Is Chewy Pasta Undercooked or Overcooked?


Making pasta sounds easy, right? Just boil the pasta noodles, toss them with the pasta sauce, grate some hard Italian cheese on it, and you’ll be done! As most home cooks know (and as I like to say), making the perfect pasta dish is more often than not a deceptively simple thing to do.

As regular readers know, pasta is a staple food in our household. And answering your most frequently asked questions about making pasta is one of my all-time favorite things to do.

So here comes the question of the day: Is chewy pasta undercooked or overcooked?

Undercooked pasta is hard and crunchy. Overcooked pasta is soft and mushy. Pasta cooked just right is tender on the inside, but still firm to the bite on the outside.

There is one edge case here: Fresh pasta can come out chewy if it’s under-kneaded. Though this can’t happen to fresh pasta made in a machine, it could (and often does) happen to fresh or homemade pasta that’s been kneaded by hand.

Chewy fresh pasta is generally safe to eat, but will probably be harder for your stomach 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.

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 TypeNoodle VarietyCooking Time
Fresh or homemadeFettuccine1-2 minutes
Fresh or homemadeFarfalle2-3 minutes
Fresh or homemadeLasagna2-3 minutes
Fresh or homemadeRavioli6-8 minutes
Fresh or homemadeTortellini8-10 minutes
DriedTagliatelle6-7 minutes
DriedSpaghetti6-7 minutes
DriedFettuccine8-9 minutes
DriedFusilli8-9 minutes
DriedPenne9-10 minutes
DriedLasagna10-11 minutes
DriedZiti10-11 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.”

“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.

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.

The Huffington Post claims that you can fix overcooked pasta noodles by sautéing them with olive oil or butter in a frying pan over medium heat. Sauté the pasta noodles, the Post recommends, for 3 to 7 minutes, and the edges will become crisp.

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

Chewy pasta is undercooked. If your pasta noodles are too chewy, continue cooking them and keep tasting them for doneness every 30 seconds.

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.

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