Great question, especially for a 37 year old. A lot of people are similarly perplexed, some of them 38 or 39. After 39, a great many of us stop counting.
Presumably this is for pasta which will be held for pasta salad? If you have a different destination in mind, there can be (slightly) different techniques.
Some pasta shapes inevitably sticks to themselves. None of the thin noodles are great candidates. Doesn't mean it can't be done. The best shapes are things which have enough structure to not fold up or collapse on themselves. Things like elbows, wheels, spirals, the smaller tubes (ziti, e.g.), and the smaller shells are very good. If you ever wondered why 96.1% of all pasta salads are made with one of these, now you now.
- Cook the pasta in LOTS of boiling, salted water. You can add a little oil to the water or not as your beliefs dictate. I do, most Americans with a pro background don't. Italians are split.
- After cooking the pasta, remove the strainer basket from the pot or drain it into a colander -- immedately.
- Without any dealy, put it under the cold water tap and rinse the pasta in cold water to get the starch off. With the collander still under the running tap, as soon as the water has the pasta cool enough, toss the pasta gently with your hands making make sure it's both thoroughly rinsed and cooled.
- Turn off the tap, and drain the water from the collander and pasta, tossing the pasta by flipping it in the colander (no hands, preferably).
- When it is dry, pour a little oil, preferably evoo over, and toss it in the colander again.
- Turn the pasta into a clean bowl, add a little more oil if necessary -- you want the pasta slick, but not swimming in oil -- and toss yet again.
- Cover the bowl tightly with cling wrap.
Note 1: Rinsing in cold water serves too purposes. The water rinses starch from the surface of the pasta, and the quick cooling prevent the pasta from producing more surface starch.
Note 2: Regarding tossing the pasta to dry it. Drier is better, because the oil will lube dry pasta better than wet. But you want to balance that against the need to work as quickly as possible, so the pasta doesn't have a chance to start sticking to itself before you get the oil on.
Note 3: You're probably wondering why I specified hand tossing, then flipping in the collander and bowl. You can use a spoon if you want, but your hands are better (rough handling brings the starch out), and just tossing it in the bowl without impliments is better still.
Hope this helps,
PS. H/t to Phil who said the same thing and managed to post after I'd started but before I could hit "submit."
Edited by boar_d_laze - 8/14/10 at 3:12pm