Searching for Italy: All the Places Stanley Tucci Went in Season 2

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Searching for Italy, the CNN-produced hit series starring Stanley Tucci, was a balm during the pandemic. So, of course, the Emmy-winning travel and food show came back for a second season.

During Season 2, Tucci travels to Venice and its region Veneto; Turin and its region Piemonte (Piedmont); and Umbria for episodes 1, 2, and 3, respectively. Episode 4 takes place outside of Italy in London, which has a large Italian expat community.

After a break of several months, Tucci and co. returned with four more episodes featuring the regions of Calabria, Sardinia, Puglia (+ Basilicata), and Liguria.

Episode 1: Venice

The city of gondolas and canals, Venice is a city “between earth and water” and the first stop for Stanley Tucci in the first episode of Season 2. Venice was an obvious choice given the rich and unique culinary heritage of the former city-state known as La Serenissima. It also helps that the city is extremely telegenic.

Tucci also travels beyond the city of Venice to the marshes of the Veneto and to the neighboring region Friuli-Venezia Giulia to explore the diversity of northeast Italy’s cuisine.

Near the Rialto Bridge. Tucci begins the show with a walk to a bar that is “2 minutes from the Rialto Bridge.” But, it’s very easy to get lost in Venice. Stanley jokes that “two hours and 45 minutes later, I find the bar.”

All’Arco (reviews). He finds Matteo Pinto, the proprietor of All’Arco, a proper Venetian “bacaro” that serves cicchetti. These tapas-like finger foods are typically Venetian and can have all sorts of toppings. Tucci notes that he is having these cicchetti (pronounced chee-kett’-ee) with a glass of wine (un ombra) for breakfast. But, of course, these snacks are available all day, particularly at aperitivo time.

Ai 4 Feri Storti (reviews). Tucci remains in the San Polo sestiere to try even more cicchetti, this time with gondolier Tobia Pattias. While it’s common knowledge in any city that the taxi drivers are the ones to ask for honest food recommendations, in Venice you ask the gondoliers. Tucci and his dining companion sample several varieties of cicchetti, including the most famous cicchetto—baccalà montecato—a food that “is to Venetians as pizza is to Neapolitans.” Venice expert Monica Cesarato tells the story on her blog of how a Norwegian fish became a Venetian staple. Tucci also writes about Venetian codfish pâté in The Tucci Cookbook.

Rialto Market (tour). Venice’s famous market is an obvious stop for Tucci and crew. He visits the millennium-old market with Gianni Scappin, his recipe advisor for The Tucci Cookbook and the foodie film Big Night. Here, Stanley and Gianni buy small cuttlefish (seppia) to prepare the famous dish Risotto al Nero di Seppia (Black Risotto with Cuttlefish). They purchase 10 cuttlefish (not squid!) for a meal for two and use carnaroli rice rather than arborio to create a dish that is “as theatrical as Venice.”

The Gritti Palace. Between Tucci’s visit to the Rialto Market and the kitchen, the CNN producers provide us with a long shot of the sign of The Gritti Palace, one of Venice’s most famous and luxurious hotels. Located on the Grand Canal and not far from the modern art masterpieces of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, The Gritti Palace is one of a number of Marriott hotels in Italy.

Piazza San Marco. St. Mark’s Square is the famous heart of Venice, but Tucci spends time here only to set the scene for his next adventure, inspired by the “foul habit” of the doges of Venice—duck hunting.

Harry’s Bar (reviews). Ernest Hemingway was once a regular at Harry’s Bar, one of Venice’s most famous watering holes. Here, Stanley meets up with historian Andrea di Robilant, author of five nonfiction books about Venice, including the recent Autumn in Venice. Robilant explains how duck (anatra) is also an important flavor in Venetian cuisine, particularly in the fall. During the time of the Venetian Republic, it was customary for the doge to commission state-run boats for shooting ducks so that there was always an ample supply to donate to legislators before Christmas (as many as 5,000). These duck hunts made their way into Venetian art, including some prized panels by Vittore Carpaccio in the 15th century, one of which is in the Museo Correr (tours). The author of the previously-linked Carpaccio article also provides us with this cool bit of Italian culinary trivia:

The Venetian raw meat dish that we know as carpaccio is named after the painter Vittore Carpaccio, supposedly because of his characteristic use of brilliant reds and whites. Guiseppe Cipriani, the founder of Harry’s Bar, invented the dish in 1950, the year of the great Carpaccio exhibition in Venice. He was responding to a request by the Contessa Amalia Mocenigo, a frequent customer, whose doctor had placed her on diet forbidding cooked meat.


