"Pasta al dente"
Does Not Mean Raw!
The Italian expression "pasta al dente" (often translated in “to the tooth”) refers to a way of cooking pasta that allows the food to be cooked through, while still offering a reasonable consistence to the bite.
I said that it refers to the way pasta should be cooked because the expression “al dente”, even if more commonly used in reference to pasta, really can refer to any food for which the characteristics of “crispness” and “cooked” are to be maintained; it could refer, for instance, to the rice or vegetables, even meat (bacon al dente)!
Despite the obvious translation, cooking “al dente” does not mean that the food should “stick to the teeth”… but rather that it should offer some resistance to the bite.
Well, then… why would you want
to eat "pasta al dente”?
First off, a matter of taste: pasta “scotta” (overcooked and, hence, softened) does offer a completely different texture to the palate, not to mention the horrible way in which it “melts” with the sauces and that you’d have to eat it using a spoon… let’s save spoon for soups.
Good, tasty and crisp pasta al dente should be firmly standing at the tip of your fork.
But there is more to that than the eye and the palate tell us.
Pasta al dente, in fact, possesses a lower glycemic index than the one that is overcooked and softened.
In simple terms, it means that pasta cooked “al dente” has a slower rate of digestion than the one cooked soft, along with a slower absorption rate of the carbohydrates; all this might be desirable in a situation where blood glucose and body weight control are of importance.
…not to speak about the completely different texture and the way pasta differently absorbs sauces when cooked “al dente”.
It is a misconception that cooking pasta al dente should simply mean leaving it “half raw”; when cooked “al dente”, pasta will really be cooked through but will be just at the turning point between cooked and “scotta”.
How to Cook Pasta "al dente"
Right, now we know why we need to cook our pasta al dente… but how do we do it?
Technically, there is no single way of telling when exactly pasta will be “al dente”, also because we are not talking about a single point in time, here, but rather about a range within which pasta possesses varying degree of “al dente”.
An old technique (that I would only recommend to whom wants to really make a scene out of it and has a good aim) is to take the pasta out of the cooking pot (this especially applies to spaghetti though) and throw it at a wall… if it sticks, then it is “al dente”.
I honestly never tried this one and much prefer the traditional way, which is to try the pasta instead of throwing it around; be careful while doing this though, as you will be taking pasta out of a pot full of boiling water.
This way, you will also be the best judge around your preferred degree of “al dente”.
Generally speaking, higher quality pasta possesses longer cooking time and is less easily subject to become too soft… unless you cook it for half an hour of course!
Judging from the package, it is already possible to emit a first, superficial comment about the quality of the pasta: if the cooking time is higher than 10 minutes, then we can have a mid quality pasta.
If the reported cooking time is equal to or higher than 12-13 minutes, we are definitely coping with a higher quality product.
The way pasta reacts to cooking and the time it takes to eat to absorb the water and “cook”, in fact, has a direct link to the quality of the ingredients and the complexity of the processes used in its production.
Pasta produced with lower quality wheat, combined with a less complex, faster production process (many a times assimilated to the industrial ones) tends to cook much faster and to become “scotta”.
For this reason, higher quality pasta is also somewhat easier to cook since, taking longer to become scotta, is more forgiving and will give you more time to mix it with sauces or other.
This is not to be overlooked, considering that, once taken out of the water, pasta will still keep on cooking due to its own and the sauce’s heat.
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