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Learn how to cook pasta al dente: how long, how much water and salt you need, and the basics of cooking pasta the Italian way.

In this post, you will learn how to cook pasta al dente, properly. We will also learn how much water and salt you need to make pasta al dente, the serving sizes, the shapes and condiments matching, how to cook pasta for salads, and more.

How to cook pasta al dente

The first thing to know is that you can’t give an exact time for pasta al dente.

If you ask me how long to cook spaghetti al dente, for example, my answer will be: it depends. The producer must give you the timing because the cooking time depends on the quality of the flour it was used, and on the production technique.

what is pasta al dente

Let’s start from the beginning: the meaning of pasta al dente

It literally translates into “to the tooth”, intending that it is pleasurable to bite. Not soggy, that’s never ok, but also a little crunchier than the regular pasta cooking time.

Depending on your taste, this means 1 to 2 minutes less than the regular cooking time, the one indicated on the package directions. Taste it two minutes before, and see if you like it, if not, wait a minute more. To be sure the pasta is cooked, take a bite and look at the center: too white? It still needs cooking.

why should pasta be cooked al dente

Italians usually cook pasta al dente because it has a better texture (it is firmer), and it is easier to digest, as it has a lower glycemic index.

Now, let’s go deeper into the art of cooking pasta properly.

how to cook pasta al dente
how to cook pasta al dente

how much water do you need to cook pasta al dente

To cook pasta, you need a lot of water: 1 liter (1/4 gallon or 4 cups) for each 100 gr (3.5 oz) of pasta. 

pasta serving size

100 gr or 3.5 oz is what, in Italy, we consider a regular pasta serving size. 

If the condiment is rich, like ragù, you usually lower it to 80 gr (2.8 oz), if you are hungry – and not on a diet – you eat up to 120 gr (4.2 oz).

how much salt to cook pasta

Pasta water must have salt: 10 gr (0.35 oz or a about 1 teaspoon) of coarse salt for every liter (4 cups) of water.

Remember this easy rule: 1 10 100 (water liters, salt grams, pasta grams).

But if the seasoning for your pasta is pretty salty already, reduce salt to 5-7 grams.

Usually, Italians put salt in the water only when it is boiling, cause they believe salted water takes longer to boil. There is no scientific evidence, so put salt in the water whenever you want to, but before tossing the pasta.

pasta is a main dish

Here in Italy, pasta is considered a main dish, not a side dish. Sometimes it is also the only course of a meal (“piatto unico”): if you put together grains, veggies, and proteins, your dinner is balanced, and you are more than satisfied. Think of the simple tomato spaghetti: you have grains from the pasta, veggies from the tomato sauce, and proteins when you sprinkle delicious parmesan cheese on them.

cooking pasta al dente
Italian pasta al dente

white pasta vs whole wheat and the others…

White pasta is delicious. Whole grain pasta is also very good, plus healthier. Spelt pasta is another healthy option, while kamut pasta is, in my opinion, not very tasty. Leave rice and buckwheat noodles to Asian cuisine, please.

a little pasta shapes guide

There is an infinite number of pasta sizes and shapes: each Italian region has one or more traditional shapes. They’re the result of years of culinary traditions and research of the perfect shape for local ingredients and seasonings.

As a general rule: rough and striped pasta hold back the seasoning, but they also absorb it, so if you have a dense condiment and you pair it with rough pasta, you might get a dry, heavy result. In that case, you should opt for a smooth pasta shape.

long or short?

The choice between long or short pasta depends mostly on personal taste and traditional recipes. Truth is Italians often end up using whatever pasta they have in the pantry.


  • buttery or meat condiments should be paired with short pasta;
  • oily, fishy, or veggie condiments should be paired with long pasta.

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pasta al dente how to
Italian pasta

one pot pasta

One-pot pasta is a nontraditional, modern way to cook pasta. You put pasta, water, salt, oil, and a condiment of your choice in the pot or a pan and cook pasta without draining it.

Note that a pan is better than a pot. The difficult part is deciding the quantity of water to add: I usually start with two times the pasta weight in water and then progressively add more (hot water) – to be sure I don’t overcook it.

The result is a very creamy pasta dish: when you drain water, you also discard the starches released by the grains, here instead, they are absorbed by the condiment.

how to cook pasta al dente like an Italian
Italian pasta

how to cook pasta for salads

If you are making pasta for a pasta salad, then cook it 2 minutes less than package directions, drain it and immediately rinse it under cold water, to stop the cooking process, and avoid sogginess.

Now that you know everything about how to cook pasta, go turn on the heat and enjoy a delicious Italian meal!



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