Angel hair might just be the least popular pasta variety out there. I get it: With an average diameter of less than 1 millimeter, angel hair pasta is so delicate that treating it like standard-issue noodles guarantees a disappointing tangle of mush. It was only when I ignored all conventional wisdom about pasta cookery that I was able to produce results that I could get truly excited about. Here’s what you need to know.
Superfine angel hair goes from pleasantly tender to hopelessly overcooked in a heartbeat. That means that in the few seconds required to taste-test a strand, the rest of the pot could overcook. And I don’t recommend following the cooking time on the box, as it’s generally too long. Instead, I eliminated any guesswork by determining exactly how long to boil three top-selling brands.
Unlike other pasta shapes that benefit from a few final minutes of simmering in sauce, angel hair is too fragile to withstand more exposure to heat once it is drained. I found that it’s best to toss angel hair with light, no-cook sauces. (This also means that dinner comes together in the time it takes to boil the water.)
Ultrafine angel hair contains more strands per ounce than thicker cuts such as spaghetti and fettuccine and therefore has more surface area with the capacity to absorb a great deal of liquid. To achieve an ideal consistency, it is necessary to incorporate a generous amount of pasta cooking water into the sauce—up to 1½ cups, depending on the recipe.
It’s important to start the sauce with a concentrated mixture that won’t be overly diluted by the cooking water. I make a pesto-like sauce but reserve the cheese for sprinkling while serving since it thickens the sauce and makes it hard to toss with the delicate strands.