What Is Fusilli?

Cooking and Recipes

A close-up of Fusilli bucati pasta

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Fusilli (foo-SILL-ee) is a type of Italian pasta shaped like curly spirals or little springs. Fusilli is often served with thicker sauces like meat sauces and heavy cream sauces, since the grooves in the pasta trap sauce. The word fusilli comes from "fuso" meaning spindle—a spindle rod is traditionally used to spin the strips of pasta into a spiral shape.

Fast Facts

  • Category: Short cut pasta
  • Meaning: Spindle
  • Cook Time: 7–10 minutes
  • Main Ingredient: Semolina
  • Variants: Fusilli bucati, fusilli lunghi
  • Substitutes: Rotini, cavatappi/cellentani, gemelli

What Is Fusilli?

Fusilli is a short cut, twisted pasta made from semolina flour that is typically served coated in a sauce or in pasta salads. After rolling out the dough, the pasta is traditionally spun around a rod or wire to form its curly shape. This makes it a bit tricky to make at home, requiring some finesse. It's commonly sold dried, but can sometimes be found fresh at specialty stores. It is priced similarly to comparable pastas.

Fusilli's twisted shape makes it adept at trapping a variety of sauces. Anything from simple tomato sauces, cream sauces, chunky meat or vegetable sauces, or thin, lemon and olive oil sauces will pair nicely with the versatile pasta. Fusili also works well in pasta salads, trapping dressing and remaining toothsome after chilling.

Fusilli vs. Rotini

The word "fusilli" is sometimes incorrectly used to describe another twisted pasta called rotini. The key to distinguishing the two is to remember that fusilli is made of strands of pasta twisted into little spring-like shapes, while rotini is typically extruded into a twisted shape. Rotini is more common in the U.S. and is produced by all major pasta manufacturers. The two can be swapped in recipes with similar results.

Manufacturers often don't make much distinction between fusilli and rotini. If you prefer one over the other, you'll have to examine what is in the box, bag, or container to see if it is the shape you were expecting. You may even discover rotelle (the little wagon wheel pasta shape) incorrectly labeled as fusilli or rotini.

How to Cook Fusilli

Fusili can be added directly from the packaging and cooked in boiling water. Bring a large pot of water to rolling boil and salt to taste. Add the dried or fresh pasta to the water, stirring to keep them from sticking together. Cook fresh fusilli for three to four minutes or until al dente (tender with a slight bite in the middle); cook dried fusilli for seven to 10 minutes. Read the packaging for best practices.

Strain immediately. Toss with sauce right away and serve for hot preparation, or rinse with cold water and drain well before using in a pasta salad.

To make fusilli at home, first, make pasta dough and roll it out to be about 1/8-inch thick by hand or with a pasta machine. Cut strips of dough that are 1/4-inch wide and as long as you desire. About a 4-inch strip is a good starting point. Take a metal skewer or wooden rod and wrap a strip loosely around it. Allow them to dry for several minutes, remove the skewer, and let them finish drying for another 20 minutes or more. To make more rustic fusilli, roll a small dough ball into a strand about six inches long and then wind it around the skewer to dry.

Fusilli tricolore
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Pasta simmering in water in a pan.
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Fusilli pasta with spinach and ricotta
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Whole heat fusilli pasta with cheese and cherry tomatoes
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Fusilli pasta with vegetable on plate.
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Varieties

Whole wheat, gluten-free, and high-protein versions of fusilli can be found in dried form. Colorful varieties dyed red with tomato or beet, green with spinach, and or black with cuttlefish ink are also available dried, sometimes in a tri-color assortment. Fresh fusilli can be found at specialty shops and Italian markets or made at home.

A variant of fusilli, called fusilli bucati, is made with hollow tubes of pasta that are twisted into little springs or corkscrews. There is also fusilli lunghi, which consists of long, spaghetti-length strands of spiral pasta rather than short pieces. A combination of the two (hollow tubes twisted into long strands) is called fusilli lunghi bucati.

Substitutes

Rotini is often mislabeled as fusilli, and it makes a good substitution. The length and shape are similar, making the two pastas equally adept at trapping sauce. Rotini is especially good in pasta salad recipes. Cavatappi (also known as cellentani) is an excellent stand-in for fusilli bucati since it is hollow and twisted. Its shape and ridged edges make it good for serving with thick or chunky sauces. Another good option is gemilli, with a rustic, twisted shape that pairs well with a variety of sauces.

Fusilli Recipes

Fusilli makes a lovely cold pasta salad, especially with a creamy dressing. The twisted shape will hold more of the dressing in each bite for extra flavor while adding visual interest. It's also a great shape for holding thicker sauces and holds its own next to big ingredients like chicken and asparagus. It can even be used in pasta bakes, layered with sauce, ground beef, and cheese.

Swap fusilli for the rotini and rigatoni in these recipes, cooking the pasta according to package directions: