Grab a bigger pot than you think you’ll need- pasta likes extra leg room, and you don’t want it foaming up or boiling over.
Bring some water to a boil- the standard is 4 quarts per pound of pasta.
Salt? Adding a tablespoon or so per pound of pasta to the water infuses the noodles with flavor. It also adds more salt to your diet. It’s not necessary, so it’s really up to you.
Add the pasta. STIR IMMEDIATELY!!! When you add the pasta the exterior starch will quickly become gummy and the noodles will want to stick together, so stir it a bunch for the first minute or so.
Whisper words of wisdom, let it boil. Boil time depends on the thickness of the noodles. Usually somewhere in the 6-10 minute range.
Al dente- you’ve heard it before, but why is it so important? It means “to the tooth,” meaning that when you CAREFULLY take out a noodle and bite down on it, it should be soft but still slightly stick to your teeth. Why take the pasta out before it seems done? Because it will continue to cook. Italians would never serve plain pasta with sauce on the side. Maybe someone in Italy would; that’s a broad generalization.
Remove the pasta from the cooking water using tongs or a “spider” (wire mesh scoop) and toss with the sauce immediately. The noodles will absorb liquid and flavor from the sauce, further cooking them and thickening the sauce. Double wham-o! Remember “Lady and the Tramp?” Look at that beautiful plate of evenly sauced pasta!
DON’T DISCARD THE WATER! This “liquid gold,” as I’ve heard Lidia Bastianich on PBS call it, is full of good starch and can be used to stretch and thicken the sauce and give the final dish a velvety texture. This was a hard lesson for me to learn, growing up with the American idea of a pile of plain noodles with sauce ladled on top separately, but it really is so much better.
Where’s the oil? Leave it in the bottle. It just floats around on the top and then gets dumped down the sink. Stirring is the key to no sticking.
Don’t throw anything against a wall. A) it is unnecessarily messy. B) if the pasta actually sticks to the wall it is overcooked- it has exploded, and all its starch has burst out, and it will be a soggy, gloppy mess. Bummer.