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Pasta cooked 'al dente', am I the only one who doesn't like it that way?

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It seems that the preferred way to cook pasta is 'al dente', but I can't bring myself to make it that way. The texture of it seems too pasty, or chewy. I cook pasta until it has a much lighter texture (I guess mushy is the only way to describe it). I'm sure it's because that's the way my parents cooked it when I was growing up.

Can someone explain the 'al dente' thing to me? I've stopped ordering pasta in restaurants because it's almost always undercooked (unless it's in a baked dish, which seems to negate my aversion). But, I would like to give it a try again with some background as to why it's preferred.

Is it just me, or are there other over-boiled pasta lovers out there?

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  1. I like pasta cooked al dente because it has texture. I also hate vegetables that are cooked to the point they've got no bite.

    I noticed that Asians like pasta cooked till it's soft. I don't think I've ever had an Asian pasta dish cooked al dente. Every time my relatives would visit, my mom would have me cook my linguine with clam sauce "fully cooked, not like what you usually do."

    9 Replies
    1. re: Miss Needle

      Now that you mention it, the Asian dishes that I've had do have 'soft' pasta. So maybe I'm not alone after all!

      I agree that veggies need to have some bite to them. Not sure why I don't like pasta the same way.

      1. re: Reston

        It took me quite some time to get used to al dente pasta since I grew up with over-cooked, mushy spaghetti per my Asian family. And now, with my grown up taste buds, I can enjoy both. But though I like to think myself rather adept in the kitchen, I still have no concept of when pasta is al dente when I'm making it.

        1. re: JungMann

          In this case, I think overcooked is preferable to undercooked. I know that some chefs are so terrorized by the al dente requirement that they end up serving crunchy pasta and risotto. If it's still dry in the middle, that's not al dente, that's raw.

      2. re: Miss Needle

        I think that one other issue is that many of the dishes are made w/fresh noodles which don't really cook up al dente.

        1. re: Miss Needle

          I always think of al dente for semolina type pastas and Asian noodle dishes are more egg noodles at least flour based? Maybe that's why Asians seem to prefer overcooked pasta? Or, maybe "overcooked" is subjective since they seem to think al dente is undercooked...

          1. re: chowser

            Yes, I would agree with you about the flour/egg/rice/mung bean based pastas. Even the ones that are dried are not semolina based.

            1. re: Miss Needle

              Mung bean noodles are an altogether different thing. They have to be soaked prior to use and they're not boiled, or even cooked per se. You add them to whatever hot liquid you're serving them with and let them simmer/steam a minute or two. They're an ingredient in a sort of cabbage stew that a Chinese friend taught me how to make, which is why I know what to do with them. You can't really compare them to flour-based pasta.

            2. re: chowser

              The optimal point for the different Asian noodles can vary; the desired texture is typically softer than Italian pasta, but one tends to seek out renditions that retain a certain resilence and chew.

            3. re: Miss Needle

              I know this is an old post/thread but I wonder about your thoughts regarding "Asians" cooking their pasta till it is soft.

              It is true that Chinese pasta = noodles (various varieties) are cooked so there is no hard center (no "sang kwat", or no "live bone") but properly done pasta is not mushy. Wonton noodles, in particular, are prized when they are "bouncy", springy to the bite [in Cantonese, "song hau"], have definite texture and definitely most certainly not mushy/congealed together due to being overcooked. Various restaurants/vendors will have their own freshly made wonton noodles, cooked expertly by their chefs (or by the person who made them :-) ) and will be prized by customers accordingly. I suppose one might need to go to such places - e.g. in large Chinatowns or to East/SE Asia - for ample selections of such places. Even if one cooks the mass-manufactured "fresh" stuff available in Chinese groceries in the USA one can get noodles with some resistance to the bite by cooking the noodles VERY briefly in a large pot of water, basically tossing a bundle into boiling water and immediately stirring/loosening it around till the water just comes back to a boil. 30 seconds or so. :-)

            4. I tend to like my pasta just past the traditional al dente stage. I, too, like the slightly softer texture. I like it to still have some chew, but not a firm bite in the middle.

