I wanted to impress the guy I had recently started dating. We were still at the, “Maybe you’d want to? Perhaps you’d be interested in?” stage. I was young, in college, and certain cooking for him would seal the deal.
I invited him over for Green Chili Chicken Enchiladas. He didn’t come. I offered to share my leftovers. He turned them down. The relationship was doomed. I should have known then, but he was cute. I decided learning to make his favorite dish was a better plan than kicking him to the curb.
Had I ended things promptly, who knows when I would have learned slightly burnt milk will always taste like slightly burnt milk, no matter what spices you add to it? It might have taken me decades to accept that fat free milk will not make creamy Alfredo Sauce. More importantly, I might have gone years without realizing Alfredo Sauce is okay, but an Alfredo Sauce with browned mushrooms, bright green peas and salty bacon is delicious.
My mother always said, “You have to kiss a lot of frogs until you find a prince.” For several months, I tried to make my own Alfredo Sauce. I tried thickening it with flour. This not only made it taste like flour, but often made it lumpy. I once pureed several dozen cloves of garlic with a little milk (you can imagine the results). Another time, I burned the milk. I tried cooking the pasta in the milk once. YUCK!
By the time I discovered Mr. Doesn’t Show Up For Dinner wasn’t my prince, I still hadn’t made a good Alfredo. But then I ate at Ristorante Amorama, a small Italian restaurant in Moraga, California. Clearly, I needed the right inspiration. Their sauce was unlike many cream sauces. It was smooth and didn’t glob onto the pasta. There were undertones of sweet roasted garlic and bright bursts of flavor from the green peas. The salty pancetta they added was pan-fried and gave the dish an almost nutty taste.
I was determined to make this pasta. There was no messing around. No flour. No fat free milk. No obscene amounts of garlic. I had learned from my mistakes. However, I discovered pancetta can be very expensive and there is a large cost difference between half-and-half and cream. By replacing the pancetta with bacon and sticking to half-and-half, I kept the cost down considerably. I have also made this dish with both shallots and regular white onions. I have to admit shallots are the best, but they can be more expensive. If you don’t have them on hand or need to save a little, finely minced white onion substitutes just fine.
Sometimes trying to make things work has its benefits, does it not?
Alfredo with Peas and Bacon
I have recommended a ½ tsp of salt and ¼ tsp of pepper in the recipe. With each step you will want to use a little salt and pepper to season your ingredients. If this doesn’t seem like enough salt or pepper in the beginning, just remember you can adjust the seasonings closer to the end. You can always add a little more, but you can never take any away, so use a light hand.
5 TBS olive oil
1½ cups mushrooms, thinly sliced
½ tsp salt, plus more to taste
¼ tsp pepper, plus more to taste
2 large shallots, minced (about ¼ cup)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups half-and-half
32 ounces linguini, cooked as directed
3 strips bacon, cooked crisply and finely chopped
1 cup frozen peas, defrosted
¼ cup Parmesan (optional)
Heat 2 TBS olive oil in a medium fry pan. Add ½ the mushrooms and season with a small pinch of salt and pepper. Sauté mushrooms over medium-high heat until brown. Remove from pan and heat another 2 TBS olive oil. Season and sauté the remaining mushrooms and set aside.
Note: You really need to sauté the mushrooms in at least two batches like I have listed here. If you don’t, they will be too close together and sweat instead of browning. If you still need more room, simply separate the mushrooms into three batches instead of two.
Heat remaining TBS of olive oil in the fry pan. Add onions and season with a pinch of salt and pepper. Sauté onions over medium heat, stirring frequently until translucent (about 3 minutes). Add garlic and sauté until fragrant.
Add half-and-half and reduce heat to low. Simmer, stirring frequently, until liquid has thickened and reduced by 1/3. Check the sauce’s seasonings and adjust as desired.
While the sauce is reducing, cook the pasta as directed.
Add bacon and peas to the thickened sauce. Toss pasta in the sauce, so it is thoroughly coated.
Plate family style or in large bowls and top with an optional sprinkling of Parmesan cheese. Serve immediately.
Recipe in print-friendly format