Language of Food: Al Dente
Literally translated, Al Dente means "to the tooth." It is a level of cooking pasta so that it turns out just right. Now, what that means is open to a little bit of interpretation, but not much.
The problem with Al Dente is not it's state, rather its the misconception that people have over what it is or how to achieve it. Some people think that pasta cooked Al Dente should stick to your teeth or be crunchy. In actuality this is undercooked pasta.
Cooking dry pasta to Al Dente means that it will be something to chew in your mouth, rather than it just falling apart in your saliva. We've all been in grade school where the lunch lady cooks the giant vat of spaghetti to oblivion and it fall apart into much when it hits your mouth. Your kitchen is not the school cafeteria, so you should take care that you cook your pasta right.
My father used to check the doneness level of pasta by taking one noodle out of the pot and throwing it against the backsplash of the stovetop. If it stuck, it was done. If it slide down, it needed more time. That's actually not a horrible way to do it, but the best method to test for al dente is to put a noodle in your mouth and chew. If the noodle crunches, it needs more time. If it is mushy, you've lost it. Start over. What you need to do is find that right about of give in the noodle with a hint of chewiness. When you feel that in your mouth, drain the pasta immediately.
Tips for achieving al dente: