I’m a terrible cook, and even I could master these 7 surprisingly easy pasta dishes from celebrity chefs this year


  • As lockdown hit the US in March, I decided that it was time to expand my cooking skills — especially when it came to pasta. 
  • So I turned to three of my favorite celebrity chefs — Ina Garten, Gordon Ramsay, and Martha Stewart — for inspiration. 
  • I whipped up their pantry-friendly dishes, learning how to make pasta sauce from scratch, mastering a bolognese, and saving mishaps with extra cheese. 
  • Here are the seven pasta recipes that finally helped me gain some confidence in the kitchen. 
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In a year as challenging as 2020, it's probably no surprise that the dish I kept turning to for comfort was pasta. 

But it wasn't just because there's something immensely soothing about a big heaping bowl of noodles (although that definitely helped). Before this year, I was a terrible cook — and pasta was one of the few dishes that actually felt achievable.

So I looked to some of my favorite celebrity chefs — Ina Garten, Gordon Ramsay, and Martha Stewart — for guidance. In the process, I made endless pasta sauces, tackled my first carbonara, and discovered a penne that could warm up any soul on the coldest winter day. 

There were some mishaps for sure, but now I've got pasta recipes in my repertoire for every season of 2021. 

The first pasta I made this year was also the easiest: Ina Garten's broccoli and bow ties.

Broccoli and bow ties was the very first recipe that Garten shared with her followers after lockdowns spread across the US. The "Barefoot Contessa" star immediately pivoted her Instagram content, sharing pantry-friendly recipes with her 2.9 million followers every day. 

Garten promised that her broccoli and bow ties pasta was "crazy easy," and could be easily adapted with whatever was in your pantry.

Read more about my experience living like Ina Garten in lockdown for a day and making this bow ties and broccoli pasta dish »

I made my very first homemade pasta sauce for Garten's recipe, and loved incorporating all the fresh ingredients.

Before 2020, my version of cooking pasta at home involved two ingredients — noodles from a box, and sauce from a jar. The only herbs or veggies that made it to the plate were courtesy of Prego or Rao's.

But Garten's recipe showed me that a little effort can go a long way as I whipped up my first pasta sauce — made with just lemon zest, butter, olive oil, and minced garlic. 

And I loved how refreshing the dish tasted. The garlic and lemon added a burst of flavor, while the sharp Parmesan cheese added a hint of richness. I first made this dish back in May, and it's perfect for the springtime. 

Get the full recipe for Ina Garten's pantry-friendly pasta here »

Then I stumbled upon Gordon Ramsay's recipe for a 15-minute bolognese pasta and fell in love with it immediately.

I was watching "Gordon Ramsay's Ultimate Cookery Course" — Ramsay's 2012 cooking show that I had recently discovered on Amazon Prime — when I first saw his tagliatelle with sausage-meat bolognese. 

The dish had just five main ingredients, and it looked absolutely delicious. So I decided to try making my first bolognese from scratch.

Ramsay's dish was so simple, it gave me the confidence to start improvising and playing around with flavors.

I love a thick pasta sauce, so after I made Ramsay's recipe twice, I started adding a can of crushed tomatoes into the dish as well. I also throw in Italian parsley, which helps brighten the flavors and add some color to the dish. 

Ramsay's tagliatelle with sausage-meat bolognese also proved to me that you can make a restaurant-quality pasta dish in just 15 minutes. Talk about a huge win!

Get the full recipe for Gordon Ramsay's 15-minute tagliatelle bolognese here »

Over the summer I also whipped up my first carbonara, which came with a few mishaps.

I first heard about Giorgio Locatelli's recipe for spaghetti alla carbonara when I interviewed Michelin-starred chef Josh Emett, who told me it was a "must-have in any cook's repertoire."

Since I was slowly trying to improve my own kitchen skills, it seemed like the next perfect recipe to master. 

This silky and rich pasta requires just five main ingredients: spaghetti, guanciale or pancetta, black peppercorns, eggs, and pecorino Romano cheese.

Locatelli's carbonara taught me a vital (and seemingly obvious) lesson: Always read the recipe fully before you start cooking.

I've had my share of mini cooking disasters as I've spent more time in the kitchen this year, like sending cocktails flying over my living room floor or getting a wooden spoon stuck in my blender. 

But Locatelli's carbonara reminded me how important it is to actually read over the recipe a few times so that you can prep before things get cooking. 

I used the wrong pan for this recipe, and modified some measurements while forgetting to adjust others. 

Thankfully, I was able to fix a lot of issues with a lot more cheese (a life lesson in itself, really) and still came out with a deliciously rich carbonara. I can't wait to pull out this recipe again, especially when we get back to having dinner parties. 

