What Is Pesto Alfredo?

Fresh fettuccine pasta, a common pairing for Alfredo sauce

Short answer
When people talk about pesto alfredo, they are referring to an American creation where cooks mix pesto with cream, butter, and cheese. It's so unauthentically Italian that most Italian chefs wouldn't be seen dead serving it.

Long answer
Named after the Italian restauranteur Alfredo Di Lelio, alfredo in its purest form, is a sauce made from nothing more than butter and Parmesan. The dish was traditionally prepared in front of hungry diners and served with fettuccine. Since its creation in 1908, the great and good of Hollywood, including Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, and Jack Lemmon were loyal fans of the sauce and catapulted it to fame in the U.S.

American cooks quickly started expanding on the original recipe to include heavy cream and garlic, with some recipes even including parsley and nutmeg. Meat and seafood have also been introduced over the years, with chicken alfredo being a staple on many Italian American restaurants' menus.

However, travel around Italy and you won't see a cream-laden alfredo gracing the menus of any self-respecting restaurant, and you will never find pesto mixed with alfredo. Chefs and food critics have taken great pains to distance themselves from American appropriation and despair at the idea of pesto alfredo being sold abroad as an Italian delicacy.

Alfredo joins a long list of Italian-sounding foods that have been modified to within an inch of their lives. It's an uphill struggle to educate people that Caesar salad, pepperoni pizza, and pesto alfredo are no more Italian than vindaloo. We will, however, keep trying.