This Is How to Tell When Pasta Is Cooked

Pasta

The first time my wife and I went on a trip to Italy, it changed our lives. Italians know how to savor every moment in life. From dressing up and going to the opera in a Roman amphitheatre to taking it slowly and enjoying Pasta al Pomodoro with a bottle of red Valpolicella wine on a Sunday afternoon, we were as much in awe with the locals’ lifestyles as with the amazing places and restaurants that we visited.

And don’t get me started on the pasta… Pasta is some of the most popular dishes from Italian cuisine that many home cooks, with Italian roots or not, like to make for themselves and their families. It’s also one of the hardest to get right.

One of the top questions that home cooks ask is, “How can I tell when pasta is ready?” I’ve watched hours of videos from Italian chefs and spent weeks in a row in my home kitchen learning how to cook pasta until perfection.

In this post, I’m going to share my two cents for cooking the perfect pasta. Keep on reading to learn how to get pasta right every single time.

To tell if pasta is cooked, start to taste it 1-2 minutes before the cooking time on the package. When the pasta noodles are firm to the bite but easy to chew, they’re cooked al dente and are ready to serve. Take the pasta out of the pasta water to stop the cooking process and toss it with the sauce (or cooking for 1-2 minutes in a pan with the sauce).

The one thing you need to know about cooking pasta is to not rely on the package to tell you the correct cooking time. If you want to make the perfect pasta, you should starting tasting it early enough and rely on your senses to cook it “to the tooth,” until it still has some resistance when you bite into it.

How to Cook the Perfect Pasta

The simplest things in Italian cooking are also the hardest to get right. They take time and practice to master, no matter if you’re getting started with home cooking, just graduated culinary school, or you’ve been cooking other cuisines professionally for decades.

Cooking pasta is one of those things. Do it right, and you’ll make perfect pasta for you and your family every single time. Do it wrong, and you get slimy and sticky pasta that doesn’t taste good and makes you drop-dead tired because it’s hard for your body to digest.

So let’s get the basics right. How can you cook the perfect pasta?

Cook pasta in a large pot with salted water. Follow the 10-100-1,000 rule to know how much salt to add to the pasta water: use 10 grams of salt to cook 100 grams of pasta in 1,000 ml (1 liter) of water. Bring the water to a rolling boil, which happens at 212°F (100°C), before adding the pasta noodles to it.

Contrary to popular belief, do not add olive oil to pasta water. Olive oil won’t keep the pasta noodles from sticking together. But it will add an oily coating to their surface and prevent sauce from clinging to it, doing more harm than good to your pasta dish. It’s enough to bring the pasta water to a rolling boil before adding the noodles to it, as the roll will prevent the noodles from sticking together.

Always cook pasta al dente. “Al dente” is a term in Italian that means “to the tooth.” Professional chefs use it to describe the state of perfectly cooked pasta noodles. When you bite into pasta that’s cooked al dente, it should still have a nice and firm bite to it. That firmness gives it a better taste and texture than overcooked pasta and makes it slower (and therefore easier) to digest for your stomach.

Never rinse the pasta after it’s done cooking. Rinsing the pasta noodles will wash away the saltiness from the pasta water and the creaminess from the starches in it. In fact, if you’ll continue to cook the noodles with sauce in a pan, you can actually add a couple of tablespoons of pasta water to it to enhance its taste and texture. This is a cooking technique recommended by most Italian chefs on Italia Squisita.

How to Cook Pasta Al Dente

Whether you’re making Spaghetti alla Carbonara, a recipe that dates back to 20th century Rome, or Bucatini all’Amatriciana, which shepherds from the small village of Amatrice used to make as they fed their sheep in high mountain pastures, the only way to make authentic and traditional pasta recipes is al dente.

To cook pasta al dente, start tasting the noodles 1-2 minutes before the recommended cooking time in the instructions on the pasta package. When the noodles are crunchy and still hard to bite into, they’re undercooked. When they’re nice and firm, but easy to chew, they’re done. Take them out of the pasta water to stop the cooking process as al dente is a state that lasts for a very short time.

Al dente means “to the tooth” for a reason. Cooking Italian food is a very grounding and sensory experience (and that’s one of my favorite things about it). The best way to tell if pasta noodles have been cooked or not is to bite into them and trust your senses.

But that takes time to develop. If you’re not there yet, here’s a rule of thumb for cooking four kinds of pasta noodles al dente:

  • 6 minutes for long and very thin pasta noodles like spaghettini
  • 8 minutes for long and thin pasta noodles like spaghetti
  • 8 minutes for small pasta noodles like farfalle
  • 10 minutes for thick pasta like rigatoni

These cooking times work for dry pasta made from durum wheat. In my post titled “The Best Italian Pasta Brands in Grocery Stores,” I explain what brands and characteristics to look for to get the highest quality pasta for yourself and your family.

What About Fresh Pasta?

Dry pasta is firm to the bite because it has lost its moisture from the drying process. This is what makes dry pasta able to last for long periods of time on the shelves of grocery stores and in kitchen cabinets. You can think of the whole cooking process for dry pasta as a process of rehydration.

Fresh pasta is different. It hasn’t been dried and lasts up to 2 days when refrigerated and up to 4 weeks when frozen. Because fresh pasta has much more moisture than dry pasta, it takes significantly less time for it to cook.

Cook fresh pasta in salted water and in a rolling boil for 2-3 minutes. When fresh pasta floats to the surface of the pasta water, it’s ready. Alternatively, you can use a kitchen timer to make sure that you don’t cook it for too long.

In Conclusion

Dry pasta is best cooked al dente. Firm to the bite, but not crunchy and easy enough to chew, al dente pasta tastes great, has a good texture, and is slower and therefore easier for your body to digest.

Fresh best is best cooked for 2-3 minutes. When it starts to float on the surface of the pasta water, you’ll know that it’s done.

Let me know in the comments how this worked out for you 🙂 .

Dry pasta

How to Cook Pasta

Jim the Home Cook
Cook fresh pasta and dry pasta perfectly every single time with this simple and easy to follow recipe. Check out my tried and tested way to cook pasta al dente.
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 12 mins
Cook Time 10 mins
Total Time 22 mins
Course Main Course
Cuisine Italian

Ingredients
  

  • 100 grams pasta
  • 10 grams sea salt

Instructions
 

How to cook fresh pasta

  • In a large pot, add 10 grams of sea salt to 1 liter of water
  • Bring the water to a rolling boil at 212°F (100°C)
  • Add the fresh pasta to the water
  • Cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally
  • When the pasta floats to the surface, it's done

How to cook dry pasta

  • In a large pot, add 10 grams of sea salt to 1 liter of water
  • Bring the water to a rolling boil at 212°F (100°C)
  • Add the dry pasta to the water
  • Cook, stirring occasionally
  • 2-3 minutes before the recommended cooking time, start to taste the pasta
  • When it's firm to the bite, but not crunchy, it's done

Notes

In a way, cooking pasta is like grilling beef. The secret is to cook it just enough, without letting it get overcooked.
Keyword dry pasta, fresh pasta, pasta, pasta noodles

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