As easy as it seems, boiling the perfect pot of pasta is an art. If you boil the noodles too long, they'll be mushy. If you don't boil the noodles long enough, they'll be hard and inedible. The key to making tasty pasta is to cook it just the right length of time, or until it is "al dente." "Al dente" (which means "to the teeth" in Italian) noodles are cooked all the through but still retain a chewy bite.
Fill a large pot with plenty of water, which will prevent the noodles from sticking. Use a minimum of four quarts of water for each pound of pasta.
Cover the pot with a lid and bring the water to a rolling boil over high heat. Add 1 tbsp. to 2 tbsp. of coarse salt to the boiling water, which will help season the pasta.
Add the dry pasta to the boiling water all at one time. Avoid mixing pasta types, such as penne and spaghetti noodles, as each type of pasta requires different cooking times.
Stir the noodles gently using a wooden spoon or tongs immediately after adding them to the water to prevent sticking.
Bring the water back to fast boil and keep the lid off of the pot. Lower the temperature slightly if the water begins to foam up or boil over the pot.
Test the pasta by tasting it four minutes after the water was brought back up to a boil; most pasta types are done within six to 12 minutes, depending on the type and thickness of the pasta. Remove the pot from the water when the pasta is al dente. Drain the noodles in a colander over the sink and toss them with hot sauce immediately.
- Most pasta packages include directions for proper cooking on the wrapper or box.
- Don't add oil to the pasta water, as it could prevent sauce from adhering to the noodles. If you're using fresh pasta, it will rise to the top of the boiling water when it's done.
Elizabeth Arnold has written for a wide variety of publications and websites. Her experience includes writing travel features for "Recommend" magazine and packaging marketing copy for both Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Warner Bros. consumer products. Recently, Arnold was a staff writer for "Special Events" magazine. Arnold studied English at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.