You may find your angel hair doesn’t live up to the hype if you confuse it with its closest cousin, capellini. Italian for “little hairs,” capellini is “a ‘hair’ larger than angel hair,” explains All-Purpose Pizzeria’s Chef Mike Friedman. And a hair, in this case, is a matter, not of millimeters, but rather of micrometers: Capellini has a diameter of between 0.85 and 0.92 millimeters, while angel hair is about 0.78 to 0.88 millimeters. Indeed, Chef Glenn Rolnick, culinary director of Alicart Restaurant Group, which includes Carmine’s and Virgil’s Real BBQ, notes that while “angel hair pasta is slightly thinner than capellini in diameter (…) many won’t see the difference.”
By and large, this slight discrepancy — and potential for confusion — isn’t a massive problem, according to Chef Leah Cohen, owner of Pig & Khao in New York. “In general,” she says, “the differences between angel hair and capellini are minimal so, really, you can use either one in your dishes based on personal preference or [its] availability.”
But one place where it does make a difference is in cooking time. While the difference isn’t obvious to the naked eye, there is indeed a difference, and in confusing the pastas, you run the risk of cooking angel hair for as long as capellini requires, overcooking the delicate strands in a matter of seconds.