Cooking pasta is one of those deceptively simple tasks in the kitchen. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta noodles and stir in. Cook for the recommended time and fish out.
Alas, cooking pasta to perfection is easier said than done. Many things can go wrong before, during, and after the boil, leaving the cook bewildered and the diners unsettled. One of those things, as you probably know since you’re here, is when your pasta comes out unexpectedly chewy.
This begs the question, is chewy pasta undercooked or overcooked?
When pasta comes out hard and crunchy, it’s undercooked. When it comes out soft and mushy, it’s overcooked. Perfectly cooked pasta, then, is tender on the inside but still firm to the bite on the outside.
Fresh pasta can also come out chewy if it’s been underkneaded. This isn’t a problem you’d have if you made the dough in a bread machine or stand mixer, but it can (and very often does) happen if you made it by hand.
Undercooked pasta is safe to eat. However, it will be tough to chew and harder for your body to digest.
The best way to tell if pasta is done is to fish out a single noodle, let it cool down for 5-10 seconds (so that you don’t burn your tongue), and taste it.
- If the pasta is hard and crunchy, it’s undercooked. Continue cooking it and keep tasting it every 30 seconds.
- If the pasta is tender, but firm to the bite, it’s done (al dente). Strain the pasta and toss it with (or continue cooking it with) your sauce.
- If the pasta is soft and mushy, it’s overcooked. There isn’t a way to save overcooked pasta, unfortunately. Just remember to check the noodles for doneness earlier the next time you make pasta.
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As a rule of thumb, cook pasta noodles for 2-3 minutes less than the recommended cooking time on the package. I’ll explain to you why in a second.
If you don’t happen to have the package handy, here’s a rule of thumb chart to refer to:
|Pasta Type||Noodle Variety||Cooking Time|
|Fresh or homemade||Fettuccine||1-2 minutes|
|Fresh or homemade||Farfalle||2-3 minutes|
|Fresh or homemade||Lasagna||2-3 minutes|
|Fresh or homemade||Ravioli||6-8 minutes|
|Fresh or homemade||Tortellini||8-10 minutes|
Now, as I promised, I’m going to tell you why you should be cooking your pasta noodles for 2-3 minutes less than the recommended cooking time.
What Does “Al Dente” Pasta Mean?
Italian chefs have a saying that pasta noodles should be “al dente,” which means to the tooth.
Al dente pasta is usually cooked 2-3 minutes less than the recommended time in the cooking instructions on the package.
Al dente pasta is firm to the bite and holds its shape well, even after it’s mixed with the pasta sauce.
According to La Cucina Italiana, al dente pasta is also healthier for you because it takes your body longer to digest. “Pasta boiled al dente,” La Cucina Italiana‘s editorial staff writes, “has a lower glycemic index.”
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“With this shorter cooking time, the starch granules are hydrated, but not so much that they release into the cooking water. The starch can also be digested in a gradual manner, which prevents blood sugar spikes.”
Simply said, al dente pasta tastes better, holds on to its shape better, and won’t make you feel sleepy after eating it. Instead, it’s going to act as a source of energy for your body throughout the day, especially if you made pasta from one of the best Italian pasta brands.
But don’t take my word for it. Here’s one of my favorite YouTube videos of all time, where two Italian chefs and one pasta maker react to clips of YouTubers making “the perfect pasta:”
Do Pasta Noodles Get Softer the Longer You Cook Them?
The more time you cook pasta noodles, the softer they’ll come out. But be careful: if you overcook pasta, it will come out soggy, mushy, and frankly unappetizing.
Think of pasta noodles like beef. You can cook them longer, but it’s not necessarily the best idea as it tends to ruin the meat. Similarly, to make perfect pasta dishes, what you need to learn is how to cook pasta noodles just enough, so that they’re cooked al dente.
The next time you cook pasta, start tasting the noodles 2-3 minutes before the recommended time in the cooking instructions on the package.
If you don’t happen to have the package handy, refer to the rule-of-thumb cooking time chart for pasta noodles that I shared above.
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Can You Fix Overcooked Pasta?
It happens to all of us. A pot boils over, the timer goes off and you rush to turn it off, or the pasta is a little too long in boiling water. Maybe you have an old recipe that calls for cooking pasta for 10 minutes when 8 would suffice. The result is always overcooked pasta.
Can you do anything about it? I tried some of the best advice I came across on the Internet, so that you don’t have to (or maybe you should).
Here’s what I found out.
According to The Huff Post, sautéing overcooked pasta in olive oil or butter over medium heat and for a few minutes will dry it out and crisp it up.
I cooked pasta to mush on purpose and tried this technique, and I wouldn’t say that it really worked. Yes, the pasta noodles came out crisp on the outside because I essentially browned them in the pan. Their texture was still soggy and mushy on the inside.
You can’t fix overcooked pasta. Just eat the noodles the way they came out and remember to start checking them for doneness earlier the next time you cook up a pasta dish at home. If you’re having a hard time doing this on your own, use the timer app on your phone.
Over time, you’ll develop what I call home cook’s intuition. 99% of the time, you’ll more or less intuitively know when the time to check the pasta noodles for doneness comes.
The Bottom Line
When your pasta is chewy, this is a sign that it’s undercooked. Let it boil for another minute and taste-test it for doneness again.
When the pasta noodles are tender on the inside but still firm to the bite on the outside, you know that they’re done. Italian chefs call this “al dente,” which means to the tooth.