Each week the staff at Lombardi’s Restaurant sets up the restaurant foyer with a pasta rolling machine and some drying racks that most of us mere mortals would use to hang just-laundered socks. From the kitchen they carry dense, rich, golden dough in multiple ten-pound batches and, with deft hands, produce fettuccine, whole wheat fettuccine, spaghetti, lasagna, cavatelli, ravioli and manicotti. Occasionally they crank out a special for good measure, like spinach fettuccine.
It’s actually not easy to make homemade pasta, no matter how good your ingredients are. How do I know that it can end up soft and mushy when you boil it, or that it can end up cracking and falling apart? I don’t want to talk about it! Restaurant co-owner Agatha Foti, however, learned to make pasta from her mother, Pierina Lombardi, who learned from her mother, and made pasta the same way when she was a girl in Italy. You might say they’ve got it down.
Agatha’s husband, co-owner Paul Foti, says that while various types of house made pasta have been on the menu since the restaurant opened in 1973, demand has increased exponentially. The Fotis and their staff now produce about 200 pounds a week. Before you start trying to imagine the equivalent of 200 one pound boxes of dry pasta marching off into infinity, keep in mind that freshly made pasta still has a great deal of water-weight, so it takes less volume to get to 200 pounds. Still, that’s a lot of pasta.
There’s a reason for this dramatic increase. The pasta Lombardi’s produces is very, very good, and superior to the conventional dry pasta with which we are all familiar. The taste is richer and, without wanting to sound too uppity, I’d have to say that its textural complexity makes the difference. Dry pasta, even the best quality dry pasta, is what it is when you first bite into it. Good homemade pasta on the other hand, reveals itself as you chew, managing to be both chewy and soft at the same time.
So far, we’re not even talking about what the Fotis put on all this wonderful pasta. We’re just talking about the superior quality of the noodles themselves. Now imagine, for example, those soft, chewy sheets of manicotti noodles stuffed with veal, spinach and ricotta and topped with an excellent tomato sauce. Dream about whole wheat fettuccine dressed in olive oil, garlic and spinach, or about eleven layer lasagna. It’s really not that hard to eat too much when you go there.
The Fotis, like most true Italians, cook their pasta very al dente, which means literally “to the tooth.” It is quite firm. if you like your pasta softer, mention that when you order. Lombardi’s is open 4 PM Monday through Sunday. Closed on Tuesdays. They will be closed from December 22nd to January 27th.