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Saturday, April 13, 2013
Agata & Valentina Fine Foods Celebrates 20th Anniversary with "Chefs Who Shop" & Chef Michael Lomanaco Cooking Demo
Agata & Valentina Cheese Selection
Not unlike The
New York Sun’s editorial that famously reassured its readers; I can
give comfort: “Yes, Virginia, there is an Agata and a Valentina.”
These two ladies are
the mother and daughter family food force behind the A&G Italian gourmet
market named for them.
But it’s really a
Picture a big
Sicilian Sunday family dinner starring a constellation of aunts, uncles, and
cousins, with Uncle Louis Balducci and the father Joe Musco, mother Agata, daughter
Valentina and her husband, Michelle Puleo, as the main characters.
In fact, those
family meals are more often than not the first meal – or testing at table - for
many of the recipes that end up as prepared foods in the family’s specialty
There isn’t anything
they offer as prepared foods that hasn’t been tested over and over.
This is a food
family whose marriages are made in kitchen heaven!
Kitchens can be considered "heaven."
After all, don't you often hear the angels sing when you are taking that fresh-baked bread out of the oven?
Or see the stars aligned when the pea soup sashays from the fridge with with its flavors ever more attenuated?
In a broader sense, one can say the partners have created a marriage of a different kind: that of a
restaurant and a retail store that has distinguished their family business Agata
& Valentina from all other New York grocers.
It’s been almost a
year since the family expanded their Gotham reputation for traditional,
authentic, homemade food from the First Avenue location, along with artisanally
made mouth-watering food sourced from around the world, and opened their second
store (not on Second Avenue which would have made the address choice a lyrical or poetic one!) but in Greenwich Village – a sort of coming home for Louis, who grew up in
his grandparents West Village store, Balducci’s: http://www.examiner.com/review/agata-valentina-grand-opening-greenwich-village-today
At the time of the
Grand Opening, the love story of Joe and Agata was told – how they met in
Catania, Sicily where Joe was on a food-buying trip.
Now, the family is
marking their Village store first-year milestone and the even bigger 20th
Anniversary of its world-class specialty retail and catering business.
down with Valentina, who was raised in the business and steeped in the family
food lore, to talk about the 20th Anniversary Celebration, kicking
off with food promotions and today, Saturday, April 13th
with an in-store chef cooking event.
Valentina is the
manager of the Greenwich Village store, having formally joined the business
after she earned her Masters in Business and Fine Food and Beverage Administration
from Bocconi University in Milan, Italy.
In what can only be
described as a fairy tale, full-circle-of-life love story, Valentina ended up
marrying Michelle, an Italian man from her mother’s village of Catonia.
It’s a big food world
out there and yet… These two managed to find each other.
generation’s love story resonates with its true north: food, family and Italy.
That passion for
food tradition and quality ingredients is what drives the Agata & Valentina
Made daily with the
freshest ingredients, all the food they sell is hand made by the family in
their uptown commissary.
From pastry shells
to pasta to gelato to the sauces and soups – everything is cooked and baked by
A key ingredient is
“If it doesn’t have
a branded label on the package, we made it,” said Valentina, describing the prepared
foods they make and sell; separate from the imported foods they shop the globe
and local markets for and curate for their stores.
(The food heiress
proudly says her full name is Valentina Musco Puleo – following the Italian
tradition where a woman legally keeps her birth surname.
It’s much cooler
though to think of her using just one name: a rather Foodie Cher or Madonna,
And in a parallel European
tradition, she noted the family lives in the neighborhoods where they have
their markets and do business. Remarkably, in the case of the First Avenue locale, her parents
live overtop of the place! Now that’s
a true locavore, close to work commitment. Take that Danny Meyer.
You can’t make this
The threads of
family, love, hard work, quality ingredients, local artisans, a passion for
food, respect for the community and their loyal customers, and a tradition of
an enduring, small-family business they are dedicated to -- creates a tapestry
that makes Agata & Valentina so endearing.
Plus it’s the
classic American Success Story.
