Did you know that the average Italian consumes approximately 60 pounds of pasta each year?

That means that the average Italian eats a large plate of pasta at least six days of the week. That’s a lot of pasta!

The next time you cook pasta, try making it the Italian way, “al dente!” Literally meaning “to the tooth” in Italian, the term refers to the soft, yet slightly firm texture of a cooked pasta noodle. Some chefs would describe “al dente” as “not hard and not soft.” While that may sound slightly vague, the intention is to achieve a texture that is slightly chewy but should not stick to the teeth.

So, how long do you need to cook the pasta to reach “al dente” perfection? That depends very much on the type of pasta. If you are using packaged pasta, often times, cooking the noodles for the exact amount of time indicated on the box will produce “al dente” pasta. However, taste testing along the cooking process is encouraged as even a minute overcooked can entirely change the texture of the noodle. Keep in mind – when you believe you have achieved an “al dente” texture, drain the pasta immediately as the residual heat will continue to cook the noodle.

Why cook pasta “al dente?” There are actually a few surprising reasons you may not have known. For example, the longer the pasta is cooked, the more flavor that escapes the noodles. So, pasta cooked “al dente” will be more flavorful than mushy pasta. Interestingly enough, it is also believed that eating pasta “al dente” rather than fully cooked or soft pasta, is better for your health! This is because pasta cooked “al dente” has a lower glycemic index than fully cooked noodles. Glycemic index numbers can range from zero to 100 and pasta lies anywhere between 30 and 60. Generally speaking, the lower the glycemic index, the better for your glucose level. The firmer the noodle, the longer the digestive time; and a slower digestion provides less of a chance for high spike in blood sugar. An added bonus – because firmer pasta takes longer to digest, it will help you to stay fuller longer!

Don’t forget to save a little bit of your pasta water to add to your sauce! The starch in the water adds flavor to the dish as it helps the sauce to stick to your pasta, which really helps the sauce to infuse into the pasta rather than simply coating the outside of the noodle. Buon appetito!