              The higher quality the pasta, though, the more al dente it can be and I'll still be happy with it.

              6 Replies
              1. re: ccbweb

                I agree with ccbweb. Just a bit past al dente, but before mushy.

                1. re: danhole

                  I'm with you. I don't like to taste the flour or the wheat product. But just a few mins past the al dente, I couldn't be more mad at myself when I've gone to far. Then Its "pasty' and I'm reminded of that glue that I used to eat back in elementary school!

                2. re: ccbweb

                  Ditto that. Rustichella suggests 9 - 11 minutes for their spaghetti and I find that 10 is perfect--just too-firm enough to continue cooking while soaking up the sauce. The final result has integrity without that underdone texture that "those in the know" seem to think represents some sort of pasta pinnacle.

                  1. re: MacGuffin

                    I'm with you. Just a little past al dente - it seems like it accepts the sauce better.

                    1. re: bayoucook

                      Does it seem to you also that East Asian pasta never seems mushy, even though it's soft? I'm guessing that different wheat, different recipes, etc. account for this. I'm guessing it's held to a different standard because it's really not the same thing at all (and why am I suddenly craving sesame noodles Szechuan-style?).

                      1. re: bayoucook

                        +1, absolutely

                  2. Question (for the OP): What is your favorite pasta brand and what does it taste like to you?

                    Thanks

                    6 Replies
                    1. re: Chinon00

                      The brand I buy most often is Barilla. It has a nice flavor, but I do find that I boil it much longer than the box recommends. I've also tried the wheat pasta which I like too. I grew up in the Boston area eating Prince spaghetti (anyone remember 'Wednesday is Prince Spaghetti day'?

                      1. re: Reston

                        "Nice" isn't too precise. Not to be difficult but what specific flavor(s) do you taste in your pasta if any? What about it tastes good to you independent of any sauce?

                        Thanks!

                        1. re: Chinon00

                          It's difficult to describe, but I guess the flavor is similar to that of French bread with a nutty aftertaste. I think the flavor itself is good, but the texture seems to be what I dislike. If it's not tender (boiled to death) then it feels like I'm chewying on gum. Maybe I'm just inept at getting it to a proper al dente. Are there other pasta brands that you would recommend? I'm always up for trying a new one.

                          1. re: Reston

                            I WOULD suggest that you go to a restaurant known for their pasta dishes to get a good idea of what "al dente" is. However, as you've stated above you've found pasta in restaurants "undercooked". I really wish that I had this problem because I find that pasta is one of the most ruined dishes in restaurants, precisely for being OVERCOOKED.
                            This whole "chewing gum" texture that you mentioned I'm not familar with but it doesn't sound desirable. As the name suggests al dente means that the pasta is firm "to the bite". Not hard or undercooked but retaining significant body. If you don't like it cooked this way, that's cool. What's cooler is the fact that you've given the idea this much thought, time and effort.

                            Thanks

                            1. re: Chinon00

                              I think 'significant body' sounds like what I should be looking for. I've been assuming that al dente meant 'dense and chewy'. I will try to make some pasta again using the exact directions for al dente and see if I can get that 'significant body' without the 'dense and chewy'.

                        2. re: Reston

                          "Aaanthoneee...!" To be precise, "...in the Italian north end of Boston..."

                      2. Pasta cooked barely enough: al dente
                        Pasta cooked slower: al lente
                        Pasta cooked too long: al lamente

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: DonShirer

                          The first joke I remember making as a child was when my mom let me test the pasta to see if it was done, and I said "Uh-uh. It's al cemente!"

                          1. re: pamiam

                            I'm absolutely a fan of properly cooked, al dente pasta. I can't abide fully cooked pasta. Of course with regards to vegetables, Italians would generally prefer them fully cooked and fork tender. The concept of al dente doesn't translate from pasta to vegetables in the Italian diet.

