How Do You Know When Pasta Is Done?

Welcome to Advice for Impatient Foodies, R29's new cooking column. Each week, our executive food editor and Impatient Foodie founder Elettra Wiedemann will tackle any and all questions you might have about food. Seriously, no query is too big or too small. And don't be embarrassed! We've all had moments in the kitchen when we had no idea WTF was going on and wished we could ask someone other than Google for some pointers. So whether you need help frying an egg, knowing when your chicken is done, or deciding what to make for dinner, we've got your back.
Photographed by Davide Luciano.
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Pasta cooking — al dente or soft? My best friend and I got in a fight once about how pasta is supposed to be cooked, and I'm still not sure to this day.

Italians take their food VERY seriously, and this includes all forms and shapes of pasta. My Italian uncle once sent me a recipe with a line that specifically told me to cook the pasta al dente, followed by "MI RACCOMANDO!" This doesn't imply a gentle recommendation; it means more accurately, "For goodness' sake!" or "Take this seriously!"

Trying to achieve al dente pasta can induce panic for new cooks. How do we know if we are overdoing or under-doing it? Would throwing some pasta at the wall help? Gah!! Luckily for all of us, pasta companies have taken the guesswork out by putting cooking times on packages that always result in al dente pasta.

However, when it comes to cooking, it's also important to trust your own instincts. With this in mind, it’s helpful to understand that “al dente” translates roughly as “to the tooth." That means your pasta should have a little “bite” to it. So think of your palate as Goldilocks when you're taste-testing your pasta — no matter what the shape, al dente will not be crunchy when you bite down, nor should it be totally floppy and soggy (unless you like your noodles like that, I guess).

My mom taught me that a perfectly cooked spaghetti will have an itsy-bitsy, teeny-tiny white dot (like the size of a needle point) in the middle when you bite into it. But rather than rely on a microscopic dot, I find it easier to utilize my Goldilocks sensibilities. And just in case my senses fail, I just refer to the package cooking time, set a timer on my phone, and worry about other things.
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