No matter what goes into the sauce or how long you labor in the kitchen, delicious fettuccine depends on perfectly cooked noodles. Italian for "little ribbons," fettuccine are long like spaghetti but thick and flat, making them suitable for pairing with rich sauces based on cream, tomato and oils. Whether fresh or dry, fettuccine should be boiled "al dente."
Preparing the Water
Fettuccine and other pasta, either fresh or dry, require a large pot of water -- approximately 5 quarts of water per pound of pasta -- so the noodles have plenty of room and don't stick together. The larger volume of water also means the water temperature doesn't drop as much when the noodles are added, so it returns to boiling more quickly. Bring the water to a rapid boil and season generously with coarse salt or table salt, adding between 1 tablespoon and 1/4 cup of salt. The salt absorbs into the noodles as the cook, adding extra flavor, and also scratches the surface a bit to prevent the starches on the noodle surface from sticking together in the first few minutes of cooking. Do not add oil to the water, because this results in oily noodles that cannot absorb or hold sauce.
Boiling the Noodles
Add the fettuccine to the pot as the water boils rapidly. Stir the noodles immediately and again within the first few minutes of cooking. Pasta noodles release starches on the surface within this time frame and stick together if not stirred.
For fresh noodles, boil for 1 to 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. For dry noodles, you may need 10 to 13 minutes to "al dente," or for 14 minutes if you prefer slightly more tender noodles. Test single noodles with a quick nibble to check. "Al dente" translates to "to the tooth," which means they are tender but retain a slight bite that sticks to your teeth.
Drain the noodles in a colander but do not rinse, because this washes away the starches that help sauce cling to the noodles. Toss the hot pasta immediately so it absorbs some of the warmed sauce.