I consider myself a closeted Alfredo enthusiast.
Silly as it may sound, it’s the truth. I’ve always been partial to a robust red or even delicate pink sauce to dress my noodles. And if there’s one thing about my personality that hasn’t budged in over thirty-six years, it’s my stubbornness about sticking with what I like.
Scorpios, am I right?
When a dinner companion chooses classic chicken Alfredo, I can’t help but longingly stare at that silky white sauce. But I also can’t bring myself to veer from my regular order, so this scenario typically ends the same way each time, with me asking my most favorite dinnertime question:
If the other diner has obliged (always a family member, friend, or partner – don’t worry, I avoid doing this with strangers), I end up blissfully devouring a bit of each, both red-sauced and Alfredo, truly the best of both worlds.
My heart – and my taste buds – were set on the acidic brightness of something tomato-infused, but lush and cheesy was a flavor profile that I secretly lusted after – though I continued to rarely order something coated in a sauce that fit these parameters for myself.
These shared Alfredo indulgences were undeniably delicious with grilled or breadcrumb-coated chicken, but I felt the restaurant versions that I eagerly snuck a few bites of were missing a boost. There was no oomph, no real vibrance.
The dishes felt one-note, and I was left craving something green.
Playing with comfort foods in my own kitchen, I love to experiment with adding new colors and textures. And just because you spoil yourself with something decadent doesn’t mean you can’t sneak in something healthy.
And no, refraining from eating too much cheese to begin with just doesn’t work for me as a solution to this problem. Whoops, there goes my Scorpio again.
I don’t often feel the need to add a savory animal protein to a dish that’s already overflowing with richness. To me, Alfredo is just begging to be lifted with something green and crisp to balance it out.
On my first go-around in my home kitchen, I roasted hearty slabs of broccoli in the oven and painted them with a lemony garlic-parsley oil. It was heavenly, but I found that the broccoli alone checked every box in terms of what I was looking for.
It ended up being easier yet just as satisfying – and with fewer dishes to wash in the end as well – to simply blanch the broccoli florets in the pasta pot. This method also keeps their bright, vegetal flavor front-and-center.
I debated the benefits of using a butter and cream base for the Alfredo sauce versus one that starts with a roux made with equal parts fat – usually butter – and flour. Both can end up just as velvety as what you’d get at an elegant Italian bistro, but I find the roux-based version can taste and feel a little chalky if it isn’t executed properly.
And although traditional Alfredo sauce doesn’t start with a roux, the result is guaranteed to thicken up, which can be a boon to home cooks.
With cream and butter, using dairy in the right ratio is key, but starchy pasta water or even egg yolks can encourage creaminess if things start to go in the wrong direction. with or without a roux to begin, both versions thicken as they cool But when it’s done right, the butter-and-cream-based sauce tends to stay silkier.
I may keep eating off others’ plates while dining out, but when I’m home with this broccoli Alfredo, this particular parmesan pasta fest is strictly BYO bowl.Print
When you’re craving comfort food, fresh broccoli and tender strands of pasta draped in velvety parmesan Alfredo sauce is a no-brainer.
- 8 ounces broccoli florets, cut into bite-size pieces (about 2 1/2 cups)
- 1 pound fettuccine
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 3 large cloves garlic, minced
- 1 cup whole milk
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
- 1 teaspoon coarse salt, divided, plus more to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
- 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
- Crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
- In a large pot of salted boiling water, add the broccoli and cook until crisp-tender, about 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to an ice bath to immediately stop the cooking process. Drain after 5 minutes and then set aside.
- Add the fettuccine to the boiling water and cook until al dente, according to package instructions. Before draining, reserve 1 cup of the starchy cooking water. Drain the pasta and toss it with the olive oil to prevent sticking.
- Return the pasta pot to the stove over medium-low heat and add the butter. Once it begins to lightly foam and sizzle, add the garlic and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Pour in the milk and cream. Turn the heat up to medium-high and simmer, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened, about 3-5 minutes.
- Stir in the parmesan, salt, white pepper, and nutmeg. Cook for 1 more minute. Fold the fettuccine and broccoli into the sauce, splashing in a few tablespoons of reserved cooking water at a time so the sauce clings to the pasta and is thinned to the desired texture. Continue tossing the pasta and broccoli in the warm sauce over low heat until fully heated through. Season to taste with additional salt if necessary.
- Divide the pasta among plates and garnish with grated parmesan and crushed red pepper flakes if desired before serving.
- Prep Time: 5 minutes
- Cook Time: 25 minutes
- Category: Pasta
- Method: Stovetop
- Cuisine: Dinner
Keywords: pasta, alfredo, sauce, broccoli
Cooking By the Numbers…
Step 1 – Blanch the Broccoli
Rinse the broccoli, then cut the florets into bite-size pieces.
