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Culinary Expert Amy Riolo on Pasta and Health

Chef and Mediterranean lifestyle ambassador Amy Riolo provides six things to look out for when you eat pasta so that you can make sure you are getting all the nutrients to enjoy as much as possible.

Amy Riolo

Amy Riolo is a best-selling author, chef, TV personality, and Mediterranean Diet expert.

Italian cuisine is renowned for its fresh ingredients and culinary traditions, but with the modern influx of processed foods, the health benefits of authentic Italian dishes often get overlooked. I sat down with Amy Riolo, an award-winning chef, best-selling author, television host, and Mediterranean lifestyle ambassador who was recently honored by the Embassy of Italy as Knight of the Order of the Star of Italy for her work.

Amy highlights the misconception surrounding Italian cuisine, emphasizing that its simplicity stems from the rich and complex traditions and attention to the quality of each ingredient: The way the ingredients are grown, the health of the soil, and limited chemical usage contribute significantly to the nutritional benefits of authentic Italian cuisine. Our conversation uncovers the secrets of enjoying pasta healthfully. 

Amy dispels the myth that eating pasta is unhealthy by pointing out that not all pasta is created equal. She identifies six tips to look out for when you eat pasta so that you can make sure you are getting all the nutrients to enjoy as much as possible.

1. Choose the Best Quality Pasta

Amy guides us through the process of selecting the best quality pasta, emphasizing factors such as the type of grain used, the quality of the raw ingredients, where the pasta is made, and the ideal drying process, which involves slow drying at a low temperature for optimal quality. Amy offers high-quality pasta available for purchase, ensuring that the same meticulous standards are applied.

2. Pasta Has Gotta be Al Dente

Amy explains the importance of cooking pasta al dente, not only for flavor and texture, but also for its health benefits. The more al dente (with more of a bite), the lower glycemic index and the more nutrients the pasta maintains.

3. Dress Pasta Properly

Once the best quality pasta is chosen and it’s cooked to its optimal al dente firmness, Amy shares how most of us go wrong. Often, we choose a jarred sauce that has preservatives, sugar, and corn syrup, which inevitably depletes a nutritious meal. Instead, Amy suggests we choose a nutritious sauce like a fresh pesto and think about dressing the pasta with forms of protein, vegetables, and legumes. Amy also highlights that good quality extra virgin olive oil is an essential addition to any pasta dish as it coaxes out more nutrients and keeps away harmful toxins (that can be) in the pasta.

4. The Just Right Serving Size

Amy reminds us that the heaping pasta dishes we see in restaurants are often far too generous. A proper serving size is ½ cup dried pasta, which makes 1 to 1 ¼ cup of cooked pasta. Pasta makes a great accompaniment to other nutritious ingredients.

5. Enjoy Pasta Fully

Amy emphasizes the importance of eating together and enjoying food communally. In Italy, family members prioritize meals shared together and even wait for each other to eat. Sharing meals together contributes to better absorption of nutrients, improved digestion, and enhanced well-being. Whether or not you can share a meal in person, Amy encourages sharing a meal together via FaceTime.

6. Embrace an Active Lifestyle

Finally, Amy shares that an active lifestyle goes hand in hand with enjoying pasta. This involves incorporating pleasurable physical activities, such as the traditional Italian passeggiata, or taking a walk after a meal. In Italy, an active lifestyle is part of the culture. People walk everywhere, frequently climb hills and stairs, and prioritize socializing while walking.

Amy Riolo demystifies common misconceptions about pasta and emphasizes the importance of not just what we eat but how we eat. By adopting a holistic approach that values tradition, quality, and communal experiences, we can fully appreciate the health benefits that authentic Italian cuisine has to offer. When time permits, try making this recipe for Italy’s oldest pasta, dating back to Magna Grecia, featured in Amy Riolo’s Italian Recipes for Dummies. Use her recipe for Grano Duro pasta dough.

Lagane Pasta with Chickpeas

Lagane Pasta with Chickpeas

Recipe by Amy Riolo
4.6 from 5 votes


Prep time


Cooking time




  • 8 ounces 8 dried chickpeas, covered in water, soaked overnight, and drained

  • 1 1 bay leaf

  • 1 clove 1 garlic, peeled

  • 3 teaspoons 3 unrefined sea salt or salt, divided

  • 4 tablespoons 4 Amy Riolo Selections or other good-quality extra virgin olive oil

  • 1 small 1 yellow onion, finely chopped

  • 1 small 1 chile pepper, seeded and finely chopped

  • 3/4 pound 3/4 cherry tomatoes, quartered

  • 6 6 fresh basil leaves, shredded, or 1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley

  • Black pepper, freshly ground, to taste

  • 1 1 recipe (roughly 1/2 pound) Basic Grano Duro Pasta Dough

  • Pecorino Crotonese, Pecorino di Moliterno, or Pecorino Romano cheese, freshly grated, for serving


  • For the Dough
  • Lightly flour your work surface and use a rolling pin to roll out the prepared dough until it is about 1/8-inch thick (or use a pasta machine as directed in the recipe — this setting is usually second to last or last depending upon your machine).
  • Fold the dough over itself in equally spaced quarter-folds.
  • With a sharp knife or pasta cutter, slice lengthwise strips of varying lengths, 5-6 inches long, and about 1/4-inch wide. Set aside.
  • For the Chickpeas
  • Place the prepared chickpeas, bay leaf, garlic clove, and 1 teaspoon salt in a large saucepan, cover with water, and bring to a boil over high heat.
  • Reduce heat to low, and simmer, covered, adding hot water if liquid is absorbed from chickpeas before they are tender, for 30 minutes or until very tender.
  • Drain and remove the bay leaf.
  • While the chickpeas are cooking,
  • In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat.
  • Add the onion, and sauté until soft, 3-5 minutes.
  • Add the chile pepper, tomatoes, and basil or parsley.
  • Stir in 1 teaspoon salt and black pepper to taste.
  • Allow to cook 5 minutes.
  • Add the cooked chickpeas to the tomato mixture, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes, or until chickpeas are tender.
  • To Serve
  • Bring a large pot of water to boil over high heat. Season with a teaspoon of salt, add the lagane, stir, and reduce heat to medium-low.
  • Allow to cook for about 10 minutes, or until pasta is al dente.
  • Drain the pasta, and toss it with ladles of the sauce.
  • Garnish with freshly grated Pecorino cheese and serve.

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