Once you start looking for pastas in the supermarket, you will see that there are scores of different types of pastas. There isn’t one recipe for cooking times because the cooking times will vary with the size and thickness of the pasta and whether they are made from wheat, rice, quinoa, etc.
The standard cooking time for spaghetti and medium size/thickness pastas is 10 minutes at a rolling boil. If you are buying whole wheat pastas, they will have slightly longer cooking times (2-6 minutes more). If you are buying pastas in bulk with no cooking directions, use the standard 10 minutes, then start tasting them to decide on doneness.
The main points to observe are:
- Always have sufficient water. When they say 4 quarts of boiling water, they mean 4 quarts, so the pasta can circulate well and be evenly cooked.
- Water needs to start out at a rolling boil when you add the pasta. Lower temperatures will result in sticky pastas that are not cooked through or do not end up with the desired texture.
- The larger or thicker the pasta, the longer the cooking time. Large, whole wheat penne pasta typically takes 12-15 minutes at a rolling boil. Some thin, Asian pasta noodles take as little as three minutes cooking time.
- For smaller pastas, like tiny shells or alphabet pasta, use 6-8 minutes, then start tasting.
- Always stir the pasta well just after you add it to the boiling water to avoid having it all sink to the bottom and stick together as a clump. The pasta in the middle of the clump will not be evenly cooked.
- Pastas made from quinoa must be cooked “al dente” (see below). If overcooked, they quickly become mushy, loose their shapes, and fall apart. Don’t let this discourage you from cooking quinoa pastas. They are delicious, much more flavorful, and are well worth a little extra attention.
Al Dente Pasta
“Al Dente” is the Italian term that describes cooking the pasta until it is firm but not hard. It refers to the fact that the pasta is just sufficiently cooked (no longer hard) but still has a firmness, not overcooked. Like pasta that is too tough, mushy pasta isn’t particularly tasty either.
Pasta that is cooked al dente has a lower glycemic index than pasta that is cooked soft.¹ The glycemic index refers to foods with carbohydrates and how much each type raises your blood glucose (blood sugar). As you can see, it is healthier to cook pastas past the point of hardness, but just to the point of firmness.
1. American Diabetes Association, “Glycemic Index and Diabetes,” Food and Fitness page, http://www.diabetes.org/food-and-fitness/food/planning-meals/glycemic-index-and-diabetes.html, 11/16/11.