It seems that the ability to cook perfect pasta is engrained into every Italian's genetic makeup. It's got the perfect bite to it, it's not sticky and it can honestly be deemed ‘al dente'. It's the ultimate pasta. But if you're like the millions of other people who have ‘perfect pasta envy', fear not. These are some tricks of the trade that will help you to cook perfect pasta every time.
Salt your water. The only opportunity you will have to flavor your pasta is right at the beginning of the cooking process. Add a tablespoon of salt to a boiling pot of pasta water. The salt will infuse into the pasta as it cooks and is the first step in cooking perfect pasta.
Don't use oil. It's not necessary to add any oil to your pasta water. It will just float on the top anyway. And when you go to drain your pasta, you'll just end up dumping the oil down the drain. Salt is all you need.
Use boiling water. The most common crime of poorly-cooked pasta offenders is that they put pasta into warm or even cold water (yikes!). This will almost guarantee that your pasta is sticky. Your water must be boiling. Period. This part of the cooking process cannot be rushed. Put the pot of water on high and wait for the tell-tale bubbles.
Don't let it stick together. You don't want the pasta to stick together as it cooks. Instead, you want water to flow around each separate piece. To do this, give your pasta a quick stir throughout the cooking process. You don't need (or want) to constantly stir, but you want to ensure that nothing is settling long enough to stick. You can increase your chances of perfect pasta with spaghetti if you place it in the pot in a way that allows the most separation of the pasta. In other words, don't stick a clump of pasta in the pot and expect it to separate into perfect pasta. For spaghetti, linguine or angel hair pasta, stand the pasta upright in the pot, and then let it fall to all sides. It will look like an upside-down teepee. This allows a lot of water to flow around each piece of pasta, keeping it separated during the cooking process.
Cook to ‘al dente'. It's time to learn your first Italian words - ‘al dente'. It means, ‘to the tooth', or with just a little bit of bite. This is considered the perfect pasta texture. Your pasta should not be mushy. And surprisingly, if you follow the old rule of ‘if it sticks to the wall, it's done', you will have already overcooked the pasta. If you want to cook the perfect pasta, you will need to continue to test the pasta throughout the cooking process. There is no perfect time limit, as every brand of pasta cooks differently. Ideally, you want to bite into a piece of pasta and catch just at the moment that it finished cooking. Some people prefer to drain the pasta a minute early, to leave a bit more of a bite in their pasta. But you will find your preference when it comes to cooking perfect pasta.
Drain but don't rinse. Immediately after the pasta is cooked, it needs to be drained. If you leave it to sit in the hot water, it will just continue cooking and you'll have mushy pasta on your hands. To cook perfect pasta, drain it right away. You do not want to rinse off the pasta afterwards either (another common misconception). This removes starch from the outer layers of the pasta and inhibits your sauce from sticking. Instead of rinsing, put the pasta immediately back into the pot you cooked it in, and drop a ladle full of sauce into the pasta. Stir it around so that every piece of pasta is just lightly covered. This will stop the pasta from sticking together as it sits and it will ensure that every bite of pasta has at least some sauce on it. Now that sounds like a perfect pasta recipe to me!