Contrary to popular belief, fettuccine Alfredo—the original from Rome, at least—isn't meant to have cream. It's just: fettuccine, butter, and cheese, all tossed together with the pasta's starchy cooking liquid to create a sauce that looks and tastes very close to heavy cream. At his restaurants in Italy, Alfredo di Lelio would do this tableside as a sort of ceremony for the guests. The ultimate ceremony of cooking and eating, as I see it. —Eric Kim
Bring a pot of water to a boil and salt generously. Cook the pasta according to package instructions until al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking water and drain pasta.
In the same pot over medium heat, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter, then sauté the shallot for about 1 to 2 minutes, just until translucent and no longer raw. Add 1/4 cup of the reserved cooking water, bring to a simmer, then stir in the butter, followed by the cheese, until both are fully incorporated.
Add the pasta to the sauce and continue cooking, stirring constantly and incorporating more of the water as needed to coat the noodles sufficiently. (The trick here is to amalgamate the pasta, butter, cheese, and starchy water until it comes together into a creamy emulsion.)
Plate, then finish with a final smattering of Parmesan and freshly ground pepper.
Eric Kim is a Senior Editor at Food52, where his solo dining column, Table for One, runs Friday mornings. Formerly the Digital Manager at Food Network, he writes about food, travel, and culture and lives in a tiny shoebox in Manhattan with his dog, Quentin "Q" Compson. His favorite writers are William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, and Ernest Hemingway, but his hero is Nigella Lawson. You can follow him on Twitter @ericjoonho.