The chef's blog
Al DenteTips and tricks to have your pasta the way you like it
In cooking, the Italian expression al dente (/ælˈdɛnteɪ/; Italian: [al ˈdɛnte]) describes pasta and (less commonly) rice or beans that have been cooked so as to be firm but not hard. "Al dente" also describes vegetables that are cooked to the "tender crisp" phase - still offering resistance to the bite, but cooked through. Keeping the pasta firm is especially important in baked or "al forno" pasta dishes, where the pasta is cooked twice. The term "al dente" comes from Italian and means "to the tooth" or "to the bite", referring to the need to chew the pasta due to its firmness.
Pasta that is cooked al dente has a lower glycemic index than pasta that is cooked soft.
"Al dente. (2012, May 1). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 04:08, May 26, 2012, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php…"
Despite the common belief, pasta al dente is more digestible than overcooked. It is also important to stress that “al dente” is not a synonym of “raw”. Pasta must be cooked just the right way, not too raw, nor too cooked.
The two largest elements of pasta are the starch and the gluten. The latter will place itself between the starch granules, forming a more or less uniform and regular grid. During the cooking, the starch absorbs water and rapidly expands until it breaks and frees all the content, the gluten grid, instead, tends to keep as much as possible the starch granules.
As the two reactions happen almost at the same time, same temperature, it is inevitable that a competition forms between the starch that absorbs water, expanding until breaks and the protein grid that, coagulating, tends to avoid this total dispersion of starch.
“Al dente” cooking is considered more digestible because the gluten grid retains inside the starch granules, making it more gradually digestible (thus avoiding glycemic peaks after assumption), not only, the right cooking avoids dispersion of nutrients in the cooking water, preserving the properties.
Dr. Giovanna Cafagna
"Pasta al dente o ben cotta? (2010, October 21) In Nutrizione e Benessere. Retrieved 15:00, May 26, 2012 from: http://www.nutrizioneebenessere.it/news.php?id=74"
Although Wikipedia is not always the most reliable source, the definition surely reflects the knowledge of most of the Italian Chefs working around the planet, including myself, and confirmed by the most recent nutritional studies.
The perception of quality in prepared food is very individual and vary according to ethno, age, cultural background and so on, and it would be impossible and useless, to set a rule knowing that will have more exceptions than followers, so I would rather consider the question in terms of communication.
Italian Chefs as any other nationality Chefs, have to withstand a long period of apprentice, in which most of the emphasis is put on “tradition” and the pride to represent a millennial gastronomic heritage, and that’ why a large part of us won’t be happy to serve a “pasta scotta” (overcooked pasta) or the ketchup with the pizza and so on. However, working abroad brings us to accept some compromise. In the end there are three main approaches to the issue:
From the customer side, it is desirable not to assume that the Chef knows the particular taste of the given customer, it is much easier to ask the waiter to have the pasta cooked “al dente” or more, there is no shame in it, it is a matter of individual taste. It is exactly the same of asking your steak cooked rare or well with all the grades in between.
From the Chef side, it is a good practice to put the customer at the center of all the efforts; a happy customer generates more revenue and far more satisfaction than an unhappy one. Do not assume that the customer has to know everything about Italian Cuisine, he’s not the professional, the chef is, therefore is the chef’s duty to understand and act accordingly.
In the end, I definitely recommend to have your pasta “al dente”, it’s better in taste, texture and nutritional value, will make your Chef happy to serve you (you don’t really want an angry chef cooking your meal, do you?), however, if your personal taste is striving for some squashy macaroni, don’t be ashamed, as far as you pay for it, you deserve it.
Executive Chef with over thirty years of field experience, passionate in the culinary world at 360º