Al dente is a term that is used all the time when we’re talking about pasta and describes the ideal consistency of pasta when it’s been cooked. The literal translation of the phrase is ‘to the tooth’ because pasta that is perfectly al dente will be quite firm to bite, not completely soft and limp. However, it is possible to overdo - or rather underdo - the al dente, and in Italian this is known as ‘molto al dente’ where the pasta is just solid and undercooked. To avoid pasta that is either too soft or too hard, you've got to strike a balance.
Often, the trick to perfectly cooked pasta is to cook your pasta for slightly less than the recommended cooking time. For example, if you’re cooking dried pasta (pasta secca, as it is known in Italian) then if the packet says you should give it 10 minutes in the water, after 8 minutes you should take out a piece and test it, and if it is still a little bit firm when you bite into it then it is al dente, and ready to be drained and served.
Similarly when cooking pasta fresca (fresh pasta) be careful not to leave it in the boiling water for too long. Fresh filled pasta often takes as little as two minutes to be cooked to perfection, and if you leave it in for much longer than this, it can become soggy and limp and sometimes it will disintegrate entirely. Here we also recommend that you test a piece after a couple of minutes of cooking, to avoid overdoing it. Though do note that some types of fresh pasta, for example paccheri and orecchiette, may take a little longer to cook, so you will want to test these after they’ve been in the water for a few more minutes!
For more specific information about how to make sure you perfectly cook your pasta, do take a look at our helpful guide which talks about all the different elements that you need to consider!
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