And a magnet for
“We have so many
chefs who are very loyal, longtime customers of our Upper East Side store. And
now here too,“ Valentina says with conspiratorial pride and a smile.
One can see she can
just know a collaborating good cook --
that she possesses a secret understanding of a fellow culinary artist and aficionado – she is a Culinary Cassandra who’s power of
foresight are intuitive. And beguiling.
Given that New York
is a very competitive landscape for chefs, to put it mildly, it’s a hats-in-the-air
testament to the family’s benchmark penchant for making and purveying gourmet
food that the 20th Anniversary celebration is marked by a “Chefs Who Shop” promotion.
And no less than
Chef Michael Lomonaco kicks off what Valentina says they hope will become a “Chefs
Who Shop” series.
Chef Michael is the
Executive Chef and Managing Partner of Porter
House New York, the very highly regarded steakhouse in the Time Warner Center, as well as of Center Bar, also in the Time Warner
“Chef Michael and my
mother just connected. It was fun to
listen to the two of them talk about food. They were on same page,” she
Agata is the enterprise’s
key recipe developer, so one could make the case they are on the same cookbook page.
All is simpatico,
and customers will be able to see Chef Michael Lomonaco demonstrate cooking two
of his signature, bold recipes in the brick oven, while he talks, offering
cooking tips and food stories.
Samples of both dishes
will be given out to the customers, along with the recipes and shopping lists
for those who would like to recreate these classic Sicilian dishes at home.
A&G will provide
the recipes and in a creative, special, courteous nod to their customers: a
“Shopping List” with the ingredients needed for the recipes and a column “Where
to Find It in the store.
How easy is
The other element of
the 20th Anniversary that is sure to make customers happy is the
aggressive, promotional pricing.
Advertised in the New York Times and on the A&G web site, the prices
are spectacular and reflect a true saving.
“Last Saturday was
my birthday,” said Valentina. “And Dad
got to the party so late because he was so busy trying to get The
best deals!” she laughed.
To best celebrate
the big anniversary, she explained, “We hand-picked stuff we love.”
Certified Piedmontese Ribeye Steaks are $19.99 a pound, regularly $27.99, Lamb
Chops will be $8.99 a pound, on sale from the regular $16.99 a pound, Scotch
Salmon Fillets will be $8.99 from $12.99, and the Burrata – flown in fresh from
Italy each week is $9.99 vs. the regular $13.99. Overall, the list is long and impressive.
For a full list of
promotions, er Promozione’s, that run from Friday, April 12 to Wednesday, April
The store is a
sensual delight – brimming with the bright colors of fresh produce and thick
steaks and sherbet-colored fish; food fragrances of coffee, bread and warm
mozzarella made while you watch, teases the palette. And taste. Tastings abound
at the market. I dare you to taste and not
bring home the seasonal and daily sweet treats.
When asked what has
been the biggest surprise at the new store, Valentina paused and thought a
moment before replying, “From Day One, the customers have been so loyal. I thought it would take some time, but every
day I see them. I can’t help just
looking at them. I know my customers.”
I guess one could
say this Culinary Cassandra can see into their foodie souls.
And she welcomes
them, wills them, to be a part of her extended food family.
Valentina Musco Puleo @ her family's Greenwich Village A&G
Recipes and Shopping Lists for 20th
COUSCOUS WITH SHRIMP
Chef Michael Lomonaco
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, diced, about ½ cup
1 cup quick cook couscous
¼ teaspoon saffron
½ cup canned crushed tomatoes
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes, more
1 ½ cups hot bottled clam juice
1 pound cleaned, fresh shrimp,
about 26 pieces
¼ cup shelled almonds, finely
In a bowl mix the uncooked couscous
with ¼ cup olive oil and ½ teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Rub the couscous
between your fingers to fully incorporate these ingredients.
In a large casserole heat 2
tablespoons of oil over low heat. Add the onions and begin to cook them to a
translucent stage. Without browning the onion, add the saffron, crushed
tomatoes, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. Stir these ingredients in quickly
and set mixture aside.