                            R. Jason Coulston

                        2. I too don't eat pasta al dente and grew up in an asian home that serves all noodles/pasta fully cooked. I just order it a bit more well done when I'm out. Loooove pasta.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: QueenPeach

                            I eat my instant ramen very al dente. I start eating it while it's still in a block. But the noodles are already deep-fried, so it's not like chewing on raw pasta.

                          2. Well, restaurants rarely cook pasta al dente (that's one reason *I* rarely order it at restaurants!), so you normally shouldn't have a problem. Just ask - "I would like my pasta very tender, rather than al dente" and I am sure they would be happy to oblige.

                            I like my pasta al dente.

                            I like many of my hard vegetables on the tender side.

                            1. I eat Barilla pasta and usually find I cook mine about two minutes less then what the package claims.

                              Also, i don't order pasta in restaurants because I find that it is always served to me too cooked.

                              5 Replies
                              1. re: rindinella_k

                                "Also, i don't order pasta in restaurants because I find that it is always served to me too cooked."

                                You should switch restaurants! ;-)

                                Most "Italian" restaurants near us cook the hell out of their pasta. Who knows why? I wish we had greater Italian influence in our area, but we don't have very many serious restaurants to choose from that would serve a proper plate of pasta. I think San Francisco and New York get the lion's share of good Italian restaurants.

                                R. Jason Coulston

                                1. re: Jason_Coulston

                                  Jason
                                  I know many resturants "pre-cook" pasta in large quantities and then portion it off and reheat it as needed. They do it in many neighborhood restaurnt/pizzarias, where the kitchen staff is small (sometimes just one or two) and time saving shortcuts are necessary evils. Unfortunately, the food always suffers and in the case of pasta, it just kills the texture.
                                  Sometimes, the way around that is to order a less common type/shape of pasta, EG: Fettucine, or cavatelli in the hope that they will have to make it to order. I do the same thing when I order fried rice.

                                  1. re: Tay

                                    And the way to get freshly scrambled eggs (American style, sigh) is to order them moist....

                                    1. re: Tay

                                      What is "the same thing" when ordering fried rice? It's better not to use freshly cooked rice for that, but even if I wanted the chef to do that, I don't see how I could manipulate the order to make it happen.

                                      1. re: DeppityDawg

                                        I order fried rice without onions or something similar...then they'll make the order fresh though they won't use fresh rice to do it.

                                2. I think that the greatest obstacle to a discussion like this is that "al dente" and "overcooked" are subjective terms. It's too bad we don't have some measure, like tensile strength, to discuss, but then we would have brand and flour-type differences to deal with.

                                  What if we put a strand on an accurate scale and measured the weight at which it breaks when "cut" with a pastry scraper. Or something else...

                                  8 Replies
                                  1. re: Gualtier Malde

                                    What they should do is make pasta that's hot pink when it's dry, and then turns pasta-colored as it absorbs the hot water. Some people like to leave a little core of hot pink: undercooked. The precise moment all the color disappears from the center: al dente. One second after that: overcooked.

                                    And preferably, they should find a disappearing hot pink dye that does not give us cancer.

                                    1. re: Gualtier Malde

                                      I remember something about throwing a piece of spaghetti on the wall, if it stuck it was done, if not, give it more time....wow, where did I pull that out of?

                                      1. re: justagthing

                                        "I remember something about throwing a piece of spaghetti on the wall, if it stuck it was done"

                                        That brings me back. That sounds like grandma logic to me. At least, that was my own grandmother's logic. I have no idea if that notion is based in anything close to fact, but I do remember her teaching me that trick as a youngster.

                                        R. Jason Coulston

                                        1. re: justagthing

                                          I knew people that used that method, but they would toss it on the side of the refrigerator rather than the wall.

