JThe wide variety of store-bought Alfredo sauces is proof that Alfredo sauce is a pantry staple for time-pressed cooks. Some versions feature roasted garlic, others basil, while others boast aged parmesan or a four-cheese blend. And you don’t need to limit the pot to pasta sauce. Think: macaroni and cheese casseroles, cannelloni, chicken or salmon, or even white pizzas. Basically, alfredo sauce is a creamy cottage cheese sauce and a useful staple marinara sauce-for quick meals or recipe shortcuts.
What is Alfredo sauce, exactly? It’s an American invention, based on an Italian dish. Fettuccine Alfredo is a Roman specialty. Legend Did the dish was created some time ago in the early 1900s based on an old recipe for pasta with cheese and butter. Alfredo di Lelio, restaurant owner Alfredo Alla Scrofa, prepared the dish using only pasta, a little pasta water, butter and young parmesan cheese (which melts easily and emulsifies into a creamy coating), for his wife who had lost her appetite after giving birth to their first son. It quickly became a popular menu item at his restaurant, where it was prepared at the table.
American versions of the sauce, on the other hand, are made with a sauce that uses cream. Store-bought versions usually contain thickening ingredients such as modified cornstarch, egg powder or xanthan gum and a variety of different spices such as bay leaves, black pepper or nutmeg. Most of them contain water and oil, “natural flavors” and a variety of other unappealing ingredients such as stabilizers and preservatives. High in salt and fat, the recommended serving is no more than ¼ cup. Here are a few to look for and one to ignore completely.
For Seafood: Trader Joe’s Lemon Alfredo Sauce
It’s a TJ fan favorite, and for good reason. Although the traditional Alfredo doesn’t contain lemon, this rendition gives a nice tangy kick to a rich, indulgent sauce that is, predictably, high in fat and sodium. It’s made in Italy, uses real Parmigiano Reggiano, has the fewest unpronounceable ingredients, and is truly delicious. You can really taste the true flavor of the cheese and it’s so thick and succulent you’ll want to thin it down a bit with some pasta water. Can you serve this to discerning gourmets? Yes, you really can.
For the pasta: Sauce Alfredo Bertolli D’Italia
Perhaps the only supermarket brand made in Italy with authentic Parmigiano Reggiano and Pecorino Romano, this Afredo sauce is relatively low in salt and the flavors of the cheese really pop. Unlike many brands that can stay refrigerated for a week or more, the label says the sauce should be used within 3 days of opening. An Italian food snob, I was impressed with the caliber of this sauce and would buy it again. It coated the pasta well and had a light, fresh quality that most brands lack.
For Every Day: Trader Joe’s Alfredo Pasta Sauce
A combination of Parmesan and Romano cheese along with onion, garlic and nutmeg gives this sauce a bit more depth than competitors. Although not something you would serve to guests, it is a step up from cheap brands. The sauce is thicker than most and clings well to pasta and vegetables. It’s also not as much of a salt bomb as other store-bought brands.
Best for Garlic Lovers: Rao’s Roasted Garlic Alfredo
Rao’s, which includes Parmesan and Romano cheese, is by far the most expensive sauce. Shopper beware though: if you fancy dining at the exclusive, eponymous restaurant – the original New York location doesn’t take reservations – know that there’s no Fettuccine Alfredo on the menu! I’m a fan of this one: this Garlic Alfredo is rich and creamy, the sweetness of the garlic making the sauce less salty despite its high sodium content. Because the combination of sweet roasted garlic and salty cheese is so robust, it’s an especially good option for serving with plain vegetables that need a little zest.
Best Gluten Free: Creamy Classico Alfredo
Classico Creamy Alfredo features heavy cream, parmesan and a healthy dose of black pepper. Like any store-bought sauce, it’s nowhere near as good as the one you’ll make from scratch or find in a restaurant, but this one is free of (gluten) autolyzed yeast extract some pots contain. Paired with gluten-free pasta, it makes a convenient and comforting meal for someone with celiac disease or who is simply avoiding wheat.
Best for Recipes: Prego Homestyle Alfredo
Cheddar cheese, bay leaves and wine are some of the curious ingredients in a sauce made by Campbell Soup Company, a brand that knows a pan plate. It is thicker than store brand and suitably creamy, but tastes more salty than cheesy. That said, it’s not a bad choice for a white pizza, spinach lasagna, or suiza enchiladas.
For bargain shoppers only: Kroger Four Cheese Alfredo Sauce
This affordable store brand comes with a money-back guarantee, which is a good thing, because despite a mix of parmesan, ricotta, romano, and provolone, it’s awfully salty, thin, and one-dimensional. (Surprisingly, you can’t taste any of these four cheeses!) As if that weren’t enough, the label says it includes “bio-engineered food,” which is federally required for products containing genetically modified ingredients.
When it comes to Alfredo sauces, it’s perhaps no surprise that the jars with the fewest of the best quality ingredients were the big winners. Find one you like and it could become a weeknight dinner staple.
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