What I Cooked (and Learned) with Giada De Laurentiis

Would you be brave enough to cook with a famous chef? iVillage food editor Lisa Cericola makes lunch with Giada De Laurentiis and learns a few valuable tips

Do you remember that horrible moment in high school (or maybe your last meeting at work) when the teacher asks a question and everyone stares at their laps, praying that they won't be picked? That's exactly what happened at a Giada De Laurentiis event for her Target cookware line that I attended last Friday.

When Giada, spoon in hand, cheerfully asked for a volunteer sous chef to help her cook lunch, an entire table of editors shifted in their seats. Not because Giada isn't warm and friendly (which she is) or that her recipes are complicated (which they aren't) -- the idea of cooking with a pro is intimidating. After the longest 10 seconds ever, I raised my hand, bravely (stupidly?) stepping up to help her prepare Linguine with Sun-Dried Tomatoes, Olives and Lemon. I'm a food editor, I can handle making pasta, right?

(I'll pause here to tell you what you really want to know: Up close, Giada is just as tiny and perfect as she looks on TV. She had on a killer blue dress and a sparkly diamond ring. It is hard to not feel like an oaf next to her. There you go.)

Whenever you cook with someone, be it your grandmother, friend or even a celebrity chef, you learn something new. Everyone does things a bit differently in the kitchen, and watching someone else chop and dice and saute makes you reevaluate how you chop and dice and saute. Sometimes you'll find that you've been doing something completely wrong all these years.

Not surprisingly, Giada is a great teacher and she passed on lots of useful tips on cooking pasta and other kitchen skills. Thanks to her, I now know the correct way to zest a lemon, something I do all the time at home. (Tip: Hold your microplane horizontally across your bowl, then gently grate the lemon across.)

More pasta-making wisdom from Giada:

  • When cooking pasta, Giada says she adds "a handful" of kosher salt to the pasta water. I have always used a generous pinch of salt, but she says that's not enough to really season the pasta. If your noodles are boiled in properly seasoned water, you won't have to be heavy-handed with the salt in your sauce or toppings.
  • When you drain your cooked pasta, never, ever put oil on it. Some poor stage manager did this to Giada's linguine and was swiftly (but nicely) corrected. Giada says that oil will make the sauce slide right off and pool underneath the pasta, instead of clinging deliciously to each noodle.
  • Put enough water in your pasta-making pot so the noodles can move around and get thoroughly cooked. Giada recommends filling it three-quarters of the way full.
  • Don’t worry if you can’t find the specific type of pasta mentioned in a recipe. If you can’t get your hands on bucatini or orechiette, you can easily substitute ziti or spaghetti.
  • For the best cheese flavor, don’t buy pre-grated parmesan, which often has additives. Go for a block of the real thing, grate it in your food processor and store it in an air-tight container in your refrigerator.
  • If you’re carb-averse, make pasta for your family and save some of your pasta sauce (almost any sauce will work) to top a piece of chicken or fish for yourself.

So how was the pasta we made? The group pronounced it simple, fresh and delicious, like most of Giada’s recipes. Even though I was sweating and trying not to spatter my dress with pesto, the recipe was truly foolproof. Unlike in high school, it was totally worth raising my hand.

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