The Pasta Mistake To Avoid When Making Macaroni And Cheese

When you dig your spoon into a comforting bowl of mac and cheese, you want tender pasta, a creamy sauce, and delicious layers of rich cheese. What you don't want to eat are mushy noodles that fall apart before they even make it to your mouth. Instead of getting that perfect bite to balance out the ingredients, you're left with a soggy spoonful that resembles soup more than it does pasta.

How can you avoid this major mac and cheese mistake? By cooking the noodles just until they're al dente. A simple mac and cheese recipe involves stirring your cooked pasta with a hot and melty sauce, then baking it in the oven for up to 30 minutes; this leaves multiple opportunities for your noodles to continue cooking after you've taken them off the stove. To prevent your final product from turning into a mushy mess, undercook your pasta slightly at first, knowing it will finish cooking as you make the rest of the dish.

How to prevent your mac and cheese from becoming mushy

In general, cooking pasta al dente means pulling it off the stove two or three minutes before the recommended boiling time on the box. You'll be able to recognize that it's the right time because the noodles will be soft and edible (not hard like when you first poured them out of the box), but they will still have a little firmness in the center. In other words, they'll be cooked "to the tooth," which is what al dente means in Italian. If you turn away for a minute or two, you could miss the perfect al dente window, so be sure to stick by the stove and start testing as soon as you think they might be ready.

To further ensure your final product doesn't come out too soupy, be sure to fully drain your noodles right away. Resist the urge to then rinse them in cold water — although this helps stop them from continuing to cook once they're off the stove, excess water that ends up in the cheese sauce will have the opposite effect and make them mushy. Just as it's important to make sure you don't overcook your pasta, keep an eye on your dish so you don't bake it too long in the oven. As long as you stop the noodles from fully cooking where you can, they should come out intact when you dig into your dinner.