Valle Pierimpiè. Tucci decides to observe a caccia (hunt). So he rises before dawn and heads west to the vast marshlands of Venice. His guide, Oliver Martini, is the owner of 500 hectares of wetlands in the Campagna Lupia known as Valle Pierimpiè. The scene is not unlike this literary description from the SI Vault:

Alone, the hunters wait for dawn. Far in the distance the sound of gunfire can be heard and, high above, the first sound of beating wings brings guns to hand in haste and error. Hold fire. No shooting here, not yet. Only when the horn is blown—announcing dawn—can firing commence. Now, from across the marsh, they hear it, and now they raise their guns. With the first shot the air is suddenly filled with birds—teals and curlews, pintails and mallards.

A Duck Hunt in Venice—published in Sports Illustrated, 1956

Villa Seicento (reviews). All the talk of duck means that Tucci eventually eats some of it. Andrea di Robilant joins Tucci at Villa Seicento on the island of Torcello. Chef Nicola Codolo prepares them a meal that features bigoli, a spaghetti-like pasta from the Veneto, in a duck ragù. Here’s a video from the Pasta Grannies on how to make bigoli al sugo d’anatra (though this recipe is from Vicenza, another city in the Veneto).

Back in “mainland” Venice. Tucci joins journalist Maurizio Dainese for a scartosso of fried calamari. This quintessential Venetian “fast food” is easy, thanks to plentiful calamari in the lagoon and salt, which is available even in the crevices of buildings. Dainese explains that the regular flooding of Venice (the acqua alta) means that saltwater gets in everywhere, bloating bricks.

Mazzorbo. Next, we head north to meet Matteo Bisol, whose family rediscovered the indigenous Dorona grape, the only variety to be able to withstand the stress of the salty earth around Venice. The Bisol family’s 16th century vineyard, in operation since 1542, is also home to Michelin-starred restaurant Venissa (reviews). Read more about the Bisol family, the Dorona di Venezia, and Venissa. You can also stay at the 6-room guesthouse of the Venissa Wine Resort (reviews), but expect a long wait list for reservations.

Orient Experience (reviews). One of the things that I appreciate about Stanley Tucci’s show is that he highlights non-traditional restaurants with a community assistance component, such as Chikù in Naples and Cucine Popolari in Bologna (see season 1). When he visits Hamad Ahmadi, the Afghan-Venetian owner of Orient Experience in the sestiere of Cannaregio, he points out that while Italians rarely eat non-Italian food, Venetians are more open to foreign fare because of their heritage as a trading post along the Ancient Spice Road. The refugee-run Orient Experience, which features a mélange of dishes from Africa and the Middle East, is, notes Tucci, a “project [that] will work anywhere.” And, in fact, there’s a second Orient Experience in the Dorsoduro district.

Friuli-Venezia Giulia. In what almost seems like an afterthought, Tucci and his team head east to of Friuli-Venezia Giulia, a region at the crossroads between the Venetian Republic and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He says that the food of Friuli is rarely in the spotlight. But, of course, you can find Friulian recipes from Lidia Bastianich, originally from Gorizia, FVG, and in the recent award-winning cookbook Friuli Food and Wine: Frasca Cooking from Northern Italy’s Mountains, Vineyards, and Seaside.

L’Argine a Vencò (reviews). Tucci’s final stop in season 2, episode 1 is at L’Argine a Vencò, in Dolegna del Collio in the province of Gorizia. Run by Chef Antonia Klugman and her sister Vittoria, the small, modernist restaurant has one Michelin star and only nine tables. Klugman makes pork goulash, a recipe passed down from her Austro-Hungarian grandparents. The succulent stew, spiced with bay leaves, juniper berries, cumin, and paprika, and sweetened with dry apricots, is interesting because of its complexity, proving that “Italian food” is anything but a cliché.

Episode 2: Piedmont

Modern Italy would not exist were it not for Piemonte (Piedmont). In the second episode of Season 2, Stanley Tucci heads to Turin (Torino), the capital of Piemonte and the first capital of unified Italy. Turin, Italy’s fourth-largest city, is where Italian coffee and chocolate were born. Just south of Turin lies the Langhe, a subregion known for its fine wine and white truffles.

Tucci also visits Vercelli, known for its rice production and risotto, and the neighboring region of Valle d’Aosta, a picturesque valley below the Alps.

