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Jul 3, 2010 12:21 PM

Fusilli vs rotini?

I think of fusilli as long, hollow, corkscrew shaped pasta. Just like what is shown on the fusilli wikipedia page:

However, at a very upscale restaurant I ordered a fusilli dish and was served what looked to me like rotini. An entirely different pasta. At first I thought they were just wrong, but with some Googling and even consulting a cookbook I'm now just confused. In one cookbook - they had a picture of a rotini, and it was labeled "fusilli (rotini)".

However the wikipedia page specifically says that rotini and fusilli should not be confused.

Anybody want to clear this up for me?

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  1. Maybe you mis-read? This is what I see on the Wiki rotini page:

    "Rotini is a type of helix- or corkscrew-shaped pasta. The name derives from the Italian for twists. It is related to fusilli, but has a tighter helix, i.e. with a smaller pitch. It should not be confused with rotelle ("wagon wheel" pasta)."

    6 Replies
    1. re: Quine

      Well on the rotini Wikipedia page they show a rotini as I know a rotini - essentially screw threads. Not hollow. On the fusilli wikipedia page they show a hollow corkscrew. Which is how I know a fusilli to be. So yes they're both helical, but one is a hollow round pasta in a corkscrew shape, and the other is, well, a rotini.

      But maybe a rotini can also be a hollow corkscrew, as long as it has a high number of twists/unit length?

      1. re: michael j n

        OK. Now I am confused as to why you are confused. The Wiki pages are correct, I am more suspect of the "upscale" restaurant that either did not care which pasta was what or the menu writer who was clueless about the pasta used.

        I still know you mis read the wiki page where it says they should not be confused, maybe the Upscale place made a mistake as well.

        1. re: Quine

          What did I misread? Quote from Wikipedia: "Fusilli is not to be confused with the short, flattened, twisted pasta known as rotini."

          I'm pretty sure that Wikipedia is right, the restaurant was wrong, and the cookbook I looked at is wrong.

          The quote from the rotini page that you mentioned makes it sound like if you stretch out a rotini you have a fusilli. That confuses me.

          1. re: michael j n


            "Rotini is a type of helix- or corkscrew-shaped pasta. The name derives from the Italian for twists. It is related to fusilli, but has a tighter helix, i.e. with a smaller pitch. It should not be confused with rotelle ("wagon wheel" pasta)."

            Clearly we are not on the same page...and wow that is probably the first time I can say that literally! :-


            Or also as they say one seeing is worth a thousand tellings, I'd say the pictures on both wiki pages are accurate.

            1. re: Quine

              I'm quoting the page I mentioned in my first post:

              The fusilli page makes a pretty clear distinction, while the rotini page is more ambiguous. But I think I can say that if the pasta is round and is shaped like a corkscrew, it is fusilli, and if it is shaped something like a "plus sign" twisted a bunch, it's a rotini.

      2. re: Quine

        Ironically (given that this CH discussion happened today) I was just in a local market that sells pasta in bulk. All the bins of rotini - plain, spinach, multicolor, multigrain - were marked "rotelle." The other shapes, from farfalle to radiatore, were correctly named. They didn't have rotelle (wagon wheels), though I hoped they would so I could see what they called them!

      3. What I'm about to ask is not to be taken as facetious. Are you really able to taste the differences among different shaped pastas extruded by the same manufacturer? I'm not asking about mouth feel, but what the taste buds actually sense. I cannot tell the difference in taste.

        My wife claims that she can taste the difference, and I think she is talking about mouth feel? We've argued about this for 50 years. Also, she does not like pasta with 'rigati.' The pasta must be smooth, no grooves. Go figure!

        She's the one with the Italian genes, but I think her preferences due to taste and mouth feel are imaginary.

        No matter what the shape of the pasta, it all tastes the same to me. It's the 'condimenti' that taste different.

        3 Replies
        1. re: ChiliDude

          The major difference for me is how the pasta holds the sauce. Some pastas hold much more sauce than others. Some are good for being tossed in a sauce whereas others are not.

          But as for taste (ignoring all texture) - I don't think the difference is significant. Thicker pastas would be less cooked in their centers so might taste slightly different. But it's really all about the texture and sauce holding abilities, IMHO.

          1. re: ChiliDude

            Yes I agree with her! Preferences for the non grooved or larger pasta shapes. I don't really understand the ridges therory, when the little orecciette are perfect for anything saucy. mmmmm! If I want the little twisting action in the pasta, give me the gemelli, its really nice for a different pasta that grabs sauce.

            1. re: ChiliDude

              I would say that there is a definite taste "experience", especially when combined with sauce, that is more than just 'mouthfeel'... I would describe it more as "how the taste is conveyed to the tastebuds".

              If you make your own fresh pasta, the same dough will taste different if it is thick or thin, rolled out on wood vs. a smooth surface...