The easiest way to do this is to hold the broccoli with the stem facing up on your cutting board. Use your chef’s knife to make downward cuts, separating the florets from the thick center stem, but leaving a little bit of stem intact. If you cut through the fluffy head, this will result in a big mess of florets and buds left behind on the cutting board.
Prepare a large mixing bowl of ice water filled about halfway, and select a pot that’s large enough to cook the pasta. Fill it with water, and add a few tablespoons of salt. Bring the water to a boil.
Add the broccoli and blanch until it’s bright green and crisp-tender, for about 2 minutes. A sharp knife should be able to easily slide into a stem, but you don’t want it to be overly soft. It should still have some crunch.
Using a slotted spoon, transfer the broccoli to an ice bath to immediately stop the cooking process and preserve its bright color. Wait about 5 minutes, then drain and set the broccoli aside.
Step 2 – Cook the Pasta
Add the fettuccine to the boiling water and cook until it’s al dente, according to the package instructions. This will take around 8 to 12 minutes.
Before draining, reserve 1 cup of the starchy cooking water. It will help the Alfredo sauce adhere to the noodles and can also be used to thin the sauce.
Drain the pasta in a colander. Transfer it to a mixing bowl and toss with the olive oil to prevent it from sticking together.
You can also cook the fettuccine in your electric pressure cooker to shave off a few minutes of cooking time.
Step 3 – Make the Sauce
Place the pasta pot back on the stove over medium-low heat and add the butter.
Once it begins to lightly foam and sizzle, add the garlic. Stir for 1 minute, and then pour in the milk and cream. You can substitute the milk and cream with 3 cups of half-and-half if that’s what you have available.
Turn the heat up to medium-high and simmer the sauce, stirring occasionally, until it has thickened slightly. This will take about 3 to 5 minutes.
The final consistency of the Alfredo sauce is up to personal preference, but you want it to be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon to ensure that it will cling nicely to the pasta and vegetables. Keep in mind that it will also thicken up a bit when you add the parmesan.
Stir in the parmesan, salt, white pepper, and nutmeg, and cook for 1 more minute while stirring to incorporate the cheese into the sauce.
You can use black pepper if you don’t have white pepper on hand. The white pepper just keeps the sauce a uniformly light color and provides a milder flavor. Whatever you choose, freshly grind the peppercorns for the boldest bite!
Step 4 – Fold the Pasta and Broccoli into the Sauce and Serve
Add the fettuccine and broccoli back to the pot and fold them into the sauce, splashing in a few tablespoons at a time of the reserved cooking water so the sauce clings to the pasta, and is thinned to your desired consistency.
Continue tossing the pasta and broccoli in the warm Alfredo sauce over low heat until they’re fully heated through. This will take several minutes.
Season to taste with additional salt if necessary.
Divide the pasta among plates, and garnish with grated parmesan and crushed red pepper flakes if desired.
A Penne for Your Thoughts
Or a rigatoni. The pasta choice is up to you when you make this dish.
A thick, flat noodle like fettuccine or linguine works well to lap up the Alfredo, but tubular varieties also have that built-in tunnel that’s perfect for trapping sauce.
Crushed red pepper flakes may not be the norm, but we’re flying by the seat of our spaghetti here based on what tastes, feels, and looks good. And I find that the dynamic red specks give a welcome touch of color and a zesty burst of spice.
I occasionally add fresh herbs like licoricey basil or bright parsley for a clean flavor. How will you make this dish your own? Share your crafty ideas in the comments below! And don’t forget to give this recipe a five-star rating if you loved it.
If this carby, veggie-packed Alfredo recipe has you all fired up, give these other dishes that combine broccoli and pasta a spin next:
- Ricotta, Pecorino, and Mozzarella Lasagna with Mushrooms and Broccoli
- Cheesy Charred Broccoli Pasta Bake
- This Broccoli and Garlic Sauce Will Soon Be Your Go-to
Photos by Fanny Slater, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Originally published by Lori Jo Hendrix on September 6, 2014. Last updated on February 2, 2022.
Nutritional information derived from a database of known generic and branded foods and ingredients and was not compiled by a registered dietitian or submitted for lab testing. It should be viewed as an approximation.
About Fanny Slater
Fanny Slater is a home-taught food enthusiast based in Wilmington, North Carolina who won the “Rachael Ray Show” Great American Cookbook Competition in 2014, and published her cookbook “Orange, Lavender & Figs” in 2016. Fanny is a food and beverage writer, recipe developer, and social media influencer. She was a co-host on the Food Network series “Kitchen Sink,” was featured on Cooking Channel’s longtime popular series “The Best Thing I Ever Ate,” and continues to appear regularly on the “Rachael Ray Show.”