Bicerin. Tucci begins the Piemonte episode drinking a bicerin, a mocha-like coffee beverage invented in Turin. The sweet drink takes advantage of two ingredients that the Torinese, by way of the Savoy royal family, introduced to Italy—coffee and chocolate—and tops them with cream. Tucci made a stop at Caffè al Bicerin (reviews), founded in 1763. You can read a little bit about Turin’s famous coffee drink here.

Ristorante del Cambio (reviews). Right across the street from Italy’s first parliament building (Palazzo Carignano) sits Ristorante Del Cambio, Turin’s oldest restaurant, founded in 1757. The favorite restaurant of Italy’s first prime minister Camillo Benso Conte di Cavour, Ristorante del Cambio displays a plaque above the table where Cavour would hold court when he wasn’t at parliament. (You can learn more about Cavour and the history of Italian unification at the Museo del Risorgimento (reviews), located inside Palazzo Carignano.)

Del Cambio has one Michelin star thanks to chef Matteo Baronetto, who likes to combine classic French and Italian flavors—a common pairing for Piedmont, given its geography. Chef Baronetto serves Tucci foie gras accompanied by sautéed cavolo nero (black cabbage). Later, he serves Tucci two versions (traditional and modern) of Finanziera, a “rough stew” made with offal. It was a favorite dish of Cavour and is the dish that Del Cambio is known for.

Pollenzo. Next, Tucci heads to Pollenzo, a tiny town south of Turin that is home to the University of Gastronomic Science. Opened in 2004, the university is the brainchild of Carlo Petrini, the founder of the internationally-renowned Slow Food movement. Begun in the mid-1980s as a reaction to a McDonald’s opening next to Rome’s Spanish Steps, Slow Food campaigns worldwide for honest food and homegrown traditions in opposition to “bland, industrial food.”

Piola da Celso (reviews). Back in Turin, Tucci finds the Slow Food philosophy at work in the kitchen of Elisabetta Chiantello, proprietor and chef at Piola da Celso. Chiantello teaches Tucci how to make Bagna Cauda, a warm, garlic and anchovy dip that is a traditional Piemontese dish rarely found on a restaurant menu. Also on the menu at Piola da Celso are vitello tonnato, agnolotti, and roasted veal shoulder.

Vercelli. Approximately one hour northeast of Turin lies Vercelli, the rice capital of Italy. Here, like in Venice, Tucci makes yet another reference to a certain food being the same “as pizza is to Naples.” In this case, he’s talking about risotto.

Christian and Manuel Ristorante (reviews). Tucci pays a visit to Hotel Cinzia, where the Costardi brothers—Christian and Manuel—have elevated the art of the risotteria. Their restaurant, which has been awarded one Michelin star, has 20 varieties of risotto dishes, including one served in a Warholesque tin can and made with coffee, beer, and Grana Padano cream. They also serve a rice dessert that includes crispy rice, chestnuts, and chocolate; it’s called “rice field in winter” because the plating evokes the crispy, cracked veneer of the waterlogged Piedmont plain during the coldest months of the year.

Truffle hunting (tours). Tucci ventures again into Le Langhe, a UNESCO-recognized area known for its white truffle (tartufi bianchi) and fine wine. Tucci attends a truffle auction, probably the International Alba White Truffle Fair. One 2kg truffle fetches $100,000 during the auction. Unlike black truffles, which can be cultivated, white truffles grow wild, making them precious and expensive.

To learn more about what it takes to find the elusive tartufo bianco, Tucci joins truffle hunter Igor Bianchi. The white-bearded Bianchi, the “King of the Truffle Hunters,” and his trusty dogs (“pigs can’t be trained,” he scoffs) do not find any white truffles during their televised walk in the woods. But later, Bianchi treats Tucci to a quick dish of egg and shaved white truffle.

Serredenari. Still in Langhe, Tucci visits the vineyards of the outstanding young winemaker Giulia Negri. Also known as Barolo Girl, Negri has been harvesting Nebbiolo grapes since the age of 24.

Valle d’Aosta. The snow-capped Alps frame so many of the landscapes in Piemonte that Tucci decides he needs to heed the call of the mountains. So he heads to Valle d’Aosta, Italy’s smallest region, which is nestled between Piemonte, France, and Switzerland.

