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What Does Al Dente Mean?

Rachael Ray Show logo Rachael Ray Show 8/13/2019 Rachael Ray Show Staff
a close up of pasta © Provided by CBS Interactive Inc.

Rach talks about cooking pasta "al dente" all the time — but what does it actually mean and how long does pasta have to cook for it to be al dente? 

Wonder no more!

WHAT DOES AL DENTE MEAN? 

"Al dente" literally means "to the tooth" in Italian (or think "with a bite," as Rach likes to say), which makes perfect sense because pasta cooked al dente is firm and should have a bit of a bite to it. 

(For the record, we get why this is Rach's preferred pasta cooking method. Who wants soggy pasta?!)

RELATED: Rach's Top Tips For Cooking Pasta

HOW LONG DOES AL DENTE PASTA TAKE TO COOK?

As Rach always says — like she recommends for her Pasta With Portobellos, Cherry Tomatoes and Dark Greens — cook your pasta 1 to 2 minutes LESS than the package directions for that perfect al dente chewiness. So if the package says 8 to 10 minutes, cook your pasta for 6 to 9 minutes. Why? Because the pasta continues to cook a bit after you take it out of the boiling water.

(Pro Tip: These days, some boxes even give you an al dente cooking time so you don't have to do the math!)

Keep in mind that if you're cooking your pasta in sauce after it cooks in the boiling water (honestly, who isn't?), you might want to consider cooking the pasta for even less (1 to 2 minutes shy of al dente), because it will cook even more in the sauce. In other words, if you want the pasta to still be al dente when it hits your plate, it needs to be cooked less than al dente in the boiling water. Who said cooking wasn't a science … ? 😉

HOW DO I KNOW WHEN PASTA IS AL DENTE?

a wooden board: al dente pasta © Rachael Ray Show al dente pasta
Now, as for the best way to figure out if your pasta is cooked al dente, the only real way to know is by tasting it. Taste one piece of pasta before removing all of it from the boiling water, and if it has the chewiness you desire, you're set. (Truthfully, all that matters is that you like how it tastes.) If it’s still crunchy, it’s not time to strain yet—unless you’ll be cooking it a bit more in sauce (see above).

You can also determine doneness by the looks of your pasta noodle after you take a bite, since al dente pasta usually still has a subtle white streak running through it. See what we mean?

Buon appetito! 🍝

Related video: How To Make Artichoke Pasta with Chicken & Radicchio By Rachael

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