A fettuccine alfredo recipe that is low(er) in fat and calories than the traditional version? Yes, please! We found one in Cook’s Illustrated’s book, “The Best Light Recipe.” As with all their recipes, the folks at Cook’s Illustrated do all the hard work for you — testing out tons of different ingredients and techniques until they find the very best possible recipe (hence the name.) Another great feature in this particular cookbook is that the authors show the difference in nutritional stats between the light recipe and the traditional version, and they explain how they achieved the lighter result. For example, classic fettuccine alfredo has about 580 calories and 43 grams of fat, while the light recipe has only 300 calories and 11 grams of fat. The key to the light version is using half-and-half thickened with cornstarch instead of heavy cream, and they omitted all the butter. Even with less calories and fat, this recipe still has the rich and creamy taste of the traditional version.
The alfredo sauce ingredients include half-and-half, cornstarch, freshly grated nutmeg, parmigiano-reggiano cheese, and salt and pepper. Cook’s Illustrated recommends that if you can’t get local fresh pasta (or make your own), the best grocery store fettuccine is the Buitoni brand. (This post is sponsored by neither Cook’s Illustrated — despite all the name-dropping — nor Buitoni.) Although the original recipe does not call for chicken, we like to add it for the protein and as a great use of leftovers. We also garnish with green onions for a little crunch and extra flavor.
Per usual, Dan likes to cut up the non-meat ingredients first, so that he only has to use one cutting board with no risk of cross-contamination from the meat. Prepping all the ingredients ahead of time is also a good idea for this particular recipe because it comes together pretty quickly and needs to be served immediately (alfredo sauce doesn’t sit well for very long after it’s done.) Dan chopped up the green parts of the onions for garnish.
This recipe calls for a lot of grated cheese.
Next, cut up the cooked chicken into bite-sized pieces.
Heat about a tablespoon of vegetable or olive oil over medium-high heat in a nonstick skillet.
Add the chicken and cook it for about 4 minutes, just to heat it up.
In the meantime, bring a pot of water to boil for the pasta. Cook’s Illustrated recommends boiling some extra water, to be used to warm the serving bowls (about 1/2 cup of water in each) while you prepare the meal. We didn’t follow this step, but we like the idea.
After the chicken is hot, add 1/2 cup of half-and-half, ground nutmeg and a little salt to the pan. Bring the ingredients to a simmer.
Whisk the remaining 1/4 cup of half-and-half and the cornstarch together until the cornstarch is fully dissolved, add the cornstarch mixture to the pan and whisk everything together. Continue simmering, whisking occasionally, until the sauce has thickened — about 1 minute. Then take the pan off the heat and cover it.
Cook the pasta until it is al dente — about 2 minutes.
Drain the pasta and be sure to save some of the pasta water, to be used to thin the sauce if necessary.
Return the sauce to medium-low heat and check the thickness (ours was pretty thick).
Depending on the thickness of the sauce, add about 1/2 cup of the reserved pasta water.
Stir in the grated cheese.
Then add the pasta and cook until the pasta and chicken are coated evenly with the sauce — about 1-2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Garnish with a little more grated cheese and green onions, then serve immediately. And we do mean immediately. Alfredo sauce starts to break down and get gummy as it cools– which is not pretty or particularly tasty. So if you’re a notoriously slow eater like I am, you’ll want to step up your game and eat it while it’s hot!
Chicken Fettuccine Alfredo (with leftover chicken)
- 1 cup cooked chicken, cut into bite-sized pieces
- 1 tablespoon vegetable or olive oil
- 8-10 ounces fresh fettuccine
- ¾ cup half-and-half
- ⅛ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch
- 1 cup finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
- 2-3 green onions (green parts only), chopped for garnish
- salt and pepper
Heat the oil in a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and cook until it is heated through — about 4 minutes.
While the chicken cooks, bring about 4 quarts of water to a boil in a pot. If you want to warm your serving bowls, add about ½ cup of the boiling water to each bowl and let it sit while you cook. The remaining water will be used for the pasta.
Add ½ cup of the half-and-half, the nutmeg and ¼ teaspoon of salt to the skillet with the chicken and bring to a simmer. Whisk the remaining ¼ cup of half-and-half with the cornstarch and add it to the simmering mixture. Continue cooking, whisking often, until the sauce has thickened — about 1 minute. Take the pan off the heat and cover.
Add the pasta and a tablespoon of salt to the boiling water and cook until al dente — about 2 minutes. Drain the pasta and reserve about a cup of the pasta water.
Return the sauce and chicken to medium-low heat and check the thickness. Add the reserved pasta water as needed to thin out the sauce. Stir in the grated cheese, then add the pasta and cook until everything is evenly coated with the sauce — about 1-2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with a little more grated cheese and green onions, then serve immediately.