Agata Musco, co-owner of the Italian grocery stores Agata and Valentina in Manhattan, lives in Manhasset with her husband.
How long have you been cooking?
I was born in Italy. I helped my grandmother and mother in the kitchen. I grew up around good food. In 1982 I married my husband and came to this country. I started cooking here but I was a little frustrated about ingredients. So my husband said, “We’re going to open a store so you don’t complain.” And that’s what we did, in 1993. I love to cook. Food is my life. It’s what I do for a living and what I do at home to relax. Most of my holidays are in Italy where I cook for my whole family. I really enjoy doing it for all of them. It’s a great feeling. I enjoy the smell of food in the house, that is for sure.
How would you describe your cooking?
At the store and at home it is mostly southern Italian. Northern Italian is much more cheese and butter. In Sicily, we use more olive oil, vegetables, fish. Our customers like this style because for a fair price you can get a really good quality food. Also, southern Mediterranean cooking is very healthy. Some people in New York think if they buy stuff from the health food store, frozen, it’s good. But I don’t like processed food. Italians know it’s better to have quality and freshness. Other than tuna, nothing comes from a can in my house.
Why do you like this dish?
This is a very quick dish, delicious on the palate. It has carbohydrates, protein, vegetables. It was one of my daughter Valentina’s favorite’s growing up. When I was working and was late, I could make this in 20 minutes with a salad and it was perfect.
Tell us about Italian canned tuna. How is it different from the American product?
Tuna is very important in Sicily. Most of our tuna goes to market in Japan to make sushi. That’s how good it is. For this dish, you should definitely look for Italian tuna. Or Spanish will do. Mediterranean water is what makes the difference. And it should be packed in olive oil. The oil keeps the fish preserved and moist.
Any other tips for success? It’s very important not to overcook the pasta. That would be a disaster. If you want, you can add a little bit of oregano to the sauce. A lot of people like that. You can serve it room temperature if you’d like, but I wouldn’t serve it cold. It can be made with any kind of short dried pasta, and is delicious with fresh pasta, too, fresh macheroni or penne rigate.
— LAUREN CHATTMAN