Pasta is an all-time favorite dish that can be cooked in many ways such as sautéed, baked, grilled, and even fried. However, nothing beats perfectly cooked al dente pasta. Al dente means “to the tooth” in Italian, which indicates that the pasta is cooked enough to be firm when bitten, yet tender enough to be chewed easily. Achieving this perfect texture isn’t challenging. With the right technique, anyone can cook pasta al dente.
Before delving into the details of cooking perfect pasta, let’s first discuss what types of pasta are best for achieving an al dente texture. Short pasta varieties such as fusilli, rigatoni, penne, and farfalle are perfect for al dente because they have a greater surface area that facilitates the absorption of sauces. Long, thin pastas like spaghetti and fettuccini are not ideal for al dente as they are difficult to cook evenly.
Without further ado, let’s discuss the secret to cooking pasta al dente. The first tip is to use a large pot of boiling, salted water. The common rule is to use a gallon of water for every pound of pasta. Make sure the water is salted enough to flavor the pasta. Keep in mind that pasta shouldn’t be cooked in a small pot as it can cause uneven cooking and the pasta might stick together.
The next step is to add the pasta to the pot once the water is boiling vigorously. Stir the pasta occasionally, especially during the first few minutes to prevent it from clumping together. It’s vital to follow the cooking time given on the package since it varies for each type of pasta. Cooking beyond the recommended time can lead to overcooked or mushy pasta, which isn’t desirable. To find out whether the pasta is cooked or not, taste a small piece. The perfect al dente pasta should be firm when bitten, but not raw.
After determining that the pasta is cooked al dente, it’s time to drain it. Use a strainer to remove the pasta from the pot, and save a cup of the starchy cooking water. The next step is optional but highly recommended. Refresh the pasta with cold water to prevent it from cooking further and remove excess starch. This reduces the chance of the pasta sticking together and maintains the al dente texture.
Now that the pasta is cooked al dente, it’s time to incorporate it into the sauce. First, transfer the drained pasta to the saucepan or skillet where the sauce has been prepared. Then use tongs or a slotted spoon to mix the sauce with the pasta. Add the starchy cooking water little by little until the sauce is coated on the pasta, and the sauce has the desired consistency. The starchy cooking water helps to bind the sauce and pasta together.
The final step is to serve the pasta onto a plate or bowl and garnish it with parmesan, parsley, or other herbs. Remember that pasta continues to cook after being drained, so it’s best to serve it immediately while it’s still hot. If you’re not quite ready to serve it, drizzle a little olive oil on the pasta to keep it from sticking together.
In conclusion, cooking al dente pasta isn’t rocket science. The key to perfect pasta is to use enough salted water, cook the pasta for the recommended time, save a cup of the starchy cooking water, refresh the pasta with cold water, and mix the sauce with the pasta while adding the starchy cooking water. With these tips, anyone can master the art of cooking perfectly al dente pasta. The next time you prepare pasta, follow these guidelines, and see the difference it makes on the texture of your pasta.