Once upon a time, I had an incredible crush on frozen fettucine alfredo. Creamy, salty, lots of calories in a small package – it had everything I wanted in a fast, delicious meal.

And then I read the ingredients on the box, which clarified why I loved this product so much – 650 calories in the package, about half of them from fat.  Loads of sodium.  While the product I chose boasted “natural ingredients”, on the list were those special helpers that don’t live in my kitchen – modified cornstarch, whey protein concentrate, a preservative or two – ingredients that made for a freezer/microwave stable sauce with absolutely reliable results every time.  Understandable.  Convenience of this kind almost always comes with some kind of trade-off.

Now, I have been to cooking school, so I know how easy it is to make fettucine alfredo from scratch.  Basically, it’s a reduced-cream sauce with melted cheese, seasoned with a little onion and garlic, and cracked black pepper.  I figured if I was looking for a single serving of my favorite pasta, maybe I could find a way to make it as quickly as pre-fab, and certainly for less money.  It would still be salty and probably high-fat, but it would be mine.

Some folks are deterred from cooking any recipe with a long ingredient list, which has led to the popularity of “five ingredients or less” cookbooks. I’m good with ingredients, but I want “five dirty dishes or less”.  The part about putting together a pasta dinner that deters me most often is the number of dishes it takes to boil the pasta and make the sauce – pot for boiling, colander for draining, slotted spoon or tongs, pot for the sauce, cutting board, knife, grater, rubber scraper, etc., etc., etc. Many of those things require hand-washing. On “heat and eat” nights, everything I use had better be able to go right into the dishwasher.

The Pasta: A little pre-planning is necessary to make this project successful.  I like to pre-cook a bunch of pasta and freeze it in single servings — one messy session followed by several easy meals.  For fettucine alfredo, I like broad egg noodles, although any shaped pasta will do.  I prefer shapes to actual fettuccini because the shapes don’t dribble sauce down my chin.  I cook the pasta just to the “al dente” point, shock it with cold water to stop the cooking process (Calgary tap water is plenty cold enough to do the job – otherwise I would make up a bowl of ice water), drain it well and freeze in 1-cup portions.  When it’s time to make dinner, a quick minute in the microwave, or an equally quick re-heat with boiling water (just pour it into the container the pasta is frozen in, wait a minute, and drain it off) and the pasta is ready to go.

The photos in this posting show a gluten-free corn-based spiral pasta, because my friend Kylie was cooking with me on testing day.  We liked the product. There are oodles of gluten-free noodles on the market for those of you who need them.  Try any shape you like.

The cheese:  Anything that melts can be used, although you might have to change the name from “Fettucine Alfredo” (who invented it for his pregnant wife) to “Fettucine Al –Your Name-o”.  I use real Parmigiana Reggiano when I have it on hand.  I have also tried a deli-counter pre-shredded three-cheese blend, with asiago, parmesan, and romano, which worked pretty well for domestic cheese. I have even knocked out a batch with cheddar, as an alternative to KD, with great success (although there is an even easier and better way to do that, which I will post separately).  I’ll bet a nice gorgonzola would make a lovely sauce.

Here’s just a little bit of cheese fact:  Parmigiana Reggiano is produced in Parma, Italy, and its name is protected by law. Grana Padano is a very similar cheese, also Italian, but younger, milder, less crumbly, and somewhat cheaper. Pecorino Romano, a cheese with an ancient history, is sharper in flavor.  You will find American and Canadian cheese with the names “Parmesan” and “Romano”, which are meant to be similar to their Italian namesakes, but there are very few domestic supermarket cheeses that can match the texture and flavor of the Italian originals. There are cheeses from many countries that grate and melt well, and there are some very nice cheeses being made in Canada, but you have to ask someone knowledgeable to find them.  For this recipe, get a piece of the cheese you want, and grate what you need with the microplane grater I encouraged you to buy to make garlic paste.  Hard cheeses are so flavorful that a little goes a long way.  The purchase of a block is a good investment as an all-star multi-tasker.  Because the salt level of these hard cheeses is high (which prevents bacterial growth), a piece of cheese will keep very nicely in the fridge for a long time if well wrapped in something like parchment or waxed paper, and kept in an airtight container.  If a trip to the cheese store isn’t in your plans, you can get a wedge of real Italian Parmigiana Reggiano at the supermarket for about $12.00 at the time of this writing, which will make several portions of fettucine alfredo, and garnish many bowls of pasta and slices of garlic toast much more graciously than any shaker can of dehydrated cheese.

The cream: Unapologetically, whipping cream works best.  You don’t have to reduce it much, and it gives the best texture.   You’ll use about half a small carton for the single serving.  You can freeze leftover whipping cream in cubes for baking or scrambled eggs — I make a small quiche, or bread pudding with the remainder.   The higher the fat content, the smoother the sauce.  The lower the fat, the greater chance of the sauce “splitting”, which is decidedly unattractive and not what you want.  Cereal cream, or “Half and Half”, is ok, I guess, if you have it on hand, and have to use it up before it goes bad. I tried canned evaporated milk, but alas, I cannot recommend it for this particular application, based on our experimentation.  Canned evaporated milk has several nifty applications, but this is not one of them.

Fettuccini Alfredo for One


  • 1/3 – 1/2  cup heavy (whipping) cream
  • Cracked black pepper, a pinch or a couple of grinds to taste
  • 1/8 tsp garlic/onion/herb blend of your choice (I like the no-salt kind)
  • 1 tsp butter
  • 1/3 cup finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, or other flavorful melting cheese
  • 1 cup cooked pasta, warm


In a small pot, bring the cream, butter and seasonings to a full rolling boil over medium high heat.

Boil vigorously for about 30 seconds to a minute, to reduce the cream a little.  Lift the pan off the burner as required to prevent burning or boiling over.

Remove from heat.  Stir in the cheese.  See how nicely it coats a spoon?  Don’t worry if it’s a little thin at this point.

Return to low heat.  Add warmed pasta, stirring to coat completely, and finish the heating/reducing process.  The pasta will shed a little starch, which will thicken the sauce a bit more. Taste, and add a little sprinkle of salt if it tastes too much like sweet cream and not enough like cheese.

Serve immediately.  Don’t burn your mouth.


If you have some time and the ingredients on hand, you can increase the butter to about 2 teaspoons and sweat some finely chopped garlic and shallot for a minute before adding the cream, for real, authentic flavor. The dried seasoning, however, has plenty of time to rehydrate as the cream boils, and you’re more likely to have it on hand than a shallot.  Don’t forget the pepper.

If you use lower-fat cream, start with a bit more and reduce it a bit longer. Most source recipes had a boat-load of butter; I would suggest adding an extra teaspoon if you are using a lower fat cream.  This recipe isn’t a good choice for a low-fat diet plan.  All things in moderation —  you’re not going to have this every day, are you?

You can add anything you want along with the pasta – chopped leftover ham or chicken, a few cooked shrimp, some chopped greens (thinly-sliced fresh or squeezed-dry frozen), or leftover cooked vegetables like broccoli, asparagus, or green beans.  Don’t go too crazy, or there won’t be enough sauce to coat everything.

By the way, you cannot freeze this fettucine alfredo and re-heat it in the microwave – the sauce tends to curdle because there is no modified cornstarch or guar gum to keep it stable.  Don’t make a double batch hoping to freeze one for later.  The whole point was to make a small, fast, fresh batch so there shouldn’t be any leftovers, right?  Mission accomplished!