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In cooking, al dente ( //, Italian pron. /alˈdɛnte/) describes pasta and (less commonly) rice or beans that have been cooked so as to be firm but not hard. "Al dente" also describes vegetables that are cooked to the "tender crisp" phase - still offering resistance to the bite, but cooked through. Keeping the pasta firm is especially important in baked or "al forno" pasta dishes, where the pasta is cooked twice. The term "al dente" comes from Italian and means "to the tooth" or "to the bite", referring to the need to chew the pasta due to its firmness.
Perhaps the most common misconception about the term is the idea that "to the tooth" means the item should stick to the teeth.
The term is also occasionally used in reference to cooking vegetables, such as green beans or brussels sprouts, though this is often misunderstood as meaning that instead of being cooked all the way through, they still have a raw taste to them, generally undesirable in cooking. It should be interpreted as cooking them just until they lose their raw taste, as a way to avoid overcooking them.
A more esoteric usage is also germane to the cooking of meats; specifically, the idea of cooking meats to a specific "under-done" consistency so that further cooking/preparation processes can be applied to the meat, with respect to the additional ingredients. For example, a particularly popular recipe is that of making "sugared bacon", where brown or confectioners sugar is applied to the bacon. Some recipes call for the sugar to be added to raw bacon and then baked. However, other recipes insist that the bacon be cooked "al dente" in a frying pan, set off to the side, sprinkled with confectioners sugar, and then broiled for about 5 minutes. The "al dente" bacon approach is oftentimes preferred in that, while the bacon will firm up, the sugar does not crystallize or harden. 
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