What is al dente pasta?
Pasta is a classic favorite dish around the world, but why is it so difficult to cook pasta without it coming out too mushy, too sticky, or too hard? Everyone has their own opinion when it comes to cooking up the perfect pasta. All we want is to have that pasta goodness cooked the right way. For most of us, we prefer our pasta al dente (translation from Italian, meaning ‘to the tooth’), with just the right amount of chewiness.
What do you need to cook pasta?
Get yourself situated with the proper pasta cooking utensils. You’re going to need a large pot (because how can you cook only a little bit a pasta? I say nonsense!). Grab tongs, a colander, your favorite pasta, water to boil, and some salt.
Cooking Directions for Pasta
Fill the pot with water and set your stove on high heat. Bring the water to a rapid boil. If you hate waiting for water to a boil (especially if it is a large pot), place BoilingBeeper™ in the pot. Without any better way to know when the water is boiling, I end up checking every few minutes or so. It’s annoying! I want an easy way to alert me when the water is ready.Helpful Tip: To prevent the pasta from sticking together, use at least 4 quarts of water for every pound of your pasta.
Add Salt to the water with at least a tablespoon — a little more is fine too! This adds a little extra flavor to that pasta that you’re cooking up.
Once the water is at a rapid boil, add in your pasta into boiling water. If you are cooking a longer pasta like spaghetti, don’t break the pasta in half if possible! The pasta will soften up within 30 seconds or so, and fit into your pot (with or without the help of tongs).
Stir that pasta! As the pasta begins to cook, stir well with tongs to keep the noodles from sticking together. Keep stirring routinely to keep that pasta from sticking together.
Test the pasta! Carefully remove a noodle or two for taste and feel. You should always follow the cooking time on the package, but sometimes the pasta could cook faster or slower depending on variances in stove heat and the pot that you are cooking in. Be sure to always taste the pasta before draining it, in order to make sure the texture is right. The cooked pasta should be just the right texture, al dente—a little chewy.
Drain the cooked pasta in the colander. Give the colander a shake and a good few seconds to let the water fully drain from the pasta. If you will be serving the pasta hot, add the cooked pasta back into the empty pot and pour in your sauce right away. If you will be making a pasta salad, run noodles under cold water to stop the cooking.
*Bonus: There has been debate about using the water that the pasta cooked in. We will be posting about that in an upcoming blog post!
Pasta, Made How The Italians Do
Let’s revisit the perfect al dente pasta. Translated to literally be ‘to the tooth’ in Italian, it’s loosely translated to meaning ‘with a bite.’ It’s incredibly important to know that pasta continues to in the short amount of time from removing the hot pot from the stove and draining it. If you are looking to get that pasta in the perfect state of al dente, then it is wise to drain the hot pasta just before it reaches the al dente cooking time listed on the box of you pasta box.
It’s always a good idea to cook according to the cooking time on the pasta box, but don’t worry about sticking to it. Test the pasta throughout the pasta cooking process. With different quality of pots and high temperatures on the stove, it is common for the box cooking directions to be a few minutes off from the perfect al dente cooking time. This is especially true for cooking non-wheat and alternative pastas.
Once drained, it’s incredibly important to then mix the pasta with the sauce that you will be using. There are two major ways that Italians combine their pasta with sauce. With hot pasta and hot sauce, cook a quick sauce in a sauté pan and mix in the hot drained pasta. Add a splash of cooking water, toss, and serve. With hot pasta in a cold sauce, place all the ingredients into a serving bowl, using olive oil and ingredients of choice, then mix in the cooked drained pasta directly into the bowl to. Toss and serve!
Which Pasta Shape, Which Sauce?
The Italians have mastered developing pasta shapes to catch, trap or escape their saucy counterparts.
As most Italian cook experts agree, long smooth shapes are for oily sauces (pastas like: spaghetti, linguine, tagliatelle) where you do not want to trap the oil.
Clever sauce catching shapes, and wide fresh pastas to catch all the flavour of hearty meat- or tomato-based sauces (these include: shells, rigatoni, fusilli, pappardelle).
The tiny pasta shapes or short-cut fresh pasta, are for broths and soups.
Hint: It is worth noting that each shape, size and type will have a different optimum cooking time.