How to cook pasta al dente
Pasta al dente requires boiling water. The reason why we wait for the water to boil before adding the pasta is because we want the pasta to be in contact with the water for as little time as possible. Boiling water also helps gelatinize the starches in the pasta making it digestible and ‘al dente’.
How to cook pasta al dente – your 5-step plan:
1. Never add oil to pasta water.
Adding oil to the water will not keep your pasta from sticking together and when you drain the pasta, the oil will cling to it preventing the special sauce that you made especially, from sticking to it. To avoid blobs of pasta sticking together while boiling, use a lot of water. This will allow the starches to disperse in the water and prohibit it from acting like glue.
Use one liter of water for every 100 grams of dry pasta
2. Boil the water
Keep the water boiling and don’t simmer. Allowing the pasta to cook in plenty of boiling water, is the only way to make it al dente. Lowering the heat to simmer will result in mushy pasta.
Adding salt to cold water will delay the time for it to reach boiling point. However, adding salt to boiling water raises its temperature, thus making it very hot and temperature-perfect for the pasta to be cooked.
How much salt you add is a personal thing. All you need to remember is that the pasta is saltless and will absorb the flavor from the water (or sauce) you put it in. Therefore, we recommend that you add the amount of salt to suit your own taste and to taste it before you add the pasta. Avoid over-salting the water – it does not need to taste like the sea!
3. What is pasta al dente? Bite it!
The only way to find out if your pasta has reached the point of al dente, is to ‘bite’ it.
The pasta should be a bit hard but still soft enough to bite without giving you a crunchy sound. For al dente pasta, there should be a thin segment in the middle of the pasta that has a paler color than the rest. Al dente pasta should have the slightest speck of white in the center when you bite into it.
If you don’t see any pale pasta in the center, then your pasta is overcooked and is already past the al dente stage.
Even though your pasta has reached al dente in the boiling water, when you lift it from the water, it will continue to cook. This is the main reason for cooking pasta to al dente. You really don’t want to add an already overcooked pasta to a sauce where it will eventually turn into a sticky mess.
4. To drain or not to drain
If you are in the habit of draining pasta into a colander in a sink, this is a habit we recommend you try to break. Here is the reason why: while pasta is cooking, lots of sticky stuff called ‘starch’ (as mentioned in number 1), will arrive at the bottom of the water. You will want to avoid pouring this sticky stuff all over your pasta, the best way to do this is to stop draining it into a colander.
We recommend preparing a sauce and when your pasta has reached al dente, lift it from the water directly into the sauce.
Be sure to save some of the pasta water should your sauce begin to get sticky as the pasta absorbs it. Add a little at a time to loosen the sauce.
5. Serve as soon as possible
Like almost all food, pasta is always best served freshly cooked and hot. Adding grated Parmesan, extra virgin olive oil, Pecorino Romano or fresh herbs like basil and parsley, is a guaranteed way to enhance its flavor.
Be sure to have everything ready at the table for serving. Never serve it in a dish and never serve it with a knife or spoon – only a fork