You've seen it written a hundred times in all of your favorite pasta recipes: "Cook pasta to al dente". It's a direction we feel very strongly about at Delish—but what does it really mean? Al dente is Italian for "to the tooth" and, in our humble opinion, is the only way to cook your pasta. "To the tooth" means there should be a slight bite to your noodle. The pasta shouldn't be hard, but have a tiny amount of resistance when you bite into it. What you're looking to avoid are noodles so soft that they lose all their texture and are on the verge of turning to mush. (Let's be real: It's heartbreaking to be served a bowl of pasta like that.) Al dente isn't just used for pasta; this descriptor can also be used for vegetables, rice, and other grains.

So how do you get that much-desired al dente texture? Our golden rule: Always cook your pasta for less time than the box calls for. Pour your noodles into salted boiling water, set the timer for at least three minutes less than the recommended cook time (some boxes will list an al dente cook time, which you can typically trust), test a noodle to make sure it has a slight chew, and drain.

Cooking pasta al dente allows for some carryover cooking to happen in a sauce without zero risk that the pasta will overcook. It also means your pasta will stand up to all of that homemade marinara or creamy alfredo you want to pour on top. Cooking to al dente is especially helpful when you need to add your cooked noodles to skillet while it's still on the heat, like you would for cacio e pepe. Learning to cook your pasta to al dente is an art form in itself and will elevate all of your future pasta nights.

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Makinze Gore
Food Editor

Makinze is currently Food Editor for Delish, where she develops recipes, creates and hosts recipe videos and is our current baking queen.. Reigning from Oklahoma, she's also our go-to for all things regarding Midwestern cuisine. She's also our expert pie crimper.