                                          1. re: justagthing

                                            I learned that ages ago too, but I think actually by that point it's overcooked, at least for my taste. I like my pasta to have a bite to it, and I have found that I get a nicier chewiness with artisanal dried pastas. One interesting note - I've seen a lot of complaints over the years about the pasta being too al dente at Batali's restaurants, though I've not noticed it myself at Lupa and Otto (not been to the others).

                                            1. re: MMRuth

                                              It's interesing that you mention Batali's restaurants. When I first saw the thread title, I thought of an experience at Lupa when some friends and I ordered penne and it was slightly undercooked (very al dente but still pretty tasty). That's probably the only pasta I've ever in a restaurant that was though - often it's cooked to death.

                                              I usually cook De Cecco for about 2 minutes less than the box says and then start testing it. It can be a pretty fine line between crunchy / pleasantly al dente / limp soggy noodles

                                              1. re: ms. clicquot

                                                Yes - I do find the times on boxes too long - I wonder if they put different times on boxes not for export?

                                            2. re: justagthing

                                              I used that method once when visiting my Mom, and the pasta remained as a memorial on the wall for years!

                                          2. I feel your pain!!! I am exactly the same way....... My aversion actually extends to "thick" pasta. I'll eat lingune (if necessary) but as far as the spaghetti options, I really don't like anything bigger than cappelini. I just kind of smile and nod when people start talking about how great it is al dente.

                                            1. It’s all a matter of personal taste. A very good friend of mine that I grew up and went to school with loved the spaghetti and meatballs that were served once a week at the grammar school we attended. The spaghetti was cooked to death and so starchy that it stuck together in a lump in the bowl. The sauce was sort of an industrial tomato without any additional flavorings or spices and the cheese was a government supplied Velveeta type, shredded so coarsely that it didn’t melt on top. He loved it and has been trying, unsuccessfully I might add, to duplicate it since 1959. The irony of this is that he’s a third generation Italian on both sides. He lived with his Grandmother who immigrated to America from Sicily as a teenager. I can attest to the fact that she was an outstanding cook and cooked all of her pasta al dente. Go figure!

                                              2 Replies
                                              1. re: TomDel

                                                TomDel, your post made me smile because my elementary school served the same spaghetti and meatballs although circa 1985!! Has your friend tried the canned Chefboyardee (I might have spelled that wrong)? It comes close to the childhood version.

                                                1. re: moymoy

                                                  I’m sure he has. Didn’t they also make spahgettio’s or something with a similar name? He came pretty close years ago when he was a teenager by overcooking regular spaghetti and then letting it sit in the colander until it dried out and formed a solid clump at the bottom and all stuck together. To this he added heated up Hunts tomato sauce topped with grated yellow American cheese. His grandmother just sighed and mumbled something to me in Italian, which of course I didn’t understand a word of (I thought “iceabox” was Italian for refrigerator until I was twenty something). While he was concocting this mess, I was eating her homemade gnocchi’s in Sunday gravy and have never had any better since then.

                                              2. One of the reasons why al dente is lauded is that it preserves the rough texture of the semolina flour - which helps the sauce cling to the pasta and permits it to permeate into it a bit. Overcooking the pasta causes these protein structures to become bloated and collapse, making a smoother texture, so that the sauce slides off the pasta, and sealing shut the surface area, preventing the fuller absorption of flavor into the pasta.

                                                But hey, if you don't like al dente, then you don't like al dente, so it doesn't really matter...

                                                1. Sorry, original poster, but I think your affinity for over-cooked pasta just comes from being raised in America where that's (unfortunately) how its served. Me, I always ask for it al dente and rarely does the restaurant get it right. Usually overcooked. (the al dente "rule" goes for pasta asciutta; dried, not fresca, fresh)

                                                  I cant say I understand why you would prefer mushy pasta; pasta has to have "bite" for texture and to make a sophisticated dish; I can't imagine Pasta Carbonara "mushy"; blech.

