In a recent interview with MyDomaine, Mario Batali shared exactly how long we should be cooking pasta, and you better believe it's precise to the second. He explained:
"I just read the pasta package, and then I take it out exactly one minute short of what they tell you to cook it on the package, and I cook it for 40 seconds in the sauce. Never put the sauce on top of the pasta in the bowl. Put the pasta in the sauce into the pan, cook it 40 seconds, and then put it down. I prefer it about 15 to 20 seconds less than they think Americans want it at — which is a little on the crunchy side, but not crunchy hard — just nicely al dente. Perfectly cooked pasta tastes really good even with Campbell's cream of mushrooms!"
While I'm not sure if perfectly cooked pasta truly tastes good with anything, I can confirm that you don't need much to dress up good pasta. Italians will go as simple as a hefty drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil, a sprinkle of oregano, and red pepper flakes. I'm a big fan of olive oil, parmesan, and freshly ground pepper. Just make sure you do as Mario says and mix those ingredients in with the pan. And always remember the golden pasta sauce ingredient: pasta water. A little splash ties everything together.