1. In a large heavy pot, bring water to boil over high heat. Use three to four quarts of water for 8 ounces of pasta, about 5 quarts for 16 ounces.
2. When the water comes to a rapid boil, add 1 to 2 tablespoons salt per pound of pasta. If desired, add one tablespoon oil to the water to prevent pasta from sticking.
3. Add the pasta gradually, so the water continues to boil. Don not cover the pan. Stir pasta occasionally to separate pieces.
4. Cooking times for dried pasta vary, depending upon the type and size. It is best to refer to your recipe or the directions found on the pasta package. Dried pasta takes much longer to cook than fresh pasta, which can be done in as little as 30 seconds.
5. Before the recommended cooking time is up, remove a piece of pasta and taste to determine if it is al dente. The phrase al dente or "to the tooth" means the pasta should be tender yet still pleasantly firm and chewy.
6. Pasta that will be cooked again such as lasagna noodles, should be removed from the water before reaching the al dente stage. (Fresh lasagna noodles may need as little as one minute of boiling). The pasta will cook further after being baked with the sauce.
7. Drain the pasta into a large colander placed in the sink. Spaghetti can be removed from the pot with tongs. Some good cooks save a portion of the pasta water to thin the sauce of the finished pasta dish, if necessary.
8. Serve pasta hot unless a recipe specifically recommends that it be rinsed in cool water after cooking. This is usually done if the pasta is to be used in a cold salad or if you wish to cook the pasta ahead and hold it for later use.