Recipe Review

I Tested 4 Top-Rated Fettuccine Alfredo Recipes and the Best Was Also the Easiest

published Feb 18, 2022
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Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk; Headshots: Lidia: Getty Images/ Nicholas Hunt / Staff, Giada: Stewart Cook / Shutterstock

Fettuccine Alfredo was one of the first dishes I made as a teenager. My first attempt left a lot to be desired, as I nearly drowned the pasta in heavy cream. As I gradually began to understand the merits of following a recipe and made a proper version of the dish, I couldn’t believe how good it was.

Since then, I’ve learned a lot about Alfredo. While many of us associate Alfredo with Italian-American cooking, the dish actually has roots in the Roman era. The Romans made their version with water, butter, and Parm, which emulsified into a sauce that clung to the noodles. Fast forward a few centuries to the turn of the 20th century where Alfredo di Lelio, a Roman restaurant owner, made a version for his sick, pregnant wife. The dish was so good that he added it to the menu in his restaurant. In 1920, famous actors Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford ate at di Lelio’s restaurant on their honeymoon. The story goes that they were so enamored of the dish they asked for the recipe and brought it back to the States with them. Once Alfredo made it to America, the recipe was tweaked to suit home cooks’ needs. Heavy cream entered the picture, and while not traditional, it’s what many of us associate with the sauce today. 

It’s easy to understand why Alfredo gained such immense popularity. Not much beats the comfort of pasta plus a creamy sauce. Over the years, additions like grilled chicken and shrimp became popular add-ins, turning the dish into a full meal. The other great thing about Alfredo? It’s easy. I mean really easy. There are only a handful of ingredients that go into the sauce, which can be finished by the time the pasta is done cooking. 

It’s been a long time since I made myself a bowl of fettuccine Alfredo, so I jumped at the chance to tackle this showdown. I found four highly rated recipes, all with different takes on the classic dish. Would the traditional Roman preparation of three ingredients be enough to wow me? Is an egg yolk really necessary to ensure creaminess? Is there such a thing as too much heavy cream? Read on to find out. 

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

Meet the Four Fettuccine Alfredo Contenders

Although it’s a classic recipe, these days there’s plenty of room for interpretation as to what goes into Alfredo sauce. I wanted to test four distinctly different recipes to find out which combination of ingredients really makes the best Alfredo sauce. 

Lidia Bastianich is known as the godmother of Italian-American cuisine and I knew that with her culinary pedigree she would have a distinct perspective on the dish. Lidia strays from tradition by infusing ample heavy cream with sage leaves, which sounded lovely. 

Giada de Laurentiis‘ Alfredo recipe is heavy on the cream and butter (12 tablespoons!). Her sauce gets spiked with lemon zest, nutmeg, and white pepper, which I thought might help add a bright flavor to the dish.

Serious Eats offered the most pared-down and classic recipe of the bunch. I’m a huge fan of how thoroughly tested their recipes are, and dozens of glowing reviews sealed the deal. I had to find out if pasta water, butter, and Parm could really create the sauce that many of us associate with Alfredo. 

Taste of Home’s recipe felt like a combination of all of the above. There’s butter, plenty of cheese, heavy cream, and an egg yolk in their recipe, which should translate to a super-creamy sauce.

How I Tested the Fettuccine Alfredo Recipes

The more showdowns I do, the better I get at navigating how to properly judge a dish. Keeping the ingredient brands the same across the board is key, and in this case, it was particularly easy. My small-town grocery store didn’t have any fettuccine in stock, so I used De Cecco linguine. I also used heavy cream from Horizon, butter from Vermont Creamery, and real Parmigiano-Reggiano from my local co-op.

While the sauces all come together quickly, I didn’t have enough pots and pans (and room on the stove) to make all four recipes at once. I went down the line, making sure to taste each immediately after completion, and then the full lineup once they’d cooled to room temperature. Room-temperature Alfredo isn’t really what you want, but I thought it’d be helpful to really compare each recipe back-to-back, and it turned out my rankings were the same. 

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

1. The Most Disappointing Alfredo Sauce: Taste of Home’s Fettuccine Alfredo

It pains me to be so critical of a recipe, but I truly don’t understand what happened here. I have to assume there was a typo or error in the recipe because the proportions just didn’t make sense. The recipe calls for a mere 4 ounces of pasta to 1 cup of heavy cream. There are a few other ingredients that go into the sauce, including an egg yolk, which I’m guessing was to add creaminess, but ultimately felt unnecessary.

The real issue was that the pasta was literally drowning in sauce. The recipe says it serves two, but I can’t imagine anyone eating two ounces of pasta and feeling satisfied, unless it’s strictly for an appetizer. I also found the sauce lacking flavor, which didn’t help its cause. I won’t be trying this recipe again. 

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

2. The Best Alfredo Sauce for Sage-Lovers: Lidia Bastianich’s Fettuccine Alfredo

Do you love sage? I mean, do you really love sage? If so, this is the Alfredo for you. I’ve never made a recipe from Lidia Bastianich, but her reputation gave me high hopes for this Alfredo. She calls for infusing the sauce with 10 sage leaves, which in theory sounds like a nice tweak to the classic recipe, but ended up being to sage-heavy for me. I also found the proportions of the sauce to be a bit off. While Giada and Serious Eats’ Alfredos clung to the noodles, Lidia’s pasta was sitting in so much sauce it felt a bit wasteful. I think this recipe could be right for someone, but that person isn’t me. 

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

3. The Balanced Alfredo Sauce Worth Making: Giada De Laurentiis’ Alfredo Sauce

Giada is known for delivering Italian American hits, and while I’ve watched her on the Food Network, I’ve never actually made one of her recipes. After making her Alfredo recipe, I have a whole new respect for her. Giada’s Alfredo really was wonderful, only marginally beaten out by Serious Eats, but absolutely still worth making. What made this recipe so special was the generous use of lemon juice and zest. The first bite screamed lemon, but the flavor mellowed as I continued eating and the acidity balanced the cream and created a sauce that seemed lighter (although it’s not actually light at all).

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

4. The Winning Alfredo That Leans into Tradition: Serious Eats’ Fettuccine Alfredo

In my Alfredo research, I learned that the origins of the sauce date back thousands of years to the Romans. In order to really do a fair showdown, I wanted to include a recipe that paid homage to the past — and, wow, it did not disappoint.

The recipe itself was so simple: You just combine Parm, butter, and starchy pasta water to make the Alfredo sauce. Serious Eats is always testing different techniques to come up with the absolute best method, and this recipe called for using a medium stockpot to boil the pasta in order to get starchier water. That small detail ended up making a huge difference in the sauce. While most of us associate Alfredo sauce with heavy cream, I loved that this recipe skipped it, while still capturing the creamy texture and flavor. Each noodle was glossy, saucy, and silky. Even after eating so much Alfredo I can’t wait to make this recipe again.

Do you have a favorite fettuccine Alfredo recipe? Let us know in the comments!