The 25-year-old, who has spent four years competing in the U.S. IndyCar series, is aiming for a race seat in Formula One next year.
The 2010 Indianapolis 500 rookie of the year, who became the first woman to finish on the podium at an IndyCar street race when she was second in Houston in 2013, joined Sauber in February as an affiliated driver.
"Simona did a very solid job today. It was immediately clear that she is an experienced driver," said Sauber test engineer Paul Russell in a team statement.
"It was as good a start in a Formula One car as you could hope for, and you couldn't really ask for more today."
De Silvestro, who will test again on Sunday at the track outside Maranello, said her first lap in a Formula One car had been a special experience.
"The G-forces are significantly higher compared to what I was used to in IndyCar. Overall, I'm happy with my first day," she said.
"Physically I feel quite good, which is definitely a result of my preparation in recent months. I have been training really hard and this paid off."
The last woman to try and race in Formula One was Italian Giovanna Amati, who failed to qualify with Brabham in 1992.
Britain's Susie Wolff is due to take part in free practice at two races with Williams this season.
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