I tried 3 easy pasta-sauce hacks from chef Alex Guarnaschelli, and they were all delicious

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The celebrity chef has several quick pasta-sauce tricks. Paige Bennett for Insider; Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images for NYCWFF

Pasta is by far my favourite thing to eat.

Not sure what to make for dinner on a busy weeknight? I’ll make an easy homemade macaroni and cheese. Date night at home? I’ll whip up a meatless carbonara. Feeling extra fancy? My partner and I will bust out our manual pasta maker and make noodles or ravioli from scratch.

But because it’s my favourite dish, I’m often stuck in a rut of making the same recipes over and over.

While promoting her recent ZENB pasta partnership, chef and Food Network star Alex Guarnaschelli recommended three pasta-sauce hacks that sounded easy and delicious. I knew I had to try them out for myself.

Read on to learn about the hacks and how they stacked up against each other.

The first pasta sauce involved sautéed garlic and a few other kitchen staples

Pasta 1 step 1
The recipe called for lemon zest and cheese. Paige Bennett for Insider

First, I wanted to try Guarnaschelli’s recipe that involved combining pasta with sautéed garlic, lemon zest, pasta water, oil, and cheese.

She also said you can easily make this sauce dairy-free with “either a pinch of ground-up almonds that are really toasted or a cheese substitute.”

I often toss pasta water and Parmesan together for a quick sauce, but I was intrigued by the addition of sautéed garlic and lemon.

This was just as easy as it sounds

Pasta 1 step 2 saute garlic
First, I sautéed the garlic. Paige Bennett for Insider

I started by boiling my favourite noodles in one pot while sautéing some freshly minced garlic in another.

In a bowl off to the side, I zested about half of a lemon and grated some Parmesan.

Pasta 1 step 3 add cheese and lemon
Once I combined all the ingredients, I also added a bit of reserved pasta water. Paige Bennett for Insider

Before the pasta finished cooking, I reserved some of the pasta water to bind the simple sauce and the pasta together.

Once the pasta drained, I poured the garlic-and-olive-oil mix, cheese, and lemon zest over the pasta and stirred until the cheese melted and coated the noodles evenly.

Pasta 1 step 6 add oil
I finished off the sauce with a drizzle of olive oil. Paige Bennett for Insider

I added the pasta to my bowl, then drizzled on some extra-virgin olive oil along with flaky salt and black pepper.

The great thing about these hacks is that they’re all very customisable.

I finished my noodles with EVOO, but Guarnaschelli said you can also use a nut-based oil, like walnut or hazelnut oil, for a twist.

I loved the contrasting flavours of this sauce

Pasta 1 step 8 final a
If I make this again, I’ll add more lemon zest. Paige Bennett for Insider

This pasta was unsurprisingly tasty.

It was similar to my pasta water-and-Parmesan pasta but with less cheese and a deeper flavour thanks to the garlic and lemon.

Next time, I’d actually double the zest, as I found myself wanting more of that to come through.

That’s really the beauty of this recipe — it’s very simple but customisable.

Sometimes I might want to drown my sorrows in more EVOO and Parmesan, other times, I’ll go light on the cheese and heavier on the lemon. On days I don’t have to be near anyone, I’ll add a heaping amount of garlic.

The Parmesan, lemon, garlic, and oil all go so well together that I don’t think any ratio variant could mess this up.

The second sauce hack involved a lot of sour cream

Pasta 2 step 2 warm sour cream
Sour cream is a the base of the second recipe. Paige Bennett for Insider

I’ve never made a pasta sauce with sour cream, and I was both worried and intrigued by warming it up as a sauce base.

But I knew Guarnaschelli wouldn’t steer me wrong.

Her tips for this sauce were very customisable depending on taste preferences and what you have on hand.

“You can melt a container of sour cream in a pan gently and throw anything in there: some spices, chopped-up herbs, grated lemon zest, lime zest, shrimp, nuts. Then add the hot pasta right in,” she told Insider. “So delicious, so good, so easy.”

Pasta 2 step 1 ingredients
I also added some herbs and spices. Paige Bennett for Insider

I went for lemon zest, parsley, garlic powder, onion powder, chile powder, salt, black pepper, and a little Parmesan cheese alongside the sour cream.

This was another quick meal, and there were no hiccups with the heating of the sour cream

Pasta 2 step 3 make sauce
I was nervous about heating the sour cream, but it turned out fine. Paige Bennett for Insider

I boiled my pasta in one pot while I let the sour cream warm up over a low flame in another. I also made sure to stir the sour cream frequently to prevent any burning or crusting.

Just before the pasta was done, I stirred the seasonings, cheese, herbs, and lemon zest into the sour cream.

Then, I drained the pasta, added the sour-cream mixture, and stirred until all of the noodles were coated.

I was surprised by how much I loved this sauce

Pasta 2 step 5 final
The sour-cream trick was so easy. Paige Bennett for Insider

This easy sauce was delicious, and I loved that it used up so many random bits from my kitchen.

The flavour was tangy and savoury. The sour cream was complemented by the lemon zest and nicely contrasted by the seasonings.

The taste vaguely reminded me of sour cream-and-onion potato chips — but in a good way.

I know sometimes you can sneak sour cream into dishes and not really taste it, but this isn’t one of those cases. I wouldn’t recommend it for people who don’t like the dairy product, but I love sour cream and thought the sauce was so delicious and dynamic in flavour.

Despite the praise, I want to note that I don’t think this pasta will reheat well, so it’s probably best not to make a large batch.

The third sauce also made use of ingredients that might’ve otherwise been wasted

Pasta 3 step 1
The third sauce starts with blistered tomatoes. Paige Bennett for Insider

Guarnaschelli’s third sauce hack involved cooking a few cherry tomatoes one might have on hand and combining them with pasta water, Parmesan, Dijon mustard, and balsamic.

This is a great recipe to use up random things in your fridge before they go bad.

I used Guarnaschelli’s cooking tip to help the sauce bind better with the pasta

Pasta 3 step 2
I added reserved pasta water into this sauce as well. Paige Bennett for Insider

I blistered the tomatoes in oil in a small saucepot, as the chef instructed, then I added in some reserved pasta water, mustard, salt and pepper, balsamic vinegar, and Parmesan cheese just before the pasta was ready.

The real trick I learned from Guarnaschelli about making amazing pasta is to pull it from the boiling water a minute early and adding it to the saucepan with the sauce.

“No matter what sauce you’re making, make it more flavorful by binding the pasta and the sauce a minute longer to get to know each other before you eat them together,” she told Insider.

Binding the pasta and sauce made for the perfect texture

Pasta 3 step 4
This sauce had a great umami flavour. Paige Bennett for Insider

This sauce hack might be my favourite.

I don’t always like tomatoes in my pasta, but they were balanced out with the mustard and balsamic.

The dish had such depth of flavour — a ton of umami — and the texture was awesome. The noodles were perfectly al dente from cutting their boil time by a minute and letting them cook in the sauce, and the sauce coated the noodles in a super silky way.

This method was a lot different from my normal pasta sauces, and I can’t wait to add it to my regular rotation.

With simple ingredients and little effort, these hacks completely upgraded my favourite meal

Pasta 3 step 7
I loved all of the hacks, but the tomato one was my favourite. Paige Bennett for Insider

Although the third hack — with tomatoes, Dijon, and balsamic — was my favourite of the three, I definitely plan to add all of them to my regular rotation of pasta sauces.

I love that no matter how many times I make each one, I’ll never get bored with the flavours because I can mix up the seasonings, ratios, and fresh ingredients depending on my mood and what I have in my fridge or pantry.

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