The beauty of preparing pasta is that all you need is boiling water.
Even if you only have one pan you can still make a plethora of incredible pasta dishes just by boiling or cooking pasta properly.
The proper way is of course Al Dente: firm, just slightly crunchy. Yes, slightly crunchy. Pasta's incredible nutty flavor can only be achieved if it is cooked extra firm. I know, I know, this might be foreign to most people, but once you have tasted pasta which is truly Al Dente you will understand why Italians adore pasta.
So, the essential thing is boiling water. Specifically, well salted boiling water. How much water depends on how much pasta you are cooking. Plenty of water is best, but, even if you are limited to a small pan, do not fret, all your pasta needs is salted boiling water.
In a perfect world a large, oversized pot would be best. But, if you are cooking, lets say, a pound of pasta for a group to enjoy, even an eight cup/two quart pan will do just fine. Yes, eight cups or two quarts of water will do the trick for a pound of pasta.
Bring the water to the highest boil you can and leave it at that temperature. Add enough salt (I recommend sea salt for both flavor and mineral content) so that you can just taste it in the water. Too much salt is as bad as too little salt.
Once the water is boiling fiercely add the pasta and stir it briskly in the pan until it comes to a boil once again.
Here is an old professional pasta cooking trick for when you are cooking any type of spaghetti or long pasta. Break the pasta in half before dropping it into the pan. Not only will it fit perfectly but it will cook evenly. You are not waiting for the pasta to cook and bend itself into the pan, which can take over a minute. Your pasta will have the same perfect Al Dente (firm, slightly hard, slightly crunchy) texture all the way through. In addition, it is Much Easier to eat. It also takes on sauces much better than foot long plus pasta.
Most pasta packages recommend that you cook the pasta for a certain number of minutes. In almost every case, if it is written in English, you will be told to cook the pasta way beyond its Al Dente phase. Why? Because most Americans are used to pre-cooked pasta at restaurants, prepared hours in advance (gag!) and placed in a refrigerator to be reheated with your chosen sauce when you order.
Or, they are accustomed to (Oh my God, no) canned pasta products. So, while you can use the cooking time as a guide, the key to perfect pasta is to drain it the minute it begins to fold easily and still has a bit of crunchiness to it. The only way you can achieve this is to keep an eye on it. Stir it regularly as it boils and test it with a fork or spoon. Remember, once you drain it the pasta will keep cooking on its own. By the time you add it to your sauce or accompaniment, over a moderate heat in a pan, it continues to cook as well. This technique is called In Patella or In The Pan, in Italian.
Thick macaroni products (ziti, farfalle, rotini) will take slightly longer to cook than spaghetti varieties. The thinner the spaghetti variety, the Less time it will take to cook al dente. Angel hair pasta can take less than two minutes to cook if your going to finish it properly In Patella where it will continue to cook or soften.
And Never, Ever, Ever rinse pasta. You will destroy its flavor, make it soft, and destroy the ultimate pasta experience. So remember, Never, Ever, Ever rinse pasta.
Another excellent professional pasta cooking tip is to save a cup or so of the cooking water before draining, in the event that your pasta needs more moisture when you add it to your sauce or accompaniment. Adding fresh water will destroy the pastas flavor as if you have rinsed it. So, just in case, keep a cup of the cooking water handy.
If this sounds like a more complicated process than you are used to, relax, I assure you it is easy once you have tried the technique just once.