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What is Capellini?

By T. Briseno
Updated May 16, 2024
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Capellini is a thin spaghetti often called angel hair pasta. It is the shape of spaghetti but about a third its width and it is made and sold as long sticks or in circular bundles that look like nests. As with other forms of pasta, capellini is typically made from flour, eggs, and salt, and it is cooked in boiling water. Because of its thinness, though, it can cook more quickly and is most often accompanied by lighter sauces than those served with denser pasta.

In its country of origin, Italy, capellini may be translated as hair or thin hair, and its name is descriptive of the soft, hair-like look of the pasta when it is cooked. Some consider angel hair and capellini to be separate varieties, with one being smaller than the other, but commonly the two are synonymous. Uncooked pasta may be found dry and boxed or bagged in markets, or it can be purchased fresh and refrigerated. Homemade pasta can be made from simple dough and formed in pasta making machines or cut by hand. As with other types of pasta, it is generally cooked until it is al dente, or firm to the teeth.

Some varieties of capellini are colored dependent upon ingredients used. Beet and spinach juices, for example, can be used in the dough to change the more traditional golden pasta color to red or green. Darker mixtures of wheat flour also can be used to make a brown and sometimes grainier angel hair. Squid ink can be used to dye pasta black and to impart added flavor.

There are countless pasta recipes available in print, on the Internet, and held in memory by cooks worldwide. Those recipes using capellini usually include ingredients with lighter textures and flavors. Fresh tomato and herbs such as basil and oregano can be tossed with olive oil and garlic for a simple meal that maintains the taste of the pasta. Shrimp and lemon are delicate additions, and butter and cheese alone can be tossed with the pasta and seasoned. Pesto, spinach, and thinner sauces also may mix well.

Though generally considered an Italian cooking ingredient, pasta also can be used in Asian and other international preparations. When cooked and chilled, capellini can be pan fried and combined with vegetables and small meat slices in a stir fry. Used cold, the noodles may be used for sesame salads or for olive and feta cheese pasta salads. There are innumerable possibilities for this finely textured pasta.

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Discussion Comments
By burcidi — On Sep 27, 2011

Capellini napolitano was one of my favorite pastas when I was in Italy. Napolitano is a tomato based pasta sauce that sometimes just has herbs and sometimes is made with different vegetables like carrots, peas and celery. I like it both ways.

It's very delicious on capellini pasta. I completely agree that thinner pastas absorb sauces better and are more flavorful for that reason. Capellini seems to do that really well. It also makes for a nice light meal with salad.

By bear78 — On Sep 26, 2011

I like using capellini pasta for chicken noodle soup. I break the pasta into two or three pieces to make it smaller and cook it with the chicken and chicken broth.

I think capellini works better than noodles because since it is really thin, it doesn't become too thick when it cooks. Noodles and other pastas can become very full after boiling and absorbing water. I feel like it overwhelms the soup. It's as though I am having a noodle dish rather than a soup.

Capellini works perfect though because it is thin and small even after it cooks. That leaves plenty of broth for me to enjoy when it's ready.

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