How to Make Pasta that’s Perfectly Al DenteNovember 13, 2018
- Katrina IriberriWords
Every chef knows cooking it al dente is the best, nay, only way to have your pasta. But while the phrase gets thrown around more times than “bolognese” is mispronounced, I’m not entirely sure everyone knows what they’re talking about.
It’s a spaghettini-thin line between over/undercooked and al dente pasta. This is guide will help you stay on the right, delicious, and healthy side of that line. Note that I wrote the below with boxed pasta in mind. For fresh pasta, adjust the cooking times accordingly.
Use a lot of water
The guidelines differ on what is the correct amount of water to use for a pound of pasta, ranging from four to six quarts of water. The absolute minimum, though, according to Marcella Hazan, is three quarts, or roughly three liters. A lot of water is needed for the pasta to have space to move around and to prevent clumping.
Just keep stirring
All that water will come to naught if you just dump your pasta in and leave it until your timer rings. Alton Brown recommends stirring your pasta for the first thirty seconds. This is critical because most of the starch is released at the start of the cooking process. If your pasta is too close together at this point, that half-dissolved starch will act like a glue between your noodles. Stir it again every three to four minutes to prevent sticking (especially for pasta variants with strands like spaghetti, fettuccine, etc.). Just be careful not to over-stir, this will prevent the water from coming back to a boil.
Taste and test early
Remember, you can always cook something for a little while longer if needed, but you can’t reverse the process if you’ve overdone it. If your pasta packaging says that your fettuccine cooks in twelve minutes, start taste testing at the nine-minute mark. If there’s a white, starchy line in the middle of the pasta, then it needs more time. If it stretches and bounces back like a rubber band when you pull it at the ends, then it’s close to finished. As fun as it sounds, don’t test your pasta by throwing it at your wall. Pasta that sticks is already past al dente, so don’t even try it.
It’s safe to take your pasta out a minute before the indicated cooking time, especially if it’s going straight into a pan of warm sauce.
Do it the Italian way
Drain the slightly undercooked pasta and transfer it directly to the pan where your sauce is still cooking or warming. Mix the pasta in with the sauce using your tongs, adding half a cup of the pasta water if you think it’s too dry. Serve the dish immediately for best results.
In contrast with the typical Filipino way where the pasta is drained, transferred to a serving bowl separate from the sauce, and guests serve themselves accordingly, this method saves people from being the one who ends up with the last clump of sticky pasta molded into the shape of the bottom of the bowl.
This overcooked, gummy mess is the result of hot pasta continuing to slowly heat and cook itself well after you’ve taken it out of the boiling water. Also, the weight of all the pasta on top will press down on the pasta at the bottom, causing it to stick and clump. If you still prefer to serve your sauce and pasta separately, then I suggest using multiple shallow dishes for the pasta to give it air to breathe.
I hope the tips above help you make better pasta and protect your forever from lunchbox-shaped spaghetti. Do you have your own tips? Or do you just not get the fuss about cooking penne al dente? Let us know in the comments.