Steps for Cooking Pasta

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Cooking Pasta
Always use a large pot so pasta can circulate freely in vigorously boiling water with room to expand as it cooks. If the pot is too small the pasta will stick together; you also risk an overflow of the scalding, bubbling liquid. A pasta pot with a strainer insert is practical: It is the right size and lets you drain off the water with very little effort because the water flows back into the pot when you lift the insert. Salt may be added to the water for flavor and oil helps keep pasta from sticking, but neither is a must.

Fresh pasta never needs more than a few minutes to cook. Dried ribbons and shapes take longer, anywhere from 8 to 15 minutes (check the package for recommended cooking times). Both types are done when the texture is tender but still slightly chewy and no traces of raw pasta remain when you bite into a piece -- a quality described as "al dente." Drain, then transfer to a warm serving bowl and toss immediately with sauce or use as directed in the recipe. A pasta rake in wood, metal, or plastic works best for tossing and serving pasta strands.

Adding Pasta to Water
Fill a large pot with 3 quarts of water (for 4 to 8 ounces of pasta). Bring to a vigorous, rolling boil. Add 1 teaspoon of salt and 1 tablespoon of oil, if desired. Then add the pasta, a little at a time, so the water stays at a boil.

Stirring Occasionally
Stir occasionally with a wooden spoon or pasta rake to keep the strands or pieces from sticking together as they swirl around in the water.

Testing for Doneness
Near the end of cooking time, taste often to check for doneness. Pasta is ready when the texture is tender, but still slightly firm, or "al dente." Donít let the pasta sit in the cooking water or it will overcook and get mushy.

Draining
For best flavor and texture, drain pasta thoroughly so no cooking water sticks to the pieces and dilutes the sauce.