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How to Tell When Pasta Is Al Dente

By Annie Petito Published

Al dente pasta will look dry at the very core.

Pasta recipes almost always call for cooking noodles al dente, meaning they are tender but still have a somewhat firm texture (“al dente” is Italian for “to the tooth”). But what exactly happens to dried pasta as it reaches the al dente stage?

Dried pasta is a complex of starch granules held together by protein.

When pasta is boiled, the starch granules on the surface of the pasta absorb water and swell, and some eventually burst, releasing starch into the cooking water. The granules just beneath the pasta’s surface don’t become as hydrated and merely swell without bursting.

Finally, the starch at the very center of the pasta becomes only partially hydrated, so the center retains a slightly firm bite and a faint white core that means it’s been cooked al dente.

Cook Pasta Al Dente When Making These Recipes

Recipe Spaghetti with Pecorino Romano and Black Pepper (Cacio e Pepe)

With just three main ingredients (cheese, pepper, and pasta), this Roman dish would be the best quick meal we ever tasted. As long as we could keep the sauce from clumping.

Recipe Penne Arrabbiata

What’s the trick to making this classic Italian sauce spicy but balanced? More chiles.

Recipe Pasta with Garlic and Oil—Aglio E Olio

The marriage of cooked and raw garlic as well as a generous splash of extra-virgin olive oil just before serving make this simple dish shout with flavor.

Recipe Pasta alla Gricia (Rigatoni with Pancetta and Pecorino Romano)

The porky-peppery flavors of pasta alla gricia deserve big recognition.

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