                                                  1. I prefer my pasta soft, too, but I can tolerate al dente pasta in restaurants. What I can't stand is al dente risotto, it tastes raw to me, must be because I'm used to asian style rice. So I never order risotto in Italian restaurants.

                                                    1. Try cooking it a little bit softer than 'al dente', cool with cool water, drain well, cover and leave it alone for an hour or two. Then you can reheat quickly in another pot of water, drain and serve.

                                                      The result? A tenderer, but no mushy, texture. As though the noodle had time to become thoroughly hydrated.

                                                      I can tell the difference, and I like it.

                                                      5 Replies
                                                      1. re: wayne keyser

                                                        I read through this thread and have come to the conclusion that we have no clear definition of al dente. When I lived in Italy, it was cooked to the point that there was no raw taste of flour. Rather like rice that is cooked, you can cut it and note the change in translucency as it cooks toward the center. But I suppose just how cooked you like it remains a subjective thing. Like when are potatoes overcooked. To me, however, the point of it has to do with flavor and sauce. An al dente pasta still tastes of the wheat, like a good bread. And in Italy, sauce is used as a foil to the taste of the pasta. In this country, sauce and cheese tend to be the point of the dish and pasta is used as a vehicle to carry the sauce, which is often overthick and overcooked. It's rather like preferences in pizza--thick crust or thin and tons of topping or a simple classic one.

                                                        1. re: Father Kitchen

                                                          Goodness Father, you sound just like an Italian. LOL
                                                          I think Americans tend to over-sauce just about everything, so it doesn't surprise me that the specific taste of the pasta is indiscernible.
                                                          But taste is, indeed, subjective.

                                                          1. re: Gio

                                                            I do think that is why we American's, in general, tend to not care about pasta texture. When you use less sauce, the pasta has to have enough cooking time left in it to absorb some of the sauce. If it is cooked beyond al dente, the sauces slides right off. When you pile it with bad sauce and other crap, you don't notice it slides off and that the pasta hasn't absorbed any of the sauce.

                                                            1. re: sisterfunkhaus

                                                              This!! It took me a good while to appreciate pasta with less sauce than the U.S. norm, but I certainly do now.

                                                              That said, I think, like everything else food-related, that it boils down to personal preference. While you might not really be able to get the exact pasta texture you want at a restaurant, you certainly can at home. Enjoy it there the way you like it.

                                                          2. re: Father Kitchen

                                                            I'm on board with you. I've had plenty of pasta with Italian friends, and we never have anything approaching a "crunch" factor in the pasta. The point is for the pasta to remain proud in its integrity and shape.

                                                        2. I don't think that any of us need to feel "held hostage by”, or to be "hostile to” rules like these. I try to give my best effort to appreciate food rules but my personal taste don't irrevocably line up with them.

                                                          3 Replies
                                                          1. re: Chinon00

                                                            I didn't think this was about rules. The simple question that began it was about taste preferences. It's nice to know you are not alone. For example, I live in the Chesapeake region and have lived on Puget Sound and San Francisco Bay. And I still haven't learned to like crab cakes. Thank God there is no rule that says I must.

                                                            1. re: Father Kitchen

                                                              Taste preference versus what? There are certain "rules" that we’ve all heard of:

                                                              1) Never order steak well done
                                                              2) Never grate cheese on seafood
                                                              3) Never put ketchup on a hot dog

                                                              Each has merit however they don't have to necessarily be complied with. Preparing pasta al dente is another one of these rules.

                                                              1. re: Chinon00

                                                                Hmm, no ketchup on a hot dog? I never heard of this and I'm a 65 yr old native born American.

                                                                Everyone has the right to find what makes sense to them, there is no one way to do anything. Having said that, I like my pasta almost done - tiniest bit of chalky white in the center - because I toss my pasta with the sauce and by that time it is perfectly done.

