I understand that it is hard to define when pasta is properly 'cooked'. It's a subjective topic.

But I think that 'really not cooked enough' is a state that most of use would agree on.

I noticed that regardless of the continent, city, stove type (electric or gas) and pasta type, pasta will never be 'cooked enough to eat' if I follow the time on the box.

I always lived by the sea, at sea level, so I'm assuming all these years, water boiled at the same temperature (100c)

I'd had cooking ranges from high end Viking models to some no name crap ones.

When the box says cook 11min (as in tonight's Barilla Penne Rigate), they start to bee cooked enough to eat at 17min. I never cover the cooking pot, could it be it?

Unless I have a life long curse regarding cooking pasta, why is it that following the box instructions has never resulted in pasta cooked enough in my 30 odd years of cooking them? :)

5 Answers 5


One very likely explanation: did you start your pasta in cold water? These times are given for pasta that gets immersed in a very large amount of already-boiling water. If you either started from cold, or had a rather crowded pot of pasta (such that the water cooled down when the pasta was added), then the time needed will increase.

For me personally, using the boiling water method, the times on the pasta box have always been correct.

  • 1
    +1: you beat me to it. In contrast to your last paragraph I go for an efficient method (boil just enough water in a kettle, weigh pasta into a fairly small pan, turn on gas and pour on boiling water) and get al dente results in something closer to the stated well done time counting from when I added the water to the pasta. If I started counting from when it came back to the boil I'd be much closer to the timings on the packet.
    – Chris H
    Commented Nov 22, 2018 at 8:58
  • I pour in boiling water, I don't start from cold.
    – Thomas
    Commented Nov 22, 2018 at 19:42
  • "Pour in boiling water?" What do you mean by that, @Thomas ?
    – Catija
    Commented Nov 24, 2018 at 19:36
  • sorry, I meant I'm putting the pasta in already boiling water
    – Thomas
    Commented Nov 25, 2018 at 16:45

Obviously those figures can only be a guideline. There's a good measure of subjectivity to pasta cooking, but most likely the package directions are not totally random, and you should be getting pretty close to a good state if you were following them to the letter. Still, the real method to tell whether your pasta is cooked is to taste it, not time it.

But more importantly, can I guess that you're an American? Barilla pasta is Italian, and I'm pretty sure they'd give you figures that'd lead to pasta properly cooked by Italian standards, ie 'al dente', which means literally that there is still some bite to it. I've never really had any pasta cooked that way in any US establishment, the standard is.. mush :-). So if you think 'tender' is the only standard for properly cooked pasta, I invite you to try the Italian way and see whether that in fact might be a better state to aim for. You could start by cutting the time difference in half, and see for yourself that the pasta is still quite edible when it's not completely soft? And then work back to the suggested time, testing at each stage.

Another factor that re-inforces this wrong-headed US standard is that good Italian pasta is made from durum-wheat flour, a much harder variety of wheat than what is generally available in the US. That flour means that the pasta cooks evenly, first it's raw, then it's a bit hard, then it's perfect, then it's getting overcooked, and only (50% in your case) later does it reach that US-favored mush stage, possibly not even ever. But soft American flour doesn't just reach a much softer final state, it reaches it instantly. Which means you go from raw to overcooked in a blink, it's exceedingly difficult to catch it at the right stage of 'al dente'. That is probably the main reason why this mushy US standard has developed to that degree, people have never had the right thing to learn with. So Thomas, do stick with the Barilla while you figure this out...