Pour the hot broth into the
couscous, and quickly bring to a boil before reducing the heat to a simmer.
Allow to simmer for 3 minutes. After simmering gently for 3 minutes, add the onion mixture and peeled shrimp to the couscous
and simmering broth, stirring to combine with the couscous. Once it begins to
simmer again cook for 6-7 additional minutes. The shrimp will gently poach and
cook along with the couscous.
Once the shrimp have cooked fully,
transfer to a serving platter and keep warm.
Serve the shrimp and couscous,
ladling any remaining broth over the top. Sprinkle the crushed almonds over the
whole dish as it is being served.
Shrimp (1LB/approx. 26 pcs.) FISH
Just pulled from the sea!
Tellicherry Black Peppercorns SPICE
Pepper Flakes SPICE
FRUIT & NUTS
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
100% Italian EVOO – ON PROMO! GROCERY AISLES
A&V Couscous GROCERY
CENTO Clam Juice
(two 8 oz. bottles) GROCERY
A&V Sicilian Sea Salt GROCERY
1 Small Onion PRODUCE
SFINCIONE - ONION PIZZA
Chef Michael Lomonaco
Real Sicilian street food. This easily
made dish is readily found at large family gatherings as a late night snack
after all the serious cooking and eating is but a memory until the next holiday
2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup semolina flour
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 package yeast
1 cup warm water
1 large egg
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 large sweet onions, finely
sliced, about 4 cups
1/3 cup olive oil
6 oz. tomato paste
3 ounces flat oil-packed
anchovy fillets, drained and coarsely chopped
½ tablespoon freshly ground
1 cup Italian-style,
unseasoned, dry bread crumbs
In the bowl of a cake mixer using a dough hook or a food
processor fitted with the plastic dough blade, combine the two kinds of flour
and the salt. Dissolve the yeast in the water and add to the flour on low speed
or pulse briefly. Continuing on low add the egg and oil and allow the dough to
work until a ball has formed and the dough has completely pulled away from the
sides of the bowl. Allow the dough to work for 6-7 minutes before removing.
Place the dough in a clean bowl, covered with a cloth and allow to proof and
double in size by placing in a warm area for 50- 60 minutes. (Grandma would do this by hand on a wooden
board by making a mound of the flour and salt, making a well in the center and
adding all the ingredients to the well, folding the ingredients together and
then working the dough by hand for 10 -12 minutes until the ball of dough was
ready to rest.)
To cook the onions,
place a large fry pan (10-12 inch pan, 3 inches deep) or brazing pan on the
stove. If you do not have a pan this size, cook the onions in multiple batches.
Turn the heat on low and add the oil, heat for one minute before adding the
onions. The onions should cook until they are soft, translucent and sweet
without being dark or caramelized.
Stirring and turning them occasionally to prevent burning or sticking,
cook the onions for 10-12 minutes.
Add the chopped anchovies to the cooking onions, stir to
combine and cook for several minutes before adding the tomato paste and pepper.
Continue to cook for 8 more minutes on low heat before removing from the heat
and setting aside. The cooked mixture will be a thick, moist onion sauce.
Pre-heat oven to 450°F. Prepare 2 large rectangular pizza
pans or cookie sheets with 1/2 inch sides by brushing the remaining 2
tablespoons of olive oil all over the inside of each pan. Punch down and divide
the dough into 2 equally-sized pieces. Place on a pastry board dusted with
flour and roll out the dough into the size and shape of the pans in which they
will bake. Lay out the dough in the pans and sprinkle and equal amounts of
bread crumbs on each, covering the surface in a uniform fashion. Pre-bake the
dough for 10-12 minutes until the bottom begins to turn pale golden. This will
ensure a dry, crisp bottom.
Divide the onion mixture evenly in two and cover each of the
dough shells with the mix, leaving a 1/2 inch of uncovered dough as a border
around the edges. Place in the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes until the bottom
is dark golden but not burned, and the top is a richly colored caramel. Remove
your sfincioni and allow to cool for
a few minutes before cutting into portions. Two will yield about 20 pieces.