Growing up, pasta was my family’s go-to option for easy weeknight dinners, but we never really made anything from scratch. I know an easy Alfredo sauce only takes a few minutes to pull together, but we were more of a box of pasta, jar of sauce and a vegetable side dish kind of family.
Then, when I went to culinary school, I learned that a classic Alfredo sauce is nothing more than butter, cream, garlic and Parmesan cheese.
You don’t even need the jar of sauce! This Alfredo sauce recipe is simple and creates a creamy, cheesy and super flavorful sauce that comes together in a flash. It almost takes longer to cook the pasta than the sauce. Don’t believe me? Read on to learn how to make Alfredo sauce that’s restaurant-worthy.
Tips on Selecting Ingredients
Alfredo sauce only contains a handful of ingredients. Everything counts, but the cheese is really the most important factor to making this sauce shine. It’s really important to opt for the highest-quality cheese you can afford.
In addition to Parmesan cheese, we added Romano cheese to our recipe. It has a sharp, slightly tangy flavor that adds a level of depth to the sauce. If you just want to use one cheese for simplicity, go ahead and use Parmigiano Reggiano. It’s made in Italy and has a deep, rich, nutty flavor. The cheese labeled “Parmesan” isn’t authentic. It might have a similar flavor, but it’s saltier and more acidic than the real deal.
No matter what you cheese choose, try to avoid the pre-grated stuff. It doesn’t melt as well, and it may contain anti-clumping agents like plant cellulose.
When it comes to cream, stick with heavy cream. We know—it’s not super healthy—but using it is the only way to get Alfredo sauce to thicken naturally. If you swap in half-and-half or milk, you’ll need to add flour or cornstarch to get it thick enough to coat the noodles.
Essential Tools You’ll Need
A multi-clad 12-inch stainless steel fry pan ($130) is our go-to piece of cookware for making pasta sauces. It’s the perfect size for tossing cooked pasta with sauce. If you need, you can also use it to simmer the noodles in the sauce for an extra boost of thickening power. As a bonus, it’s also oven-safe, so you could use it to make baked pasta, too.
You’ll also want a flat wire whisk ($8) when making cream sauces. It’s important to stir constantly when adding the cream (and again when adding the cheese) to keep the sauce from breaking. Broken sauce is greasy and unpalatable, but it’s easy to avoid with the right tools.
We also recommend using a Microplane ($14) for grating the cheese. You could use any old box grater, but the Microplane creates super fine shreds of cheese that melt seamlessly into the sauce. It’s not just good for cheese, either; use it to zest citrus fruit, grate chocolate or create ground nutmeg.
Easy Alfredo Sauce Recipe
Taste of Home
- 4 ounces uncooked fettuccine
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream
- 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, divided
- 1/4 cup grated Romano cheese
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- Dash ground black pepper
- Dash ground nutmeg
- Minced fresh parsley, optional
Yield: 2 servings
Step 1: Cook the pasta
Cook the fettuccine in seasoned pasta water according to the directions for al dente. When it’s finished, drain but don’t rinse it. You don’t want to remove the starch that coats the outside of the noodles, which helps the sauce stick to the pasta. If the pasta finishes before the sauce, you can toss it with a little bit of olive oil or butter to keep the noodles from sticking together.
Step 2: Prepare the sauce
In a large saute pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the minced garlic and cook until it’s fragrant, about 1 minute. Then, slowly add the heavy cream, whisking constantly as you pour until all the cream is incorporated. Bring the mixture up to a gentle simmer and let it cook for 3 to 4 minutes, until it begins to thicken.
Editor’s Tip: You can use a saucepan to make the sauce, but we like using a 12-inch fry pan instead. It’s large enough to make the sauce and toss the pasta, so you don’t have to dirty any extra dishes.
Step 3: Add the cheese
Remove the pan from the heat. Add a handful of the Parmesan and Romano cheese at a time, whisking to incorporate the first handful before adding the next. When all the cheese is added, return the pan to the stovetop. Simmer the sauce gently over low heat for 3 to 4 minutes, until it’s thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
Editor’s Tip: Be careful not to boil the sauce at this point. If the heat is too high, the sauce will break and separate.
Step 4: Season and serve
Season the sauce with salt, black pepper and nutmeg. Add the drained fettuccine to the pan and toss it with the sauce. Portion the pasta into individual bowls and top them with the remaining Parmesan cheese and parsley, if using.
How to Thicken Alfredo Sauce
If you make the recipe with heavy cream, you shouldn’t need to thicken this Alfredo sauce. Heavy cream contains at least 36% butterfat (as compared to milk’s 3.5% and half-and-half’s 12%). When the cream comes to a simmer, the water content evaporates, leaving a deliciously thick sauce behind. The cheese also adds body when it melts, giving you a naturally thick sauce.
Everyone’s preferences are different, so you may prefer a sauce that’s thicker than the recipe below. You have a few options for thickening sauce without using flour or cornstarch:
- Simmer the pasta in the sauce. The pasta will exude extra starch, adding body to the sauce.
- Add extra cheese. It will only make the sauce cheesier and more delicious, so go for it!
- Add an ounce or two of cream cheese. Cream cheese is naturally thick and creamy, and it has the right flavor profile for Alfredo, too.
- Try an egg yolk. Eggs are great for thickening sauces, but they can scramble when exposed to hot temperatures. You’ll need to temper the yolk first by whisking a cup of the hot sauce into a bowl with the yolk. Then, you can add the tempered yolk mixture to the pot.
How to Make a Healthy Alfredo Sauce
For a lighter version of Alfredo sauce, try making a roux with one tablespoon each butter and flour. After about two minutes, when the mixture is foamy and bubbling, add your liquid of choice to create a white sauce. You can use one cup of regular milk, half-and-half or a mixture of chicken stock and heavy cream.
For a gluten-free version, feel free to use 1-1/2 teaspoons of cornstarch instead. Create a slurry by mixing it with a tablespoon or two of water. Then, bring the liquid to a simmer and whisk in the slurry. Continue to simmer until the mixture is thickened.
Tips for Storage
Properly stored, cooked pasta can last three to five days in the refrigerator. That said, pasta isn’t the ideal candidate for leftovers. The noodles will continue to absorb moisture as it sits in the refrigerator, so it will be simultaneously soggy and dry upon reheating. We’ve had the best luck by storing pasta in an airtight container and reheating it with an extra splash of milk. It’s not as good as the first day, but it won’t be dry!
Add a teaspoon or two of milk or water to the leftover pasta and cook it over low heat on the stovetop. You can also use the microwave at 50% power. Take care not to heat the pasta too quickly, or the sauce will separate and become greasy. Check out these other ways to reheat pasta.
What to Make with Alfredo Sauce
Once you’ve mastered this easy Alfredo sauce recipe, use it to make any number of delicious pasta dishes. It’s great with chicken and shrimp (especially when they’re seasoned with Cajun seasoning). You can also add any number of vegetables, like spinach or kale, broccoli, spring peas, asparagus, mushrooms, zucchini and more. Check out these recipes that start with Alfredo sauce.