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How to Make Al Dente Pasta

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Go from al dainty to al dente with these quick pasta cooking tips.

Do you have pasta envy? You know – whenever you go to that local Italian hotspot and order a dish, you love it but you hate it at the same time because you can never seem to replicate the perfectly cooked strands of pasta at home? No, Italian restaurants don’t have magical pasta elves cooking flawless al dente pastas round the clock. What they do have are cooks who understand that the key is in the timing, and of course, a few tricks that you might not find on the back of your everyday pasta packages.


Al dente means “to the tooth” – the pasta is just a bit firm and here’s how to get it just right.


1. Season the H2O. Don't tell your doc, but the water needs to be seasoned with the right amount of salt. Most chefs will tell you that the water should be close to seawater - we’re talking about 1 Tbsp per quart of water, but you don’t need to be exact. Your pasta absorbs the saltwater as it cooks, so you’re seasoning the core of this naturally bland starch throughout.


2. Don’t jump the gun. Get your water to a rolling boil before putting the pasta in, otherwise, you’ll have soggy pasta, and no one wants soggy pasta.


3. Turn up the heat…. On the sauce. Some peeps cook the sauce beforehand, so make sure that the pot is hot for the next step.


4. Time to migrate. Take a close look at the timing instructions on your pasta’s packaging and get the noodles out a couple of minutes before you’re supposed to, and place those babies right into the heated sauce - NO RINSING! In fact, starchy seawater is the secret ingredient that is missing in most at-home sauces. Using a ladle, splash a couple of ounces into the sauce and allow them to emulsify. Let the noodles and sauce become one - they'll marry in taste. Plus, this helps add to that shiny and plush coat to each bite.


Some noodles mingle better in certain dishes, so here is your cheat sheet…


Thin pasta (think angel hair) – mesh better with a "Healthified" Garlic Shrimp Pasta, and this holds true with any light tomato or wine sauces.


Thick pastas - like fettuccini are better severed with richer sauces like this Alfredo recipe.


Twisted pasta with holes such as penne or rigatoni… Perfect for Penne with Mushroom-Tomato-Cream Sauce and just about anything chunky.

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