Cooking pasta to al dente perfection is as simple as following the cook time printed on a box of pasta, right? Not so much — it often results in pasta that's sad and overcooked. Next time you cook pasta, rather than following the printed cook time to a T, use it as a rough guideline. Set your kitchen timer for a few minutes less than the suggested time; once the timer buzzes, start tasting until it's cooked just so. The first couple pieces you try will likely be a bit undercooked, but it's a better fate than mushy noodles. The pasta is done when you can bite into it and it's no longer chalky and doesn't stick to your teeth, but still retains a slightly firm texture in the center.