Thursday, April 30, 2009

Al Dente

A decade or two ago Americans woke up and realized that there was more to Italian cooking than Chef Boyardee spaghetti and meatballs. Some folks went whole-hog and started making their own gnocchi and growing their own fresh herbs to use in rustic sauces. Others just learned a couple of new rules of thumb, like pasta should always be cooked "al dente."

And suddenly a few years ago every dry pasta manufacturer started putting in their on-the-box instructions to cook pasta "al dente."

Is it just me, or is this "al dente" stuff just a load of hooey? I hesitate to even bring it up, since I'm sure it will expose me as a person of low and common tastes, but when I cook dry pasta I always end up going a minute or two longer than whatever the box recommends.

I don't want my dried pasta to be chewy. Inevitably, cooking pasta that way meats you get a soft exterior with a firm, chewy, and unpleasantly dry middle. No, cook it all the way through until it's uniformly soft (but not so mushy that Grandma can gum it without her dentures).

Fresh pasta: that's a different story. Fresh pasta's texture is so different from dry that it's in a class all its own, and you definitely want that cooked "to the tooth"--tender but firm. I'm wondering if this "al dente" nonsense is a case of confusion, of people applying the Italian standard for fresh pasta to the dried boxed variety?

In any event, unless I've taken the time to whip up a batch of fresh pasta, I'll be tacking that extra two minutes on every time.


Mike said...

All along I thought that I was the only one who cooked dry pasta a bit longer than the box says.

Anonymous said...

I agree and in some cases I like it overcooked. My complaint is that the stores carry a limited selection of shapes. For example for a tomato/meat sauce you need a pasta that will carry the meat and except for the common shell shapes, there is noting else available. The pasta makers have some other suitable shapes, but they are almost never carried by the stores.

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