What does “al dente” mean when cooking pasta?

Al dente is a fancy term for pasta that’s fully cooked, but not overly soft. The phrase is Italian for “to the tooth,” which comes from testing the pasta’s consistency with your teeth. [wikipedia]

How does one cook pasta “just right”? According to the National Pasta Association:

  1. Boil 4 to 6 quarts of water for one pound of dry pasta. (You can divide this recipe depending on how much pasta you are cooking.)
  2. Add the pasta with a stir and return the water to a boil.
  3. Stir the pasta occasionally during cooking.
  4. Follow the package directions for cooking times. If the pasta is to be used as part of a dish that requires further cooking, undercook the pasta by 1/3 of the cooking time specified on the package.
  5. Taste the pasta to determine if it is done. Perfectly cooked pasta should be “al dente,” or firm to the bite, yet cooked through.
  6. Drain pasta immediately and follow the rest of the recipe.

So next time you can appear to be cultural at an Italian restaurant by saying to your waiter, “May I have my pasta al dente please?” … Um… actually nevermind. 😉

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