Get the full recipe for Giorgio Locatelli's spaghetti alla carbonara here »

Garten's favorite summer pasta taught me that a little prep can go a long way when it comes to taste.

Garten's summer garden pasta was probably the simplest recipe I've made over the last year — and yet it had some of the richest flavors. 

That's because while the "Barefoot Contessa" star's dish only has five main ingredients — angel hair, Parmesan cheese, cherry tomatoes, garlic, and basil — it has one very important step. You need to soak the tomatoes, garlic, and basil in olive oil for four hours.

That extra step resulted in some of the most incredible tomatoes I've ever tasted.

Marinating in Garten's mixture for four hours injected the tomatoes with richness. Even though I usually love heavy red-sauce pastas, these tomatoes were able to carry the entire dish on just the strength of their intense flavor. 

This dish also taught me the importance of balancing textures. I almost made this pasta with some extra spaghetti I had lying around, instead of going to the store for angel hair (which I hadn't cooked with in the past). But as I dug in, I realized that the dish needs angel hair's airy and fluffy noodles to counteract the tomatoes' richness. 

Since I now almost always have tomatoes and basil in my kitchen, this has been a great pantry-friendly recipe to add to my repertoire. 

Get the full recipe for Ina Garten's summer garden pasta here »

Martha Stewart proved to me that you could make a full pasta dinner with just one pan.

I first learned about Stewart's one-pan pasta recipe when I interviewed her back in March. 

"It's delicious, and you can do so many different kinds of pasta and so many different flavorings," she told me. "Add tomatoes, the spaghetti and basil, and a little bit of salt and water, the cheese at the end. It cooks in 20 minutes and you're done!"

Stewart's dish reminded me how soothing cooking can be.

Since Stewart's recipe requires very little prep, most of the cooking involved just delicately turning the linguine with my tongs. As the delicious aroma from the tomatoes and basil filled my kitchen, the entire experience felt almost therapeutic. 

But the one-pan pasta also helped teach me to trust my instincts. Stewart's website said that the pasta should take "about nine minutes," while also stating that the water will be "nearly evaporated" when the dish is ready — which, for me, didn't happen until around 20 minutes. 

The pasta was perfectly cooked when I plated it, although a little bland. Next time I'll try making Stewart's dish with chicken stock instead of water, or sauté the onions and garlic first for a little more flavor. 

Get the full recipe for Martha Stewart's one-pan pasta here »

As temperatures started to dip, I turned to Ina Garten's five-cheese penne.

After a summer of deliciously light pastas, I was craving something with a little more heft — and a lot of cheese. 

Once again, the "Barefoot Contessa" had exactly what I needed in the form of her five-cheese penne. 

Garten's pasta includes Pecorino Romano, Italian fontina, Italian Gorgonzola, fresh mozzarella, and ricotta cheese, along with penne pasta, crushed tomatoes, basil, and heavy cream. 

This was the first baked pasta dish I've ever made, and it was one of my favorite recipes from the entire year.

The five-cheese penne turned into a beautiful golden color after baking in the oven for 17 minutes, with inviting chunks of mozzarella poking from the top. 

And while I had worried that five different cheeses — plus plenty of butter and cream — would be a bit too much, Garten's penne was rich and soothing without sitting heavy on my stomach. 

As we enter what will no doubt be a very long and hard winter, I'm glad that I have an extra-soothing pasta recipe to help me ride out the storm. 

Get the full recipe for Ina Garten's five-cheese penne here »

Another new winter favorite is Garten's weeknight bolognese pasta, which takes just 30 minutes.

This was another recipe that Garten shared early on during the pandemic, telling her followers that it could be made with a variety of meats or veggies — making it especially pantry-friendly. 

I followed her recipe to a T the first time I made this dish, using ground sirloin, orecchiette, and dry red wine, along with crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, garlic, basil, and heavy cream.

Garten's bolognese is a great new twist on a classic recipe.

The "Barefoot Contessa" star has made a career of giving traditional dishes a modern twist, and her bolognese is no exception. While I almost never go for shell pasta (either at a restaurant or in my own kitchen), Garten's dish showed me that orecchiette was the perfect vehicle for this recipe — catching some of the sauce in every bite. 

Garten's pasta also taught me more about the importance of seasoning as I tasted how the nutmeg in the bolognese balanced the kick from the red pepper flakes. And then there was the freshly-grated Parmesan cheese on top, which melted beautifully on the warm sauce. 

Get the full recipe for Ina Garten's easy weeknight bolognese here »

Overall, this year has taught me many lessons — both in and out of the kitchen.

I've learned about making pasta sauces, balancing contrasting flavors, improvising recipes, and fixing mistakes with lots of cheese. 

Next year will (hopefully) look a lot different, but I know one thing will remain true long after 2020 is behind us: You can never go wrong with some pasta. 

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