Al dente – This pasta descriptor comes from the Italian phrase “to the tooth”, which means that the cooked pasta retains some bite, rather than yielding softly when chewed. To accomplish this level of doneness, the pasta should be slightly undercooked. One way to verify that your pasta is adequately al dente is to fish a piece from the boiling water and break or cut it in half. If the cross section displays a mostly cooked outer ring around a faint white-ish core, you have it!
It is important to note that if you are finishing a pasta in a sauce, first cooking it to al dente will result in an overcooked final product as the liquid from the sauce is absorbed. The Italian term needed in this case is “Molto al dente.” It is accomplished by reducing the coking time by another 3 minutes. Never fear, by the time your pasta has soaked up the sauce, for example a silky Basque salsa verde, it will be the chewy perfection you crave.