Learn What "Al Dente" Means in Cooking Pasta and Rice

Spaghetti and Meatballs
Spaghetti and Meatballs. Linda Larsen

Al dente refers to the desired texture of cooked pasta (and rice) in Italian cooking. It literally means "to the tooth". When the pasta is cooked al dente, there should be a slight resistance in the center when the pasta is chewed.

In order to reach this end result, you must make sure the pasta is boiling freely in the water. and that there is a lot of water for the amount of pasta. For one pound of any type of pasta, you'll need about 4 to 5 quarts of water.

Make sure the water is boiling rapidly before you add the pasta. Add a handful of salt; the pasta won't taste salty. Italians say that pasta water should taste like the sea in order for it to be properly seasoned.

Immediately stir the pasta well so it doesn't stick together. Put the timer on for a few minutes less than the instructions say. Stir the pasta every few minutes to make sure it is moving freely in the boiling water. Make sure that you reach all the strands or pieces of pasta when you stir. Some of the smaller pastas, such as orzo, can sink to the bottom of the pot and stick. Get all the way to the bottom of the pot when you stir. It's easier to stir long strands of pasta, such as spaghetti and fettuccine, with a long pair of tongs rather than a spoon.

If foam rises to the top, you can stir it down or add a bit of butter to break the surface tension. You can also lower the heat a bit; keep it on medium high at the lowest.

When the timer goes off, taste the pasta. It should be tender, but still firm in the center. It should not taste uncooked. If you look at the pasta after you have bitten off half of it, you should not see a white line in the pasta. If there is a bit of translucency in the center, the pasta is done. That is al dente.

Immediately drain the pasta and add to a pot of pasta sauce, or rinse with cold water to hold for later. If you are adding the pasta to a sauce, reserve about 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water. Add that water to the sauce, a little at a time, to make it creamier as you toss the pasta.

Pronunciation: All DAN Tay

Also Known As: to the tooth

Alternate Spellings: Al Dante

Examples: Cook the pasta until al dente.