No matter what goes into a pasta sauce or how long you labor in the kitchen, delicious fettuccine depends on perfectly cooked noodles. Fettuccine (which means "little ribbons" in Italian) are long like spaghetti but thick and flat. They're perfect for pairing with rich cream-, tomato- or oil-based sauces. Whether fresh or dry, fettuccine should be boiled al dente. This Italian culinary term translates to "to the tooth," which means the pasta is tender but retains a slight bite that sticks to your teeth.
Boiling the Water
To cook fettuccine or any other fresh or dried pasta, you need lots of water—approximately 5 quarts of water per pound of pasta—in a large pot 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 quickly.
Bring the water to a rapid boil and season generously with coarse salt or table salt, at least 1 tablespoon. The salt absorbs into the noodles as they cook, adding extra flavor, and also prevents the starches on the noodles' surface from sticking together in the first few minutes of cooking. Do not add oil to the water, as this results in oily noodles that cannot absorb or hold sauce.
Cooking 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 pasta, boil for 1 to 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. For dried pasta, you may need 10 to 13 minutes to cook al dente, or 14 minutes if you prefer the pasta slightly more tender. Test single noodles with a quick nibble to check for texture.
Drain the pasta in a colander, but do not rinse, as 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.