                                                          2. I tend to be of the thinking that al dente is better texture overall, but so agree that well done pasta is a requirement in how some dishes are prepared. I grew up eating pasta that was overly done mushy at home all the time and grew tired of eating it all the time(same thing with veggies--unfortunately home and school lunches were the same textures), which is why al dente whenever I could get it out of the house was always a revelation. I do have to say that sauces and extras probably do affect how a pasta dish will taste and whether al dente or mushy soft is the best way to go. my mom liked to prepare food well done all the time, and with plenty of oil. I liked it--sometimes, but not always. I do like beans/lentils and legumes well cooked though, thoughly so that he bean is soft and tender not hard (which is why I have a hate only relationship with the kidney beans found in salads--those kidney bean shells are tough to chew and sometimes scratch the roof of my mouth!!)

                                                            1 Reply
                                                            1. re: b0ardkn0t

                                                              To a Midwestern boy, "al dente" is an Italian phrase meaning "noodles ain't done yet." I have outgrown my upbringing, though...except for those back-home skillet dishes, the ones that start with hamburger and tomatoes and finish up with macaroni (or sometimes egg noodles). Still get a hankering for those, and the macaroni HAS to be soft clear through.

                                                            2. You're not the only one! I HATE it al dente and don't order it at restaurants for that reason. I don't like it mushy, but very tender.

                                                              1. A bit over a year ago, Michael Savage was on a rant on his radio show about how all the restos in SF cooked pasta al dente and how he didn't like it.

                                                                Despite the fact that he's often way off the reservation on any number of topics, that was the first time I actually wanted to pick up the phone and call him to tell him I objected to his opinion ;-)

                                                                So you have one famous radio host in common.

                                                                I don't get the appeal of mushy pasta, but to each their own.

                                                                1. I too am not fond of pasta al dente. It reminds me of something very rubbery and at the same time, doughy. I like a softer pasta like my Mom made. I cook my pasta a few minutes over the recommended time, although when I cooked bowties last night 4 minutes over the recommended time, they still were quite rubbery. I have noticed that Barilla Pastas are consistently al dente. I find the lowly store brands work best for me.

                                                                  1. The longer you cook pasta, the greater the volume, so for restaurant kitchens that are trying to stretch a buck, they'll get a few less servings per day if they cook it to al dente. Not a huge deal but perhaps a factor for some. However, I once heard Dr. Andrew Weil recommending that if you are eating white-flour pasta (he'd rather you eat whole/multigrain), you should cook it al dente because cooking till softer creates more havoc with blood sugar levels than does al dente.

                                                                    1. To each their own, but I don't recommend you eat pasta at my house. I belive the Italians hiss the term "scotto" (cooked) as an epithet for overcooked pasta. I have to agree with them.
                                                                      While I still have my teeth, I want to use 'em on my pasta.
                                                                      One of my first restaurant jobs was at the family friendly Spaghetti Factory, they cooked their pasta too long IMHO, I remember this guy pulling me aside and picking up strands of spaghetti to show me that the pasta was undercooked and that it should "fall apart with no resistance". I just nodded my head and said "oh, I see" while I was crying on the inside.
                                                                      I used to work on my uncle's farm in Iowa in the summers, and I was thoroughly grossed out by the pasta there. Iowa is where you should go for nice soft pasta.
                                                                      P.S. Package directions = overcooked (I think they condecendingly increase the cook time for American packaging)
                                                                      P.P.S.S. Iowa is filled with some of the best people around, I forgive them for f***ing up pasta there.

                                                                      1. I don't like al dente either. I dated a northern Italian guy and he thought the American version of al dente was undercooked. There were some other things he didn't like that Americans claimed to be "Italian". I spent a little time in Italy and I don't remember eating tough pasta. A thing he and I agreed upon was how salad in the States comes with the dressing on the side. In Italy, traditionally, the salad is tossed up in an oil and vinegar mixture and served with the lettuce slightly wilted. Hence "Italian" salad dressing.

