Wednesday, February 17, 2010

tortellini alfredo

The child foodie is a relatively new invention. Twenty years ago, there were no culinary wunderkinds — no twelve-and-under restaurant critics or cooking show hosts.

When it came to food, I was a particularly undiscerning (and unadventurous) six-year-old. Many meals were spent sneaking food into my napkin, or inventing new reasons to “please be excused.”

This was the dish that changed all that. It is, for all its faults, the dish that taught me to love food.

By faults, I'm speaking not of flavor, but rather of the recipe’s patent inauthenticity. The origins of alfredo sauce may be lost to history, but I’m pretty sure they didn't involve canned parmesan cheese and frozen chicken tortellini. That said, while one could certainly substitute artisanal ingredients with excellent results, in this case I’d rather be loyal to my memory of the dish, and to my mother’s original recipe—processed cheese and all. It may not be gourmet, but it’s pretty damn great.

Tortellini Alfredo

Though this dish was once in my family's regular weeknight rotation, our collective nutritional know-better has relegated it to special occasions. On birthdays, it often appears in hors d'oeuvre form: toothpick-speared tortellini in a glorious pool of cream, butter and cheese. Please don’t omit the nutmeg—it’s an inspired touch.

1 cup heavy cream
1 stick unsalted butter
About 1 cup Parmesan cheese (the American canned version, if you want to keep it real), plus more for serving
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg, or to taste
1 pound frozen chicken or cheese tortellini

In a small saucepan, melt the butter and cream over medium heat. Gradually add the Parmesan cheese and stir until fully incorporated. [You may want to add more or less cheese, depending on desired thickness.] Season with pepper and nutmeg to taste. Keep warm, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the tortellini according to package instructions.

Drain the tortellini and return to pot. Pour over alfredo sauce and toss gently to combine. Serve in warmed bowls, with extra cheese and freshly ground black pepper.


  1. Ah yes, the joy of tortellini alfredo.
    In this same comfort category, I highly recommend the chicken cobbler recipe in Mark Bittman's NYT column today (March 10). I added some chives to the biscuit dough. James' verdict: "Mom, this is the best thing you have EVER made." Enough said.