I've heard the term "al dente" on every cooking show. My mom just said it the other day as she was referring to pasta. I pretend I understand what it means and continue on with my life. But now, I'm curious. WTF does "al dente" mean?

It literally means "to the tooth". Al dente is an Italian word used to refer to the ideal consistency of pasta. The ideal consistency of pasta is cooked but firm. At least, that's what Merriam says. So the pasta should be cooked enough to be firm, not soft. Got it.

Can You Refer to Other Foods as Being Cooked Al Dente?

spaghetti, pasta
Jennifer Cao

Yup. You can use the term to describe the cooked consistency of veggies, rice, and beans. But when using al dente to refer to vegetables, you want to make sure that they are cooked enough so that it loses its raw taste. So firm, but raw. Okay, that came out wrong.

Cooking rice al dente is a little bit trickier. It can really depend on the type of grain you use and its cooking instructions. It's easy to leave rice on the stove while it cooks and forget about it. And by the time you get back to it, it's too fluffy or soft to be considered al dente. Rice that's more on the firm side is good for rice salads. So if you like your rice with a little bite, just set the timer earlier and use less water.  

With beans, al dente would give them a cooked crunch. Kind of to the point where you're like, "What's the point of cooking them?" (I'm talking green beans here). To cook beans al dente — such as kidney beans — they would have a meatier bite, and not have a mushy consistency. 

So What Does "Al forno" Mean?

vegetable, cheese, sauce, meat
Kristine Mahan

Al forno is means cooked twice. Think of al dente being the first step, and al forno as the second step (if you want your pasta/veggies/rice/beans cooked twice). Al forno food is baked in an oven and the food develops a soft consistency. So pasta dishes like baked ziti or lasagna are cooked al forno. Bene!

So now we know what al dente means, and we can use it while pretending to be Giada in the kitchen.

"How did you cook this pasta?" Your friend might ask.

"Al dente, topped with marinara sauce, " you reply.