Ask any Italian and they'll tell you the only way to cook pasta is al dente. Al dente is an Italian term that translates “to the tooth,” and refers to pasta that's firm rather than soft and soggy. If you ever have the pleasure of visiting Italy and ordering pasta at one of the local restaurants, you'll instantly notice it's cooked perfectly al dente.

Why does it matter? Al dente pasta boasts a better texture than its overcooked counterparts while also retaining more nutrients. Different shapes of pasta take varying lengths of time to reach that irresistible al dente stage, and the time it takes might be a little different than what's listed in the instructions. Fortunately, figuring out when your pasta is al dente is incredibly easy.

How Do You Know if Your Pasta is Cooked Al Dente?

If you're wondering how to check if your pasta is perfectly cooked to al dente, the best way to test it out is to taste the pasta. Many packages of pasta offer guidelines for how long it takes for the pasta to reach al dente. Use this as a reference point to start tasting your pasta. When it's firm but slightly chewy and tender, it's ready to be drained. Of course, if you like your pasta a little on the softer side, go ahead and cook it for a minute or so longer.

Al dente applies to dried packaged pasta rather than fresh pasta. Because fresh pasta is inherently softer from the start, it cooks much faster so it can't reach an al dente level of doneness. To check if your fresh pasta is ready to serve, taste it. It should be chewy with a bit of firmness. That's it! Great tasting, beautiful pasta every time.