is interesting, and explains some problems I have had over the years. Thanks!
Nancy M. January 2, 2018
So what method do you recommend for grating the parmesan?