To cook the pasta, or not to cook the pasta, that is the question.
I’m sure you’ve thought about adding dry pasta directly into your soup so you don’t have to boil it separately. Although this sounds like a good idea, there are two main problems with this: starch and carry-over cooking – I’ll talk about this further down.
Pasta should be boiled separately until it’s about 75% cooked before being added to the soup. This prevents overcooking and reduces the amount of starch that’s released into the soup, which would turn it cloudy. Make sure to add the pasta right before the soup is ready so it doesn’t become mushy.
For some, the issues of starchy soup and mushy pasta aren’t a big deal, but if you’re wanting to enjoy your food, I’d recommend avoiding these two.
When you add the pasta to your soup depends primarily on the timing. You want to make sure that you’re avoiding mushy, overcooked pasta, and your best way of doing so is to make sure that everything is perfectly cooked at the same time.
If you don’t get the timing right, you may end up with perfectly cooked pasta before other components of the soup are cooked properly, which leaves you with the decision of either serving an undercooked bowl of soup with perfectly cooked pasta, or an almost perfectly cooked bowl of soup that has overcooked pasta.
Some people recommend adding uncooked pasta when certain ingredients, like beans, are just 10 minutes shy of being fully cooked, so by the time these other ingredients are fully cooked, the pasta is al dente and the soup is ready to serve. The issue I have with this is that the pasta may not cook as fast as you expect since the soup will drop in temperature and therefore slow the cooking process. This will also lead to a lot of starch being released into the soup, which could be good or bad depending on what type of soup it is.
My personal favorite way is to cook the pasta just shy of al dente in salted boiling water, then draining and transferring it to a soup to finish cooking for a few minutes before serving immediately.
In this article, I’m talking primarily about wheat pasta and noodles. Other pasta and noodles made from different ingredients will have different results.
The Problem With Adding Pasta Directly To Soup
Putting dried pasta in soup is something that some people do, but many people don’t do it purely because it often results in an inferior soup. There are a few main reasons why pasta isn’t commonly cooked in the soup:
The Pasta Will Absorb A Lot Of Water
The pasta has to rehydrate so it can cook through, but this means that it absorbs a significant volume of water in the soup. If you’re cooking a lot of pasta in the soup, it’s going to have a noticeable difference in how much liquid remains once the pasta has cooked.
This will mean that you have to add more water to the soup, which waters it down and you’ll lose some of the flavors that you’ve worked so hard to develop.
The Starch Will Turn The Soup Cloudy
If you’re wanting your soup to be clear and light, you should never add the pasta directly into it.
As the pasta cooks, it releases starch. This starch normally stays in the pasta water, but it’ll be dispersed into the soup if, making it cloudy.
If you add a lot pasta, then the soup will become overly cloudy and somewhat milky. So, unless you’re not bothered about clear soup, you should cook the pasta separately.
The Starch Will Thicken The Soup
This could be a good or bad thing depending on what soup you’re making and how you like it. So, as the pasta cooks, it releases starch, which not only makes it cloudy, but it also thickens the soup.
Obviously, the more pasta you add, the thicker it’ll get, so a small quantity of pasta isn’t going to make a huge difference.
When you take into consideration how much water the pasta absorbs and the starch that it releases, you should realize that it can thicken the soup more than you’d like. Of course, you can add more water to loosen it up a little, but then you’re diluting the flavor.
The Pasta Will Overcook If You’re Not Careful
If you leave your pasta in the soup for just a few minutes too long, it’ll lose its al dente texture and turn softer and mushier. Continue to leave the pasta to cook and it’ll start to break down, releasing more starch into the soup and you won’t have any solid pasta pieces left.
You need to be dead-on with the timing if you’re cooking the pasta in the soup. You need to time it so that everything is cooked just right. This means that the vegetables need to have the right texture by the time the pasta is perfectly cooked. Then it should be served right away.
The issue with this is that it’s very difficult to get the timing right if you don’t know what you’re doing, so it’s best to just boil the pasta separately until it’s almost cooked, then finish cooking it in the soup for a few minutes.
When To Add Pasta To The Soup
I’m no fan of adding dried pasta directly into any soup, so I always add parboiled pasta to my soup. It’s easier, more reliable, and leaves you with better soup.
Don’t get me wrong, pasta can be added at any time in the cooking process, but adding it when it’s dry is riskier and generally results in something that’s not as good as it could be. Generally speaking, it’s safer to parboil the pasta, then add it to the soup until it’s al dente, then you can serve it.
You should only add the pasta once everything in the soup is either completely cooked or very close to being cooked. This way, you’re ensuring that you don’t overcook the pasta before it’s ready to serve.
You can add the pasta before it’s finished cooking in the boiling water with great results too. If you boil your pasta up until the point where it’s around 75% of the way cooked, then you can add it to a pan of soup that’s just shy of being ready.
The heat from the soup can then finish cooking the pasta and the other ingredients for the next 5 minutes or so, which leaves you with great soup. This method allows you to avoid getting excess starch in the soup, but you can ensure that the pasta has enough time to ‘merge’ with the soup.
Another method you can try is to simply put the cooked pasta into a serving bowl, then pour the soup over it. The pasta can be hot or cold, but this method works like a charm if you’re going to have leftover soup and don’t want to the pasta to turn mushy after sitting in it for too long. If you’re making anything like chicken noodle soup, this is the way to go.
Sometimes You Should Serve The Pasta And Noodles Seperately
You don’t always want to combine the pasta and soup too early if the dish doesn’t suit it. Many recipes call for the soup to be poured over pasta or noodles, and that gives great results.
If you’re wanting your pasta to stay perfectly cooked, then you shouldn’t add it directly into the soup. You can add the al dente pasta to a bowl, then add the soup to it and you can be sure that the pasta won’t turn mushy while you eat it.
If you’re going to be reheating the soup, you don’t want the pasta to be left in there or it’ll absorb more water and break down. Leaving it in there overnight (or longer) and then heating the soup up again will cook the pasta further, giving you a sloppy and mushy result. Instead, only cook the pasta when the soup is reheated and ready to eat, then serve it as normal.