  • I was born in Europe but spent my life in the US; never thought much about the difference between the pasta style but thinking of it, you are right, they're very different (and better in Europe). I was in Sicily 3-4 weeks ago and they definitely do it differently than what I'm used to. In my question however, I was talking about pasta that is really not cooked enough, not al dente but just hard, and I think GdD's answer below makes a very valid point: putting the pasta in the water stops the boil and I may use too much water, causing extra time for the boil to happen again.
    – Thomas
    Commented Nov 22, 2018 at 19:47
  • Fascinating! I would have knee-jerk thought the exact opposite of what GdD says, that putting the same amount of cold pasta in more water would drop the temperature less. Will have to experiment :-). But it's true that I tend to use less water than generally asked for, especially for say fresh ravioli that stay on the surface. Do let us know the results of your experiments!
    – user57361
    Commented Nov 23, 2018 at 17:47
  • 1
    @Thomas, no, in fact there is no need for the water to be at a full rolling boil to cook pasta properly, and the more water there is the less the drop in temperature when you drop the pasta. If the amount of water is enough (a few liter for each 100g portion of pasta) you can just cook pasta off the fire, just cover tight and wait the cooking time stated in the box. (this works very well except for pasta with cooking times longer than 13-14 minutes) Commented Nov 24, 2018 at 16:24

The times on the box are a guideline, but having your pasta take 17 minutes to cook instead of 11 at sea level says to me there's something wrong, most likely your technique needs some tweaking.

Pasta cooks above 180F/82C, you don't need to boil pasta for it to cook as this good answer to another pasta related question states (note: the experiments done that were cited by that answer match my own experience). When you dump pasta into boiling water water the cool pasta will bring down the water temperature, the less water in the pot compared to the pasta the more that will be. The water (and pasta) now has to get back up to temperature, which can take a couple of minutes depending on your equipment. You can't start the timer until it gets back up above that magic 180F/82C mark, I usually start the timer when the water starts to look like it's about to boil, and it works out for me. If you have an anemic burner for a big pot of water it will take a long to get back up to the right temperature.

The next consideration is how done you like it. Cooking times on Italian pasta is to 'al dente', which is chewy. Note that 'al dente' is somewhat subjective, especially among Italians, although they'd all agree that mushy is bad. Cooking pasta until it is falling apart means it is overdone in Italy, which is why you wouldn't find a time for it on a box.

Regarding water quantity, you don't need a huge pot of water for a little bit of pasta, that's a myth, you only need enough. If your burner isn't strong then less water mean less thermal mass for it to heat, so you get there quicker. Less water does mean you get more concentrated starch suspended in it, which I really like because I often use pasta water in my sauces and the starch is a good thickener, just make sure to stir your pasta often as it cooks to keep it from sticking or rinse it with cold water afterwards.

  • 1
    I think you hit the nail on the head! I always use a lot of water and I start counting the time when I put the pasta in; it definitely takes a while to re-boil as we usually do large pots for a couple days (and eat too much in general :)). I will check the time from the re-boil moment to see what happens!
    – Thomas
    Commented Nov 22, 2018 at 19:44
  • That seems very right - any timing has to happen from the time the water's boiling again, beforehand cooking is only subtle..
    – user57361
    Commented Nov 23, 2018 at 17:47

I am Italian and I agree with you.

Following the box instruction leads to an almost uncooked pasta.

The issue is certainly matter of taste but the same is said by all the persons to whom I share meals with or I have discussed this subject.

I do personally got to know pasta based on format and company.

Spaghetti usually need a + 2' but extra time can increase and considerably do so with other formats.

I suggest you do as I do or you taste while cooking starting when the indicated time has already elapsed.

As another user said, the indicated time starts counting from the moment in which the water restart boiling, or ideally, from the moment you down the pasta as boiling shouldn't stop.

Buon appetito.

  • Anyway cooking pasta for two days put all other issues in a second place:)))
    – Alchimista
    Commented Nov 24, 2018 at 10:03

When making pasta, the pasta should be combined with the sauce in the pot with heat before serving (just the amount of sauce needed for the pasta being cooked). This will continue to cook the pasta and allows the sauce to evenly coat the pasta and combine the flavours. In N. America people typically cook the pasta and just dump the sauce on top when serving. If you do it this way, then you may find that the amount of cooking time needs to be longer than the package instructions (assuming a good Italian pasta brand) even if you are aiming for a proper al dente pasta.

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