Probably the two words that best describe fusilli are “spirals” and “springs.” However, as it happens when Italian words are put under the microscope of translation, something else always shows up. So, for example, in the region of Calabria, fusilli are known as fischietti, or “little whistles.” Other variations include spinach fusilli and, one of my favorites, an elongated type known as fusilli lunghi (think of it as spiral-shaped spaghetti).
The descriptive names of pasta are interesting, but it is the shape of the pasta that tells the full story. In the case of fusilli, the spiral shape is important in that there are more edges and surfaces to pick up and hold the sauce. Also, as it goes with a “short” pasta like fusilli, there is the opportunity to use it in pasta salads.
Many casual Italian restaurants employ the idea of picking a pasta (spaghetti, rigatoni, linguine, fettuccine, fusilli, etc.) and pairing it with a choice of sauces (marinara, garlic and oil, meat, alfredo, etc.). I like this approach, since it gives your customers (and it holds special appeal for children) a chance to be more creative. Fusilli matches up nicely with just about any sauce, but (and you knew there was a but coming, right?) I have my favorites, several of which I would like to share with you.
First, however, a few pointers on Perfect Pasta Cookery is in order. As always, it is wise to spend a few cents more to buy a quality pasta, one that was made with 100 percent pure durum semolina.
Next, regardless of the shape, pasta must be cooked al dente. Shapes, sauces, and styles don’t mean a thing if pasta is overcooked.
Next, never put oil in the cooking water. It just makes the pasta slippery, destroys the pasta-starch connection, and ultimately prevents a good bonding of the sauce and the pasta. Pasta will never stick together if you use a quality brand and plenty of water (5 quarts of water and 1 tablespoon of salt for 1 pound of pasta).
Next, never rinse pasta after it has been cooked. If you rinse the pasta you remove the essential starch clinging to the pasta, and it is this starch that helps the sauce adhere to the pasta. If I see a soupy mess of sauce in the bottom of a bowl of pasta, I know that the pasta was rinsed.
Next, never drown the pasta in sauce. You are not doing the pasta or the sauce any favors (and you are increasing your food costs). More is not better when it comes to saucing pasta.
Okay, now that I have those suggestions out of the way, let’s get into several of those recipes that I mentioned earlier.
Fusilli with Turkey Bolognese
Makes about 1 quart of sauce, and four generous pasta course servings (can be scaled up in direct proportion).
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup chopped yellow onion
1 pound fresh ground turkey (breast meat only)
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
1/4 cup milk
1 quart plum tomatoes with juices, crushed
3 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 teaspoons dried oregano, crumbled
1/2 cup canned chicken broth
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
3/4 pound fusilli cooked al dente
In a 4-quart pot, heat the oil over medium heat for 1 minute. Add the onion and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the ground turkey and continue to cook and stir until the turkey is just cooked through, about 4 minutes. Add the fennel seed and milk and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes.
Add the tomatoes, parsley, oregano and chicken broth. Bring the sauce to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer the sauce, uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 35 to 40 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
Fusilli Lunghi with Shaved Fennel and Sausage in Cream Sauce
Makes 2 servings (recipe can be scaled up in direct proportion)
1 small bulb fresh fennel (about 3/4 pound)
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 pound sweet Italian sausage, casing removed
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 pound fusilli lunghi cooked almost al dente
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Trim and clean the fennel by cutting off the feathery top. Cut the bulb in half lengthwise and cut away the small triangular core. Using a mandoline or sharp knife, shave each fennel half into paper-thin slices. Place the fennel in cold water and set it aside.
In a sauté pan or skillet large enough to hold all of the pasta after it has been cooked, warm the olive oil over medium heat for 1 minute. Add the sausage, crumbling it into small pieces. Cook and stir until the sausage has been cooked through. Drain off any excess fat from the pan.
Pour the whipping cream into the pan. Bring the cream to a steady boil. Reduce the heat. Drain the reserved fennel and add it to the pan. Simmer the sauce for 7 to 8 minutes.
Add salt and pepper to taste.
Add the cooked and drained pasta to the pan with the cream and sausage. Cook and stir for 2 minutes to heat the pasta and coat it with the sauce. Divide the pasta between two heated serving bowls. Sprinkle half the Parmesan over each serving.
Whenever possible, I prefer to finish a pasta dish mantecata, that is, add the cooked pasta to the sauté pan in which the sauce has been cooking. By doing it this way the pasta has a chance to blend with the flavors of the sauce.