Why do Italians love pasta unconditionally while we New Yorkers only love it if we’ve taken a double spin class and plan to juice all day tomorrow? We sat down with Antonella Rana — daughter-in-law of Italy’s molto famoso godfather-of-pasta Giovanni Rana and the (Nigella-like) face of Rana restaurant in Chelsea Market — to talk about the inherently different approach American and Italian women have toward pasta. Here, over a truly mouthwatering meal of cacio e pepe and squid-ink linguine (and yes, a big dollop of guilt), Antonella explains why Italian women will never turn on carbs and why we SoulCyclers need to calm down about about them.
Living in Rome, I couldn’t comprehend how my beautiful, fashionable Italian friends ate pasta, every single day, without any issues whatsoever!
Listen, my grandma made fresh pasta, from scratch, every day. My mother ate pasta every day. I eat pasta every day. Pasta is a friend. It is a daily pleasure. It is something very, very natural to an Italian. It’s inside of our lives; we do not think about it. It’s not a choice; it’s our natural being.
So there’s NO sense of this “pasta equals weight gain” philosophy? The way Jennifer Aniston recently said, “My body doesn’t love carbs …”
There is a small group of women now who perhaps prefer pastas made with whole wheat, camote, spelt, or farro. You can play with the ingredients inside the pasta, and the texture, but it is always an ally, never an enemy.
When American customers come to the restaurant — especially here in the Meatpacking District — and they have all our usual neuroses around carbs, what do you want to tell us?
Be brave. Change your habit. Pasta, if it’s your whole meal, and you skip the appetizers and secondi, can be so light and healthy. It does not have to be so rich and creamy and decadent every time!
We do have a “go big or go home” mentality around pasta, don’t we …
Absolutely. Pasta for Italian women is a daily habit; for Americans, it’s a party. It’s a choice that means losing control and breaking rules, so Americans order sauces that are complex and rich and heavy. They think if they’re going to do it, they’re really going to do it!
Has it been hard developing a clientele in New York?
No, it’s been a pleasure! Italians are so traditional. If we put out a chocolate ravioli in Italy, people would say, “Are you crazy? It’s not Carnival!” In New York, we have the freedom to be creative. Like, we do a curry pappardelle here, which would never exist in Italy. It’s all about sharing ideas, sharing cultures, sharing food. And by the way, God doesn’t say pasta must be al dente, it’s just Italians who say pasta should be al dente.
While we gorge on our extra-creamy penne alla vodka, what would a civilized Italian woman order?
Me, for example, I’d get fresh ravioli filled with spinach and ricotta: an iconic and simple dish. But it’s about so much more to us …
What’s it about?
Italian women use the food as a tool to pull together the family. In New York, food is secondary to life, work, and the demands of the city. Food is just food. Italian women still think it’s more. It’s not Italian, but the movie Like Water for Chocolate explains the Italian woman. We know in our hearts that a table is not made just to eat, it’s made to [keep people] together.
Will Italian women ever turn on pasta?
Never. That would mean changing centuries of heritage. Pasta is in our blood; no one can change.