                                                                        1. Al dente translates as "to the tooth". Or as my father would say, "cooked to order". Everyone has a slightly different idea of al dente actually is. Pasta does have to have some "tooth", otherwise it's wallpaper paste.
                                                                          Enjoy,
                                                                          CocoDan

                                                                          2 Replies
                                                                          1. re: CocoDan

                                                                            I like it when it is *just* past the point of having a bit of chalky interior.

                                                                            1. re: MMRuth

                                                                              I like long pastas (spaghetti, spaghettini, linguini) at al dente (cooked just until white, chalky part gone) and thick pastas like penne a little past al dente. Pasta with a noticeable amount of the chalky, gritty part is worse than overcooked pasta. Moreover, al dente penne is too chewy for me to enjoy.

                                                                          2. I pull my pasta from the boiling water before it's al dente, reserve some of pasta water and finish the cooking process of the pasta in the sauce; adding some pasta water if neccessary. I like to dress my pasta like I would a salad.

                                                                            1. I prefer al dente. A very good cook can make a soft pasta dish taste good to me, but that's besides the point. When I make it at home it's always al dente, and when I order pasta at restaurants it's usually at places where I know it'll be that way. The kind of pasta I ate growing up was on the mushy side, but as soon as I went away to college I cooked it al dente for myself and preferred it since.

                                                                              1. We Americans traditionally garble old-world food concepts, it's a proud custom (compare the unfortunate modern Alfredo "Sauce" nonsense, near end of current Italian-American food topic on this forum, and there are many other examples). I don't think the point (of cooking until done "to the tooth") was ever to make undercooked pasta, any more than it's realistic to cook the pasta until perfectly tender in the water (which can result in overcooked pasta when served).

                                                                                The reason is that when drained and kept hot, pasta routinely cooks a little more, because of retained heat, and therefore is more tender when served than when the cook tasted it. That has been my experience in making it since the 1960s. If you learn the behavior of your particular pasta brand, you can know at what firmness "to the tooth" you must cook to, in order to serve the finished product just the way you like.

                                                                                1. from wikipedia:
                                                                                  Pasta that is cooked al dente has a lower glycemic index than pasta that is cooked soft.

                                                                                  1. My MIL cooks it that way. I will not eat any pasta that is not really al dente. I am super freaky about this.

                                                                                    1. Traditionally, you should cook it al dente, then toss it in a bit of sauce and cook it for a couple of more minutes. If you cook it al dente and then serve it five minutes later globbed with sauce on it, it's going to taste tough. The whole point behind al dente is so the pasta can stand a couple of minutes of cooking in the sauce it gets tossed in.

                                                                                      1. I have been to Italy 3 times and still don't know what al dente means. Much of the pasta I've eaten there was fresh which will always be soft. Only once was I served pasta that I thought was undercooked. Some Penne in Sicily. Now that had some crunch. I sent it back.

                                                                                        That said I believe, that on the subjective al dente scale I'm on the slightly past al dente side. Someday I hope to eat some pasta and have someone that knows tell me, "This is al dente" "Oh, nice to meet you al."

                                                                                        jb

                                                                                        2 Replies
                                                                                        1. re: JuniorBalloon

                                                                                          Semolina dried pasta "should" be cooked al dente, not fresh. I'm guessing the penne that you sent back was probably al dente. If you're expecting your semolina pasta to be the same texture as fresh, then you're way past al dente.

                                                                                          1. re: chowser

                                                                                            If that was al dente you can have it. Though I suspect it wasn't as I've had Amitriciana and Carbonara in Rome that were much closer to how I would make it. This was truly crunchy. And I get that there's a difference between how fresh and dried are cooked and don't expect one to be like the other.

                                                                                            jb

                                                                                        2. I don't like my macaronis al dente. I also don't like them mushy either--nor do I like a lot of sauce/gravy on them. Perfect macaroni/pasta dish= cooked enough so that it isn't mushy. Salt. Pepper. A Drizzle of Olive Oil. Grated Cheese. Fresh Basil. That puts me in heaven!

