How to make pasta al dente – 10 rules on how to cook a perfect pasta al dente

Pasta is one of the most representative food of Italy abroad. If you show a plate of spaghetti with tomato sauce to any person on the planet, he/she will for sure say or think of Italy. But then, when you try to explain the concept of pasta al dente, a chasm opens up. After all, even if no Italian would ever admit it, making pasta perfectly al dente is not at all easy.

What is the meaning of pasta al dente?

‘Pasta al dente’ – these words indicate a degree of cooking of the pasta that leaves the pasta slightly crunchy, tender on the outside and compact on the inside and it all obviously depends on the cooking time of the pasta.

Why is recommended to eat pasta al dente?

Many wonder why experts recommend eating pasta al dente. The answer is very simple: pasta al dente is more digestible, and in particular it is good for those suffering from lazy intestines and slow digestion. In addition, pasta al dente is a panacea for those suffering from diabetes because it helps to reduce the glycemic index and increases the sense of satiety.

Yet, there are those who just can’t manage to stop cooking the pasta a few minutes before the time indicated on the package. Not to mention the time that is needed to mix the pasta with the sauce: often the pasta must be sautéed in a pan together with the sauce, and therefore you have to calculate the times very well to remove it from the boiling water before it has reached the perfect cooking point.

Which side are you on? 

Pasta al dente or overcooked? 

Let’s see 10 rules on how to cook a perfect pasta al dente

Here are all the tips you may not know for cooking pasta in the right way:

  1. Choose a good quality pasta
  2. Choose the right pot for height and width
  3. Use the right amount of water for the quantity of pasta
  4. Add the salt only when the water is boiling
  5. Add the pasta only when the salt is dissolved and the water is boiling again
  6. Mix the pasta in the first 30 seconds
  7. Cook the pasta 1 minute less than the time indicated on the package
  8. Always taste your pasta while cooking
  9. Set aside a ladle of cooking water
  10. Stop cooking the pasta if you want to enjoy it cold

Now let’s see them a little bit more in detail.

1) Choose a good quality pasta

For a perfect al dente pasta, the raw material does a lot. For this, choose a good quality pasta. The criteria for selecting it are very simple. First, trust your eyes. The color of the raw pasta must be homogeneous amber yellow, there must be no light or dark spots. “Listen” to your pasta. When you break it raw, it must make a nice dry sound.

Watch out for the cooking water. If it gets too dirty, it means that the pasta releases too much starch. This element guarantees the cooking resistance: the less starch it releases, the easier it will be to obtain a good, digestible al dente pasta.

At the end of cooking, an al dente pasta will be elastic. It means that the gluten is of good quality and that the structure has allowed homogeneous rehydration during the cooking time of the pasta. One of the laboratory tests dedicated to this food is extra-cooking: a good quality pasta tolerates well the mistakes of overcooking. This can make the difference in serving a plate of pasta al dente or overcooked pasta.

2) Choose the right pot for height and width

To get a perfect al dente pasta, you also need the right pan. It must be cylindrical and high because a generous amount of water is needed.

3) Use the right amount of water for the quantity of pasta

The traditional recipe books mention that for every 100 grams of pasta, one litre of water and 10 grams of salt are needed. A little too much for today’s standards I would say. Drop to 8 grams of salt and increase the amount of water, especially if you want to make spaghetti.

4) Add the salt only when the water is boiling

The cooking time of the pasta is made up of fundamental moments. For example, there is the right one in which to add salt. The water must vibrate, that is, you must see micro bubbles which indicate an optimal temperature for the dissolution of the salt crystals.

5) Add the pasta only when the salt has dissolved and the water has returned to boiling

Once you’ve thrown in the salt, watch out for the grains. They must melt before adding in the pasta. Adding the salt will slightly lower the temperature of the water, so you will have to wait for it to boil before throwing the pasta in. Only when the water reaches full boil again will it be the right time to throw in the pasta all at once. And remember: no oil in the pot during boiling, it could affect the taste of the pasta.

6) Mix the pasta in the first 30 seconds

Remember to mix the pasta in the first 30 seconds of cooking. Use a wooden spoon to protect the natural taste of the pasta.

7) Cook the pasta 1 minute less than the time indicated on the package

If you have not previously tested the pasta you are cooking and you want to prepare it perfectly al dente, remove it from the heat one minute earlier than the time indicated on the package. Check the tightness and make your evaluations.

8) Always do the tasting test

In the cooking time of the pasta, remember to taste it. Under the teeth you will feel if the pasta has soft and hard areas, a sign of poor pasta processing. In fact, cooking must be homogeneous, both outside and inside. Only by tasting, you will understand if you are approaching the right cooking time for pasta al dente.

9) Set aside a ladle of cooking water

Before draining the pasta, set aside a ladle of cooking water. It will help you in case the dish appears too dry and stringy with the addition of the dressing.

10) Stop cooking the pasta if you want to taste it cold

If you want to eat a plate of cold pasta like a pasta salad for example, drain it and rinse it under the running cold water. In this way the cooking will stop, guaranteeing an excellent al dente pasta. 

Hope these 10 rules will help you cook the perfect pasta al dente and remember that pasta al dente is a must not only for a matter of taste but also of healthiness. 

How do you like your pasta? Are you a pasta lover?

I do enjoy eating pasta once per week. Here are a few of my easy, fast and super tasty pasta recipes:

Enjoy them!

Popsicle Society
Popsicle Society

I love traveling, cooking and enjoying this beatiful world. 
I’m a life lover! Simple as that!

41 thoughts

  1. You can always cook pasta longer, but you can’t un-cook it, so it’s better to move your pasta from pot to pan sooner rather than later. Choosing a good quality pasta is definitely very important. Thanks for sharing and have a lovely Friday! Aiva 🙂

    1. You are very right, once is over cooked you cannot change it anymore and beside being mushy it will also be difficult to digest 😉Thank you very much for stopping by Aiva! Wish you a lovely day! 😉

  2. A very well thought out set of rules. I like to finish cooking pasta in my sauce, so I stop the cooking about2 to 3 minutes before the package directions.

  3. Yeah choose the right pot, 🤓 that’s a big one for my one cup of noodle…😅 oops it was pasta 😋 the similarity confused me 😂 It’s a quick one.. Lovely recipe Ribana 💐Have a lovely week ahead..🤗

      1. Hey Ribana, yes very much so, and very filling – although, l eat it in the simplest fashion because there are so many other ingredients that make cooking a nightmare for me these days.

  4. Thank You for all the tips on how to cook pasta correctly. I also cook the left overs and even fresh in different ways. Sometimes eating with only vegetables. When its only for me or for us only family members, I try many different ways and tastes to making it interesting. Sometimes the left overs I make like noodles with Vegetables and eggs or with other different things that go with it. Just like cooking rice in different ways being an Asian ~ Sri Lankan as well as Western cooking. I also have seen on TV various cooks and chefs doing various things even like baking 🙂 <3 🙂

    1. Yes, that’s the beauty of cooking, that we can always experience and only our imagination is the limit ☺️ There are so many ways of cooking and enjoying food! Leftovers can also be used in so many ways 😉 And Asian and western cuisine is a great combination 😉 Have fun and enjoy cooking 😉

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