Basic Pasta Cooking Guidelines
Picking out your pasta could prove to be the easiest step. Cooking your pasta just right or getting "pasta al dente" is what really enhances the dish you are preparing. "Al dente" is an Italian expression literally translated as "to the tooth." Al dente pasta is fully cooked yet still has a little bite and isn't too soft.
Getting Pasta Al Dente
First you need the right amount of water. For each serving of pasta, put one quart (one liter) of water in the pot. Now it's time to boil the water, without the pasta. Let the water come to a complete boil before you add salt. Some believe that salt keeps the pasta from sticking, but what it really does is add necessary flavor to your pasta. A general rule is to put in one tablespoon per quart of water.
The water needs to come to a rolling boil. Once it does, you can add the pasta. The first minute or two are the most important in making sure your pasta doesn't stick together, so be sure to stir the pasta frequently during those first couple of minutes. After that, you can stir the pasta occasionally.
It's also important to read the package directions on how long the pasta should be cooked. Following the instructions will help make your pasta turn out just right. Of course, you also need to test the pasta as stoves and altitudes can make cooking times vary. About a minute before time is up, take out a piece of pasta and let it cool for a few seconds. When you take a bite it should feel firm but not hard.
A sure sign that your pasta is not ready is if you see a thin white line or dot in the middle of a broken piece of pasta. Instead, it should look uniformly translucent.
Immediately drain the pasta, as opposed to allowing it to sit in the water you just cooked it in or in a colander.