Creamy Fusilli with Spinach, Lemon and Cheese

Cooking for a Crowd, Recipes, Weekend Cooking
creamy fusili with spinach
creamy fusili with spinach

Photo: Leigh Loftus

When people think of perfect pairings, they think of partnering Fusilli with Spinach, Lemon and Cheese with a perfectly complementary wine. It’s true, it’s an art, but an even more perfect pairing happens on pasta night. Equally artistic is pairing the right pasta with the right sauce.

Do we consider these hard and fast rules of culinary creation? Not when it’s 8:00 p.m. and we only have one type of pasta in the pantry. For a special occasion though, when you want to create the ultimate balance of texture and taste, sturdy pastas with tubes, ridges or folds trap chunky sauces, while delicate strands are ideal with a light coating of sauce and long noodles are versatile with just about any sauce.


Long, round noodles are paired best with olive oil and tomato sauce. Thin, light sauces smoothly coat long angel hair or capellini. Linguine pairs perfectly with seafood dishes while spaghetti, spaghettini and bucatini pair well with toothsome meat or vegetable sauces.


Serve bowls of flat, wide ribbons pasta, like fettuccine, tagliatelle and pappardelle with creamy butter or hearty meat sauces. Think: the wider the noodle, the thicker the sauce. Alfredo sauce, a meat ragu or a creamy vodka sauce are all good candidates for ribbon pastas.


One of the most common types of pasta in today’s grocery stores is penne. Penne Rigate (or “ridged penne”) holds a tomato or olive oil sauce well, while “smooth penne” work well with creamier sauces. Ziti, pasta that are cut straight on the ends, are a popular choice in baked pasta dishes. Pro tip: match the size of the meat or vegetables in your pasta to the diameter of the pasta holes. For example, rigatoni, with larger opening on the ends, such as rigatoni, are perfectly made for heartier meat sauces.

Special Shapes

Aside from the traditional, there are a number of different types of speciality pastas that are more exotic and less common. Look for twisted, pinched and folded shapes like shells, lumache (“snails”) and orecchiette (“little ears”) for dishes with creamy, thick or textured sauces. This brings us to Fusilli, which is pretty much a go-to when you need a pasta that will stand above ordinary spaghetti, but still feel simple enough for a quick work night meal.

creamy fusili with spinach

Photo: Leigh Loftus

Creamy Fusili with Spinach
Recipe type: Cooking for a Crowd, Weekend Cooking
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 6-8
  • 10 ounce fusilli (short twisted spaghetti)
  • 1 (5-ounce) package fresh baby spinach
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 cups chopped onion
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2½ cups 1% low-fat milk
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup (4 ounces) grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, divided
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon grated lemon rind
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • Cooking spray
  • ¾ cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs), divided
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Meanwhile, cook pasta in boiling water according to package directions for al dente pasta.
  2. Remove from heat and stir spinach into pasta and pasta water. Let stand about two minutes, or until spinach begins to wilt. Drain pasta mixture in a colander over the sink.
  3. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat and add olive oil to pan; swirling to coat. Add onion and cook 10 minutes or until they begin to turn golden brown, stirring frequently.
  4. Add flour and garlic; cook 1 minute, stirring constantly with a whisk, careful not to let flour brown. Gradually add milk and wine; cook 8 minutes or until sauce boils and thickens, stirring constantly. Stir in ¾ cup cheese, salt, and rind. Remove from heat; stir in pepper. Add pasta mixture to onion mixture, and toss gently to coat.
  5. Spoon the pasta mixture into a 13 x 9-inch glass or ceramic baking dish coated with cooking spray. Sprinkle half of panko breadcrumbs over pasta, and top evenly with remaining ¼ cup cheese. Sprinkle the remaining half of panko breadcrumbs over cheese. Bake at 350° for 50 minutes or until browned and bubbly.
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