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I've tried a number of different ways to tell when spaghetti, capellini and other pasta types are done, but I'm curious if there are more specific rules of thumb. With regular spaghetti, I've tried biting-in-half to see if it's still white in the middle, throwing it against the fridge (which seems more amusing than useful), etc., but are there better and more reliable ways?

Also, how much does pasta 'cook' once you take it out of the water? So if you want an al dente pasta, do you take it off slightly before done? If so, how much?

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14  
I just taste it. Eat a noodle (or piece of noodle) and see if you like the taste/texture. –  Kyra Feb 8 '11 at 21:03
    
Same as Kyra, but for me it's: eat a noodle and see if it's almost done. By the time you drain the water and the pasta stops cooking another minute is gone ... and a minute makes a difference –  user2215 Feb 9 '11 at 2:04
    
A friend of me told me they tested if it stuck to the roof, then it was done :) –  johnny Feb 9 '11 at 7:58
    

9 Answers 9

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Al dente cooking is a transitional state that lasts for a very short amount of time (one minute longer in boiling water makes pasta too soft, one minute shorter and it's still crunchy). For this reason, authentic Italian pasta packages state a precise cooking time, which is very reliable to make a good al dente pasta. A cooking time interval (e.g. "7 to 10 minutes") is usually given to accommodate to other countries taste, who may prefer a softer pasta, and therefore its presence could be a good indicator of an Italian look-alike pasta brand. In this case the lower figure indicates the al dente cooking.

Lacking this information, a good cooking time can be figured by cross section size, length and shape of pasta: obviously, thicker and squat formats require more time. Complex shapes, such as farfalle, can be trickier because a thick core could reach the al dente cooking while the thinner edges are already too soft.

As a rule of thumb, cooking times for common pasta formats are:

  • Long and very thin (spaghettini, bavette): 6 min
  • Long and thin (spaghetti, linguine, bucatini): 8 min
  • Short and thick (maccheroni, rigatoni, fusilli): 12 min
  • Small and thick (farfalle) : 8 min
  • Small and thin (pasta usually boiled straight into broth): 6 min

These cooking times apply only for dry durum-wheat pasta; other types (such as fresh egg pasta) usually have a shorter cooking time.

After straining the boiling water, pasta continues to cook by its own heat; for this reason it has to be eaten as soon as possible. Only for some Italian regional recipes (typically pasta boiled straight into a thick vegetable juice, e.g. pasta with beans, pasta with potatoes) you may want to let it rest for up to 5 minutes after straining to let the juices coagulate.

Also, for recipes where pasta has to undergo a second cooking after boiling (e.g. stir frying in a pan with vegetables, shrimps, mushrooms, etc.) a better result is obtained by boiling pasta just one minute less than the cooking time given on the package.

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Wonderful guide! Also I would add in America I often take 2-3 minutes from the box. –  devnull Mar 24 '11 at 23:11

Since al dente means "to the tooth", I always taste it and see :)

To my way of thinking, texture and cooked-ness are two different things. The heat cooks the flour which makes up the pasta, but the time in the water allows the water to be absorbed and soften it. A dry noodle soaked overnight in a cup of water might attain an edible texture, but wouldn't actually be cooked.

Taking pasta out of the water stops the texture from changing, except that too long sitting out and it can get dry again on the outside. Too long in the heat and it would overcook. Lucky that water boils at a pretty constant temperature (for your location/altitude), so once you get the timing right for a particular type of noodle, results are very repeatable.

I only remove pasta before it's done (par boil) when you're adding it to a casserole.

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<3 your answer. You can just soak dry stuff in cold water and it doesn't mean it's cooked even if the texture is good. Also about the altitude (the fact that pressure modifies boiling point is not common enough knowledge). –  Camilo Martin Aug 20 at 1:04

After enough experience you'll probably develop the ability to look at it to see if it's done (much the same way people develop a nack for pouring near exact measurements into their hands). Until then there's nothing wrong with picking out a piece of pasta and tasting it (Careful, it's Hot!).

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Have you simply tried following the recommended cooking time on the packet?

I use Barilla pasta. I find that their recommended cooking time on the packet is actually quite accurate. So I just set a timer.

I used to taste it and have tried that fridge thing. Until it occurred to me that the one thing I did not try was following the instructions.

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except when the directions say something obnoxious like "7 to 11 minutes" –  zanlok Feb 9 '11 at 1:00
    
@zanlok: People vary in their awareness as to the amount of water to pasta in the pot, and the rate of boiling. You get some people who have the pasta very crowded on barely a simmer, and others with a huge vat of water on a fierce boil. Makes a difference, which I guess is why they state vacuous timings. –  Orbling Feb 9 '11 at 1:14
    
@zanlock That's possible. The other brand I used to used was San Remo (?). That had solid times too. It just said "7 min" or "9 min". I think the next best way is to taste. –  Megasaur Feb 9 '11 at 1:51

Though I always just taste it myself, one way to tell that's pretty foolproof is to take a piece of the pasta out and cut through it with a knife. Then look at the cut ends--if the inside looks whiter or more opaque than the outside, it's not done yet. You don't necessarily want it to be the same all the way through, but when it's still partly dry inside it will look different.

