Here's the short and long to get perfect pasta every time:
1. Use a large pot and fill it with lots of water.
Pasta needs some breathing room as it cooks. A small pot with too little water will crowd your pasta, making it stick, clump and cook unevenly. Remember too, that because pasta expands as it cooks, you don't want to put too much in.
2. Bring the water to a full rolling boil then salt.
When you want dinner on the table fast, you don't want to be waiting for the water for the pasta to boil, so make sure it's the first thing you do. If you cover the pot with a lid, the water will boil faster. Once the water boils, add the salt because unsalted water will boil more quickly than salted water. Chances are you need to add more salt more than you think. Taste the water. It should taste like the sea, that way the pasta will be well seasoned and flavourful.
3. Add pasta to the boiling salted water and stir, stir, stir.
Keep the heat high when you add your pasta, the water will stop boiling for a moment but it will come back up to a boil if the heat is high. Stir early and often, this will keep your pasta from sticking to itself or to the bottom of the pot. Leave the pot uncovered, and let the pasta cook, stirring often so it cooks evenly. If you need to, lower the heat slightly when the water has come back to a boil to prevent water boiling over and spilling out of the pot.
4. Don't overcook the pasta!
Most dried pasta will cook in about 8 to10 minutes, depending on the brand and the size and shape of the pasta. Fresh pasta will take even less time. The magic word for perfectly cooked pasta is "al dente" which means firm to the tooth, so you actually want that little firmness or bite in the center of the pasta. Tasting for doneness a few minutes before the recommend cooking time is the best test. It's also a good idea to cool the pasta under cold running water before you taste so you don't burn your tongue. Remember too, that pasta will continue to cook when it's removed from the heat so toss it with the sauce and serve it up quick. Pasta waits for no one!
5. Never rinse your pasta!
When you rinse pasta, you remove the starch that's clinging to it. That starch is what makes the sauce stick to the pasta, so it's a huge no no! That's also why pasta water is often added to the sauce when tossing it with the pasta, again it makes the sauce cling to the pasta better. Sometimes, when making lasagna or pasta salad, a recipe may call for rinsing the pasta. This will stop the cooking, cool it down faster and prevent it from sticking. But draining the pasta well, spreading it evenly on a baking sheet and tossing it with a little oil will also yield the same results.
A few fantastic pasta recipes to consider:
Gruyere and Ham Pasta
Pasta with White Beans and Rapini
Garlic Bread Crumb Pasta