A while back I read a good discussion over at Unamericana a Roma, now defunct, titled “What Italians Have Taught Me About Pasta.”
The post was spot-on, except for the fact that exact “al dente”—an Italian phrase replacing “Mama Mia” on the all time Italian cliché hit list—is difficult to determine. It’s a matter of taste, even when Al is Dente. Some people’s teeth are more sensitive to pasta than others, evidently.
(This reminds me of the American vs. European wine debate. The side favoring American wines gloats that “European grapes never get a chance to ripen” while the European side purports to loath the over-ripe flabby nature of American wines. Fact is, there isn’t a little button that pops out of a grape at the right ripeness, unlike the one found embedded in the genetically bloated breast of an American turkey (that’s gotta hurt!) notifying the end user when the thing has been cooked to death so he can safely can eat the heat-ravaged flesh of his cheap bird no matter how many poisons it came in contact with in its sorry, caged life.)
In any case, I came across a sentence in the post that I’ve always heard and wanted to check out:
I’ve also heard many a time that pasta cooked al dente is easier to digest.
Well, here’s the most concise reference I’ve found to describe the health benefits of al dente pasta from, of all places, Disabled World.
Pasta made with semolina is made from cracked wheat and not finely ground flour so it has a moderate glycemic index. Furthermore, pasta is unique in its physical make up. The reason for its slow digestion and steady release of energy is “the physical entrapment of ungelatinized starch granules in a sponge-like network of protein molecules in the pasta dough.” That is something you don’t need to understand to get the good news that pasta can be good for your energy. Yippee!
But always serve pasta al dente. If you overcook pasta it gets soft and swollen and you have fully “gelatinized” those starch granules and turned pasta into an energy drainer.
So, stop that gelatinazation you silly cooks! And puleeze add adequate amounts of salt to the water after it boils, just like it says in the post. The water should be as salty as the sea around Naples (but not so, um, schifo, if you catch my drift).
If you’re new to the idea of eating pasta in Italy, take a gander at What Italians Have Taught Me About Pasta. You’ll learn a lot about the passion Italians have for getting a simple thing exactly right. It’s a passion I miss in America.
And keep eating pasta. It’s good for you.
I gotta go now and clean the pasta off my ceiling. You never know when Shelley or the pasta police are gonna come calling.