This is harder to do with really thin pastas (angel hair, for example) because it's hard to see the center clearly. But for thicker ones it works pretty well. Like all these things, practice is the way--start checking and cutting the pasta early and you'll see how the inside changes as you go along. Over time you'll start to know what you want it to look like inside for the doneness you prefer.

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What? Nobody mentions the tried-and-true "Throw it at the wall" test? In a nutshell, take a noodle out of the pot, and sling it at the wall. If it sticks, it's cooked.

Absolutely works. Probably a bit more sanitary to just taste it though.

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tips from an Italian:

With any type of pasta, if when you bite you can still see a white "core", that means it is not done. The white core is pasta that has not been hydrated yet.

Throwing pasta on walls is for clowns. Don't do it. We don't. It is messy and not necessary.

Pasta continues cooking (hydrating) as long as it is hot AND there is water available. So if it is in a watery sauce, it will take in water from the sauce. But if, for example, you just tossed it with butter it will not continue cooking.

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A trick I use is:

  1. Read the time on the package
  2. If that time is less than 8 minutes: boil the pasta for 2 minutes, otherwise boil for 3 minutes
  3. Turn off the heat
  4. Leave standing (still in the hot water) for the time on the package (do not subtract the 2 or 3 minutes!)
  5. Drain

The nice thing is that it saves a spot of on the stove (you can remove the pan on step 3). You also never over-cook.

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Heat has to be always vert hot, if you don't want glue instead of pasta. The limit is when boiling water go out from the pot. Now turn down, but just a bit, the foam of the boiling water must always touch the upper edge of the pot. –  violadaprile Apr 23 '13 at 21:29

other tips from an other Italian:

"With any type of pasta, if when you bite you can still see a white "core", that means it is not done. The white core is pasta that has not been hydrated yet." that's generally right.


First, you have to distinguish what type of pasta you have. And mainly which kind of flour has been used. The main used are

  • a. durum wheat flour (used for dry pasta, orecchiette, semolino, couscous, some type of bread)
  • b. soft wheat flour (and also chopped finer, called 00 flour from the extent of the tool for chopping, used for sweets, cakes, fresh pasta, like taglierini, tagliatelle, ravioli, agnolotti, lasagne, trenette [with pesto])
  • c. a dough prepared with two-thirds of buckwheat flour (grano saraceno), which denotes their gray color, and a third of wheat flour (pizzoccheri)
  • d. many other different types of flour, regional specific, or specific for some special preparations,most of all sweeties and cakes specials (pasta di mandorle).

The cooking depends on the type of flour used, on the texture, on the purpose and the results you want.


a. The dry pasta, made with durum wheat flour, have to be cooked "al dente".

(!) You need a tall, narrow pot, plenty of water up to 2/3 of the pot. Boil over high heat and strong. Once you put the pasta should be turned quickly because otherwise the pieces are glued to one another. The fire must remain high, but when the water resumes boil the fire goes a little lowered, so that the foam that forms no bait from the pot, but remains strong boiling up to the edge. This is one of the secrets.

"Al dente" means that you have to see in your plate spaghetti move like little snakes, as if they were alive. In the mouth must feel separately. This is achieved by controlling "the clock" time. Just before the exact moment, you take off a piece of spaghetti with a fork, cut in two with his nails, and you look at the center. If you see a white dot, it is uncooked flour. You'll try again almost immediately and the white point will be smaller. As soon as the white point disappears, you must act quickly.

Drain the pasta very quickly, put into a bowl (pre-hot) with a little sauce. Add the rest of the sauce and stir quickly. Serve immediately while hot in hot plates. It is a race with time. The residual heat should remain in the plate but should not increase the cooking.


b. Soft pasta is a northern product, very typic and traditional, often hand made, almost always made with one or two fresh eggs. soft pasta done with tendre wheat flour need a different cooking method. Past should NEVER be cooked "al dente", need to be soft, tendre and delicate.

Taglierini, tagliolini and tagliatelle are usually made for soupe. The pasta cooked in broth should always be tender and it would be impossible to keep al dente (tender that with the pasta would not even be good).

Similarly, the filled pasta (ravioli, agnolotti, ravioli, and also lasagne) must obtain the softness required to blend better with the other ingredients. The cooking should be longer and the cooking time is less rigid. The boil does not have to be strong, the ravioli are to be turned over very gently with a slotted spoon. They must be drained gently, trying not to break them.

The lasagne, in the traditional recipe are cooked separately, al dente, one by one, and place on a clean towel to dry. Then they put in the baking dish, alternating the filling already cooked. We adds a little milk or white sauce (besciamelle, but little) because it does not dry out too much in the oven and sprinkle with parmesan au gratin.


"Throwing pasta on walls is for clowns. Don't do it. We don't." I agree. What film have you seen lately?

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