Thursday, September 8, 2011

Living in a creamy alfredo world

During the summer, my family and I traverse the 90 miles from Chicago to southwest Michigan on a fairly regular basis, passing through the soft, moist armpit of Indiana. Indiana is Americana; love of God and country come before just about everything else except maybe alfredo sauce.

I noticed this on our last visit, as we decided on a restaurant for dinner. We always seem to stop in Michigan City, Indiana, the land of outlet malls, and home to every chain restaurant in existence. If you look around the main drag, there's Steak n Shake, Chili's, The Olive Garden, Baker's Square, Denny's, Culver's, and the fast food Big Three: McDonald's, BK, and Wendy's. You can add to that Quizno's, Subway, Pizza Hut/ get the picture.

My pick is always The Olive Garden (even though canned olives in my salad are a disgusting folly, they're also sort of delightful), which is overridden by the other members of the family, who inevitably pick Chili's. It's really all the same, now that alfredo sauce has infiltrated pretty much every fast food menu (At Chili's, it's Cajun Pasta with garlic alfredo sauce).

You won't really get an argument from me regarding alfredo sauce. Screw my arteries; it's a wantonly self-indulgent cloak on bland food, and besides, the heart wants what it wants. And mine wants alfredo sauce. Like, a big plate of it, with a side of fettucine, a big grind of pepper, and a squeeze of lemon. And yes, please pass the parmesan and the grater. I love the creaminess of the sauce mixed with the salty grit of the cheese, and the slithery slipperiness of the noodles. I don't know if there's a more sensorially pleasing food.

In Italy, there is no cream in the sauce, which is to say, we've taken something perfect and Americanized it. In Italy, it's all butter and cheese, and some pasta cooking water to emulsify those two perfect ingredients into something even more compelling. The Italians, who know a thing or two about pasta, know that the cream is superfluous, and perhaps even detrimental.

But try telling that to the Americans. I grew up with cream in my alfredo. I'm used to it, although once you taste the real version, it gives you pause. Oh, so that's what it's supposed to taste like. But I suppose once you start mixing alfredo with the likes of jalapeƱo and cajun spices, you're not much concerned with authenticity anyway.

1 comment:

  1. Very funny post! Your reference to Woody Allen's statement when he dumped the talented and well-respected Mia Farrow for her hot, little, Asian, adopted daughter, is apt and deft. And isn't Mia Farrow Italian? Or am I digging too deep?