This is a great video from America's Test Kitchen that covers all the key points for cooking pasta perfectly al dente every time. Simply follow the method shown and sticky, overcooked pasta will be a thing of the past. I have added a few tips and pointers that I find helpful as well. Enjoy!
SEE ALSO: How to Prepare Pasta and 2 Methods of Adding Sauce (video)
SEE ALSO: How to Store Pasta (quick video)
How to Cook Pasta
1. Use a large, deep pot with plenty of water: 4 quarts (or liters) of water per pound (16 oz.) of pasta used. If using a pasta pot with a built-in colander, add extra water to cover the pasta completely.
2. NO OIL NEEDED...save your good olive oil!
3. Add a heaping tablespoon of salt to the water once it is at a rolling boil to season the pasta.
4. Add pasta carefully. NEVER BREAK IT!
5. Stir gently with a pasta fork to allow it to cook evenly and prevent it from sticking.
6. Start the cooking time (on pasta package) from when the water boils again. Stir pasta occasionally.
7. Carefully reserve a cup or so of the pasta water. You may need to use this flavorful starchy liquid to loosen up the sauce later.
8. Start tasting the pasta for doneness 2 minutes or so before the end. Pull out a piece, let it cool slightly, then taste. The pasta should be firm (al dente) but cooked through (al dente is Italian and translates to "to the tooth" or with a firm bite.) Not done yet? Try again in 30 seconds. Repeat until it's the way you like it. DON'T OVERCOOK YOUR PASTA!
TIP: If the recipe calls for further cooking...a baked lasagna or mac and cheese with a crispy breadcrumb topping, for example, you'll want to slightly undercook the pasta so it doesn't get too soft in the oven.
9. Drain the pasta into a large colander. DON'T RINSE! The cooking water helps the sauce coat the pasta more evenly.
TIP: If the pasta is not to be served immediately (for a cold pasta salad or for lasagna, etc.), add a bit of the sauce or dressing you will be using or a small amount of olive oil and toss to coat. This will keep the pasta from clumping together.
10. Combine the pasta with your sauce. You can mix it right in the large cooking pot or the sauce pot. The larger the pot, the easier it will be to mix and it will stay warmer longer. Add in the reserved pasta water - in small batches - to loosen the sauce as needed. Transfer it to the final serving dish or individual plates, add garnish and you're done!