              I tend to prefer ridges on penne and such...

            2. I don't believe fussilli is hollow. It's just really long. They may have run out of one and subbed the other as there's a similarity in the curliness, however if they are upscale it would have behooved them to mention it.

              All this mention of mouthfeel, you should try capanelle pasta, it's easily available made by Barilla, and my new favorite. It's hollow like ziti, but fluted like a flower on one end, and picks up sauce like no ones business.

              5 Replies
              1. re: coll

                The Wikipedia photo shows them being hollow:

                Maybe hollowness isn't a requirement?

                I will have to watch for some campanelle - I've never had them!

                1. re: michael j n

                  I just went in the garage to look at the fussilli I have on hand, definitely not hollow (and it's imported if that makes a difference). My SIL always said it was like (somebody famous in the 70s or 80s) who had corkscrew hair, that's what I always base it on (and Fussilli Jerry of course).

                  Definitely look for campanelle, I've never flipped out over a pasta shape like this one.

                  1. re: coll

                    Coll, good call on the campanelle. I've been using that shape since I first saw it in Barilla several yeas ago. Tho it could add fuel to this already confusing debate as the Wiki page for that says:
                    "Campanelle is a type of pasta which is shaped like a small bell or flower. (Campanelle is Italian for little bell.) It is also sometimes referred to as gigli or riccioli. It is intended to be served with a thick sauce, or in a casserole."

                    Rotini and now riccioli.

                    1. re: Quine

                      Call it what you want, just don't call me late for dinner ;-)

                2. re: coll

                  Maybe they made the substitution because the sauce turned out to be chunkier (or smoother?) than usual.

                  What kind of sauce did they use. Maybe the pasta experts can tell us whether there was correct match between sauce and shape.

                3. I've bought both. The wiki description seems pretty close enough to what I believe the differences are. The rotini being a looser cork screw and rotini much tighter. If if have to have one or the other, I prefer the fussili.

                  And also I think that one is better, I prefer the mouth feel of the fusilli to the rotini.

                  De Cecco, has nice dry pastas and offers quite a variety of shapes.However, rotini is not one of them...

                  1. This isn't facetious either, unfortunately: Wikipedia is nice to browse, or check chemical structures or names of popes -- subjects resistant to sincere armchair misinformation. Sadly for food topics (even if not this one!) it's often amateurish and outright wrong (even on subjects easy to look up in common food reference books). A famous quip (itself attributed dubiously to Mark Twain) notes that things you don't know can cause less trouble than things you DO know that are wrong.

                    Italy perfected and named modern pasta shapes (even maintains government primary reference standards, along with weights and measures) so for such questions I consult books by Italian cooks, or cooks who grew up there (even if it takes more work than Wikipedia). I have a few good examples from Italy and elsewhere; one, pictorially excellent, in English, is Giuliano Hazan's large-format "Classic Pasta Cookbook" (DK, 1993, ISBN 0751300527, should be easily and cheaply available used). This book is unusually strong on photographic ingredient illustrations.

                    FWIW, G. Hazan's has a picturial glossary of many dozen pasta shapes by major category (Pasta lunga, Fettuce, Tubi, and the numerous Forme speciali). It labels long spiral shapes fusilli lunghi (long springs); short hollow spirals (slightly fatter and ridged) cavatappi (corkscrews), and the short solid-core spiral (very common in US) fusilli corti, "short springs," or simply fusilli. They in turn have variations like eliche (propellers -- similar shape but "slower" twist) and fusilli bucati ("bored"), short hollow tube spirals like pieces of fusilli lunghi. I believe I've bought "fusilli corti" labeled rotini by some US makers but always labeled fusili if made in Italy. (Hazan's book contains no references at all to "rotini.")

                    I also agree with michael j n (and so do most Italian writers I've seen) that the different shapes hold sauces differently, affecting the eating experience. (G. Hazan also goes into the different sauce interactions of egg pasta, which he says is typically homemade in Italy, vs. wheat-only pasta, usually commercial.)

                    My most important point here is don't approach Wikipedia as if it were a reliable reference source on food.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: eatzalot

                      I have seen both the long spirals and rotini labelled as fusilli. When I ordered the homemade fresh fusilli at a local Italian restaurant, what I was served was more like gemelli. Then there's cavatappi from Barilla, which are ridged spiral tubes the thickness of ziti and about 2" long. I like it for mac&cheese because it holds sauce well. It takes up so much room that your eye is fooled into thinking you have a larger portion than you actually do.

                      1. re: greygarious

                        Yeah gg those are great as well. I actually like to use these best when I make my, you don't see me eating this, pasta, butter and soy sauce.

                        1. re: greygarious

                          The tight spirals or the hollow corkscrews probably require a metal die and press, while the gemelli shape could be cut and rolled by hand from fresh dough.