Oh, those creamy noodles piled high, sauced with that distinctive tangy parmesan, rich butter, and flavorful garlic! The delectable aroma of pungent and sweet Italian cheeses. Yesss! Maybe your favorite dish has tender slices of chicken, or is heavy with pink shrimp and fragrant chopped basil! Who has time for thin, weak sauce, though? Here's how to thicken alfredo sauce, learn the best way to reheat fettucine alfredo, get my recipe for garlic alfredo, and more!
Lush with gorgeous, decadent sauce, Fettucine alfredo has a history as rich and wonderful as the homemade alfredo sauce itself. While the earliest records of the dish appear to be a simple ensemble of butter and cheese tossed with the pasta, today’s recipe is luxuriant with tons of cream and spices, too! The ceremony of tossing the pasta table-side for wide-eyed and hungry diners was part of the fun, cooked up by the dish’s namesake: Alfredo di Lelio.
My father’s side of the family were Italian through and through, yet I don’t recall eating much alfredo growing up. Perhaps because of the cost of rich ingredients was, perhaps, a bit too rich for my folks. But I learned in my 30s to play with a simple alfredo sauce recipe, trying to imitate the famous Olive Garden recipe. Some mistakes were made: I have seized up a few pots, or the sauce separated mercilessly. Some were too gritty, too “sticky” (too much cheese, if you can imagine) or too runny, or in some cases lacked the flavor of true distinctive alfredo. Today, my recipe for how to make alfredo sauce changes a bit every time I make it because I use what I have on hand, but lots of garlicky, tangy-cheese flavor is what makes alfredo alfredo and not just a white sauce.
Always make more alfredo than you think you will need or use, because, well, just because. It's versatile! The higher quality of ingredients you go, the more elevated this sauce will be. That said, even cheap cheese, generic butter and half-and-half are going to create a great alfredo.
Let's start with a recipe.
- 2 c. of half and half
- 1 c. of heavy cream
- 1 c. of grated asiago
- ½ c. of grated or shredded parmesan or combination parmesan/regiano
- 1/2 c. (1 stick) of butter, room-temperature (either salted or unsalted)
- 1 head of garlic, or 2 T of minced garlic in a jar
- 3 t. garlic powder
- 2 t. onion powder
- 1 t. of ground pepper (many pro recipes call for white pepper so you don’t see black flecks but I’ve not committed to buying it yet.)
- 1 t. of ground Italian seasoning (you can also use separate pinches of thyme, rosemary, basil, and sage)
- 2 T cornstarch OR 4 T of flour
Optional: 1/4 c. fresh chopped or scissored basil, more if you LOVE basil
- Finely chop fresh garlic. Add olive oil to pan and saute garlic until soft and fragrant. Then add to a large, cold (unheated) pot. Then add the rest of the ingredients and begin whisking immediately.
- Turn the heat to medium. We want all ingredients to come to temperature together. This saucewill be very thin at first, and you want the flour to cook and the cheese to emulsify all the ingredientsinto a nice thick roux. To ensure the pot never goes to a hard boil, never turn it above medium andkeep whisking. My alfredo takes a solid 30 minutes on the stove because I keep whisking and tasting.
Add-ins. To keep your sauce at a nice density and flavor, I recommend not adding anything
INTO the sauce pot. These will cook in the hot sauce and thin your perfect alfredo.
When the sauce is ready to plate, here are some add-ins that you can toss with the cooked pasta or
add on top:
- Sautéed mushrooms
- Sun-dried tomatoes
- Fresh herbs of all kinds
- Cut scallions
- Sautéed or fresh zucchini
- Chicken, shrimp, or prosciutto
Pro tip: Never turn on the heat higher than medium. When it seems like your break from whisking has gone on for more than two minutes, pick the up whisk and do it some more. Don’t walk away from the kitchen for more than a couple of minutes at a time. It’s a work-intensive sauce, but the homemade results will be worth it.
- Category: Sauce
- Cuisine: Italian
When using any of the methods listed below remember to start with small amounts of the thickener at a time. Give it time to cook through before adding more.
Will Alfredo sauce thicken as it cools?
Yes, a proper alfredo sauce will thicken as it cools. However, alfredo sauce is best served HOT, or at least warm, so keep the pot on low until ready to plate, stirring occasionally.
The desired thickness of an alfredo sauce is completely subjective to the chef. Some folks like it to be a bit thin and some like it extra thick. The key factor is that you want your alfredo sauce to completely coat the pasta.
How to make alfredo sauce with milk
You can sub out quite a few of the ingredients in an alfredo and still come out with a lovely sauce. There are three ingredients that really need to be there, though: Milk, garlic and at least one dry Italian cheese. Sub out butter for olive oil or margarine. Sub out fresh garlic and just use all garlic powder, same for the onion. Cut cream with water or milk. Use 2% milk and just use more thickener like starch or flour. You can use cheap shaker cheese, margarine, and plenty of people swear by cream cheese, which you can use to replace a fat and 1/2 the milk. Remember, you can make it your own, with as much cheese and garlic flavor, thick or thin as you like.
2 c. of milk: skim, 2%, or whole
1/2 c. of butter, oil, or margarine
1 ½ c. of shaker parmesan cheese
3 t. garlic powder
3 t. onion powder
4 T. thickening agent like flour or cornstarch
Combine and follow the instructions in the recipe above.
An easy way to thicken alfredo sauce
Sometimes the sauce alone seems too thin but when we add it with the pasta, the combination of the two will actually thicken the sauce.
How to thicken alfredo sauce with flour
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How to thicken alfredo sauce with a roux
There are many types of roux but for the sake of this recipe, a roux is a mixture of butter and flour. This type of roux is a great way to thicken a sauce but it will add some richness, so keep that in mind.
How to thin alfredo sauce
When cooking alfredo sauce and pasta, it is always a good idea to keep a cup of pasta water set aside. It contains starch that is often used to thicken sauces, so might as well put it to work. Use a ladle to scoop out a cup of pasta water before you drain your pasta in a colander or pasta pot. This can be quite helpful if your alfredo sauce turns out too thick.
How to reheat alfredo sauce
Alfredo sauce is a very rich, dense sauce, full of dairy fat, which means it's going to be near-solid when it is chilled. The trick to reheating alfredo is to reheat it slowly, on medium-low heat—and that means to choose the stove top over the microwave.
Portion out only the sauce you need into a cold pot. Add in a 2 T. of dairy: melted butter, half-n-half, heavy cream, or milk. Whisk gently as the pot warms. Slow and low is the key, while you whisk to bring together the cold fats in your sauce.
How to reheat fettucine alfredo
You may have noticed that your container of alfredo pasta is quite the dense clump when you take it out of the fridge the next day. Separating the noodles while cold can cause them to break into rather un-tasty-looking pieces. Many a plate of leftovers has been microwaved and the result is dry, stiff noodles coated with dusty cheese, swimming in pools of grease. So what happened? The alfredo ingredients have basically separated, and now we need to emulsify them—or bring them back together—so your leftovers are as tasty as the night before.
Let your container sit on the counter for 10-15 minutes so it gets a bit closer to room temperature. On the stovetop, bring out a pan and as gently as possible, add your leftovers to the pan or pot. Turn the heat to low. As the noodles lose their grip on one another (about five minutes) start by adding 1 T. of dairy (butter, cream, or milk) for every cup of leftover alfredo pasta. Gently toss the pasta as it heats through, about another five minutes. Plate and eat while it's steaming.
What's your favorite type of pasta noodle to all hold all that delicious alfredo?