                                                                                          1. If any pasta is not cooked properly it will be undercooked/raw on the inside and over cooked on the outside. 'Boiling' the water causes the outside to cook too quickly and the inside to remain undercooked.This is how to properly cook any pasta to perfection: In a larger than you think necessary pot bring the water to a boil. Just before you put in the pasta throw in more Kosher/sea salt than you think is necessary. If you add the salt to the cold water by the time the water boils the salt can turn the water bitter. The water ought to taste like the ocean which means adding more salt than just a 'pinch'. You've put the pasta into the boiling water. Now the water looses the boil and is at a simmering level. This is the important part. Turn down the heat so the water is hotter than a gentle simmer put not boiling. Don't ever add O.O. to the water. You want the cooked pasta to be able to absorb the moisture from the sauce. If the pasta is covered with O.O. that can't happen. Now the idea is for the pasta to SLOWLY and evenly cook through. This will help the egg (protein) in the pasta not to become rubbery and you can control the cooking so you can remove the pasta when the inside is still a bit underdone. Now take the pasta out of the pot and lay it on a buttered/lightly oiled cooky sheet. Do not rinse/chill it. You'll have made the sauce beforehand. Add some of the sauce to a hot non stick fry pan then gently fold in the pasta. The pasta ought to absorb most of the sauce. If it's a bit thick add a bit of the hot water from the pot. Gently cook the pasta until you have a consistency that allows the pasta to sort of 'stand up' a bit. You don't want to add a lot of pasta to a small pan or you'll end up with 'goo'. I always finish the pasta in a large enough skillet to serve just a couple of people. If I'm cooking for more than two I'll use a couple of skillets at a time. Timing is very important though. You don't want to serve sauce with pasta in it. You want to serve pasta that's been 'flavored' with a sauce. Before serving sprinkle on a few chili flakes if you like some heat and a pinch of finely chopped Italian flat leaf parsley. The cheese is already grated and is in a bowl/s on the table with a spoon so your guests can help themselves. ENJOY the best pasta you'll ever taste.

                                                                                            1. As others have have noted, al dente and over- or undercooked are subjective matters. With dried pasta, you can notice that there is a more or less white portion in the center when it's only parcooked. My goal is to cook the pasta so that the interior will just be to the point of having no dry, uncooked matter in the interior at the time of serving.

                                                                                              In some cases, that means pulling the pasta from the boil a bit earlier than that in order to finish it in a sauce. Resting time is also a factor. But in no case do I seek a frankly uncooked center.

                                                                                              As for very mushy pasta: life could be worse, and it's not my style. But kind of like with disappointing pizza, I still tend to eat it rather than toss it.

                                                                                              1. THANK YOU!!! I've always felt like a freak listening to people go on and on about perfect Al Dente pasta everywhere around me, thinking to myself, yuck! I'll cook it at home, not mushy but soft NOT crunchy! Yuck! I know this was posted in 2008 sorry about late response. I posted something once about thinking that latest "nutritious" fads are all baloney, (like low fat everything-tasteless, gluten free-dumb, low sugar, no flavour, high protein, high fiber ect........) and never heard the end of it! Lot of diet fanatics out there but your "no hard pasta" post? I HAD to write and say WHEW!!! Thanks, I'm not alone..

                                                                                                1 Reply
                                                                                                1. re: joseenatalie

                                                                                                  I have a friend who thinks he likes his pasta "al dente," but what it actually is is "undercooked." But he's heard he's supposed to like "al dente" all his life, and this is what happened.

                                                                                                  I like mine until it's perfect: not mushy, certainly, but you can't see white. And I don't have to do any kind of tricks with the salt and the water. I just taste it a lot, and eventually it's right. I have everything ready to go by the time (usually before) the pasta is cooked.