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 Alfredo "lite" Much of the luxury of the Italian original with a lot less fat.
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Alfredo "lite"

"Fettuccine ... Alfredo." Merely to utter the words is to feel your arteries clogging, as you gently let your belt out a notch. Cream, butter and a generous portion of cheese: All its ingredients are wonderful things, except when it comes to your health and your waistline.

Culinary legend holds that the dish was created some 80 years ago by Chef Alfredo di Lello, who named his Roman restaurant after himself and put his moniker on his signature dish as well. The original recipe was strikingly simple, as great creations often are: Fresh, al dente pasta tossed with cream, butter and freshly grated Parmesan cheese, a grind of pepper, and nothing more.

Make that lots of cream, butter and cheese: One classic recipe calls for 4 ounces of butter, 2 cups of heavy cream, a cup of grated Parmigiano and a pound of pasta to serve four. That's a cool 700 calories per serving, much of it from fat ... about the same as a McDonald's double cheeseburger with a baked apple pie for dessert, although faced with that alternative, I know which door I would choose.

Is it possible to enjoy most of the richness of creamy, cheesy Alfredo without all the fat? Well, sort of. Knowing that there's no real substitute for the gluttonous goodness of butter and cream, I've still managed to fashion a mighty consoling lighter-weight alternative by cloaking hot pasta with a Mornay-style "Alfredo lite" made with a roux-based white sauce built with skim milk and a rational amount of flavorful cheese. While it's not a low-fat option, the following recipe passes my taste test ... and a serving for one racks up just 400 calories, reducing the hefty original almost by half.

The only serious technique involved is making the sauce ... and this is one of the cooking fundamentals that's worth learning if you haven't mastered it already.

INGREDIENTS: (Serves two)

4 ounces (120 grams) fettuccine or other long pasta
1 tablespoon (15 grams) butter
1 tablespoon flour
2/3 cup (160 ml) skim milk
2 ounces cheese (see note)
Black pepper
1 tablespoon fresh chopped sage (optional)


It will take longer to cook the pasta than to fashion the sauce, so I get my preparations out of the way while the pasta water comes to the boil, then make the sauce while the fettuccine is cooking.

1. Start your salted pasta water boiling while you measure out the butter, flour and milk, chop the optional sage (or other fresh herb of your choice) and grate the cheese. Parmigiano Reggiano is the traditional choice, but there's no need to be bound by authenticity. In my most recent rendition, I used Emmenthaler, a mild Swiss that's a favorite for its nutty creaminess.

2. Put the pasta in to cook per package instructions; fettuccine should take about 8 to 10 minutes.

3. Make the sauce: Warm the milk. (I usually put it in a Pyrex cup and stick it in the microwave for 45 seconds on high.) Melt the butter over medium heat in a saucepan. When it stops bubbling but before it starts to brown, reduce heat to medium-low. Put in the flour all at once, stirring quickly with a wooden spoon or whisk until all the butter is incorporated. Stir and cook for a minute or two, then pour in the milk, a little at a time, stirring as you go to eliminate lumps. When it's smooth and slightly thickened, mix in the grated cheese, stirring until it melts smoothly.

4. Keep the sauce warm over very low heat while the pasta finishes. When it's done, drain and put it in the sauce, adding the optional sage or other chopped fresh herb. Put in warm bowls, season to taste with freshly ground black pepper, and serve.

WINE MATCH: This will work with a red or white, but the cheese offers plenty of support for a crisp, fruity red. I matched it with the Tenuta le Querce 2000 "Il Viola" Agliano del Vulture featured in Monday's 30 Second Wine Advisor.

Want to a copy that's easy to use in the kitchen? You'll find a simple, plain-text version of these recipes, suitable for printing, online at

If you have questions, comments or ideas to share about this recipe or food and cookery in general, you're welcome to drop by our Food Lovers' Discussion Group, where I've posted this article as a new topic, "FoodLetter: Alfredo 'lite'"

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Thursday, April 22, 2004
Copyright 2004 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.

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