I immediately understood the phrase “undercooked pasta” as meaning that the pasta was cooked al dente or, more likely, even beyond that. The Dictionary of Italian Food and Drink defines it as being “somewhat chewy, neither hard nor mushy.” In one of her cookbooks Lidia Bastianich describes that “al dente is a sensation of slight resistance, generated by the pressure of chewing.” Cooking dried pasta – only dried pasta can be cooked al dente – to a soft, near-resistance-free consistency, not al dente, is what the vast majority of Americans do. This is why the box of DeCecco linguine in my pantry gives two different instructions for boiling – “Cooking Time: 12 Min / Al Dente: 10 Min.”
The owner of Perbacco, the longstanding Italian eatery in a corner of the Pennzoil Building downtown that does pasta well, made it a point to complain to me once how Americans like their pasta overcooked. He didn’t seem too happy about it, but for me, I don’t see it as really a problem unless the pasta gets mushy or loses some of its flavor being too soft. Let people cook it how they like it. And Americans largely like their pasta fairly soft; Italians like their pasta more toothsome, al dente. Though Italians might disagree, I believe it’s mostly a matter of preference.
And I believe that pasta cooked al dente is certainly not undercooked.