Some friends suggested I write up this story and recipe, so here it is.
3 AM Al Fredo
When I was a teenager I sometimes made myself pasta for a late-night meal. One night I had the pasta nearly ready to drain when my father came home (in those days one of the restaurants he had was an after-theater bistro in midtown and he often came in close to dawn). He asked if I had a enough to share, and what I was going to put on it. I said there was plenty and I was just going to put butter and grated cheese. He asked if I was interested in learning a quick sauce and then taught me this:
Drain the pasta, reserving a little of the water. On low heat, melt some butter in the pot along with the reserved water, beat in a bunch of cream, a lightly beaten egg yolk, and stir in grated parmesan or romano cheese. Toss with the pasta and serve. The egg is optional, he said, but it’s richer with it.
We ate it together and then went our separate ways to bed. It wasn’t until years later when Alfredo sauce was all the rage that I realized what he’d taught me to make.
1 lb. pasta cooked al dente & drained
½ cup of the cooking water
4 oz butter
1-1 ½ cup cream (any kind – the richer the cream, the richer the sauce)
1 egg yolk, lightly beaten (optional)
¼ cup grated “Italian” cheese
sprinkle of pepper to taste (optional)
Melt butter in a saucepan or skillet, adding in the reserved pasta water. Add cream and egg, stirring constantly. Add the grated cheese. Simmer gently for a minute or so, then toss with pasta, topping with a sprinkle of fresh black pepper. Add more cheese at the table to taste.
Pots and pans are so central to enjoyable cooking that I can’t believe it’s taken me over 40 years to spring for a new set of quality cookware! I’ve been using some old but good Revere Ware — stainless steel copper-bottom saucepans that weren’t new when I was a child. I’ve had lots of nonstick skillets pass through my life, but nothing — pardon the pun — has stuck.
I recently bought a new saucepan, in an in-between size, and oh, what a difference it made! The pot heated more quickly, cooked more evenly, the lid fit tightly, and clean-up was a piece of cake.
So I splurged. I took a 20% off coupon to the nearest Bed, Bath and Beyond and bought a set of Cuisinart Greenware plus two additional sizes I use often.
I’m packing up all the old Revere Ware (except for my giant 12-quart stock pot), all the miscellany of yard sale pots, banged-up skillets and sauté pans with mismatched lids, and storing them until the right fate for them emerges. Somewhere among my acquaintances is a budding cook for whom slightly battered Revere Ware will be a happy step up.
Now… what can I cook?
I’m about to make stuffed artichokes like my grandmother did. Take a couple of large, heavy artichokes, trim them and then steam them in an inch of water for about 45 minutes. After they cool enough to touch, dig out the choke and remove any ugly bits on the outside. Make a stuffing of breadcrumbs (Nonna used Progresso Italian Flavored, so that’s what I use), grated cheese, parsley, enough good olive oil to make a crumbly mixture. Then push small spoonfuls of the breading down amongst the leaves and into the center of the choke. Sprinkle with a little paprika for color. Then bake covered in the oven (on about 350º) for about 1/2 an hour. Remove covering and continue to bake until the top is slightly browned.
They are awesome!