Ristorante Alpage (reviews). Situated at the foot of Mount Cervinio, better known to English speakers at The Matterhorn, the Alpage restaurant serves a mélange of hearty, mountain dishes in an alpine setting that is to die for. Tucci dines on snacks of ham and cheese, including the local bleu d’Aoste cheese, and other Franco-Provençal specialties with owner Cecilia Lazzarotto. Then, they dig into a pot of Fonduta, the Italian version of fondue which is made with fontina cheese—never gruyère or raclet.

Plateau Rosa Cable Car (reviews). Finally, Tucci ends the second episode with a funicular (funivia) trip to the top of the mountain. At the top, is the Italian-Swiss border and an invigorating glass of génépi, a wormwood liqueur typical of Valle d’Aosta.

Touring Turin? Check out these Turin and Piedmont culinary tours

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Episode 3: Umbria

Episode 3 of Searching for Italy Season 2 is set in Umbria. The “green heart of Italy,” Umbria is known for its delicious mushrooms and pork products.

Often called “the next Tuscany,” Umbria is a more casual region compared to its neighbor. It is the “Italy before the Romans” and the “land of saintly legends, impossibly perched hill towns, and rustic cuisine.”

Montefalco (visit). Tucci’s first Umbrian encounter is with Giorgio Barchesi, better known as Giorgione or “Big George.” Giorgione, a popular TV chef and prolific cookbook author, has a restaurant in the Umbrian hill town of Montefalco called Alla Via di Mezzo (reviews). He also has a farm and kitchen where he shows Stanley how he prepares maialino (whole suckling pig) with guanciale (pork cheek) and merletto (lacy innards). The porky dish sets the tone for the rest of the episode, which features a ton of meat.

Inside Giorgione’s restaurant Al Via di Mezzo in Montefalco

Assisi (visit). Next, Tucci heads to Assisi, the birthplace of Italy’s patron Saint Francis and Umbria’s most popular tourist destination. Here he meets with Matteo Grandi, who guides him on a tour of the Basilica of Saint Francis (tours). Inside are 28 astoundingly colorful Giotto frescoes depicting the Life and Legend of Saint Francis. The most famous of these is the 15th one in the series: Sermon to the Birds.

Spoleto (visit). Stanley transitions from Saint Francis, who communed with the animals, to Claudia Ferracchiato, who hunts them. Ferracchiato is the leader of “La Caccia Si Tinge di Rosa” (the pink-tinted hunt), an all-female squad of boar hunters. Wild boars, which are particularly abundant in central Italy, have no natural predators (other than man—and woman). So organized boar hunts in this area are a long tradition and have shaped the Umbrian diet.

Following the hunt, Stanley and Claudia return to the latter’s home, where her mother Giuseppina is preparing wild boar ragù. This hearty pasta topping is traditionally paired with homemade pappardelle. “If Umbria has a flavor, this is it,” explains Tucci.

Find an agriturismo or villa in the Uncinano Hills near Spoleto

Norcia (visit). Since the 13th century, Norcia has been synonymous with pork products and butchers. In fact, a pork butcher’s shop in Italy is called a “norcineria.” Tucci pays a visit to Norcia, which is still recovering from the 6.6-magnitude earthquake in 2016 that heavily damaged the city center, including the church of Saint Benedict (San Benedetto). Here he finds Maestro Peppe, the last true “Norcino” and proprietor of Brancaleone da Norcia (reviews).

Tenuta San Pietro a Pettine (reviews). Outside the wonderful hill town of Trevi (located between Assisi and Spoleto) is the truffle farm and restaurant of Carlo Caporicci. Here, Tucci learns how Caporicci has learned to cultivate the black truffle, a signature flavor of Umbrian cooking. Following a walk through the truffle plantation, Carlo and Stanley join Carlo’s daughter Alice for dinner in the estate’s restaurant. Black truffles are “our daily bread,” says Alice.

Perugia (visit). Speaking of bread, we travel next to Perugia, where Tucci learns about the Umbrian capital’s long history of rebellion against the Catholic Church. A particular episode in 1540, in which Pope Paul III levied a tax on salt, led the Perugians—and by extension, Umbrians—to bake bread without salt. To this day, Pane Sciocco (bread without salt) is most common in the central Italian regions of Umbria, Tuscany, and the Marches. (Tucci also encounters pane sciocco in the Tuscany episode in Season 1).

During this segment, Tucci rejoins Matteo Grandi for a guided walk around Perugia. He visits the Perugina shop on Corso Vannucci, Perugia’s main street, and they also discuss how this ancient city is also very youthful thanks to its two universities and popular jazz festival. (As an aside, I find it odd that Tucci glosses over Perugia’s chocolate connection, which is very strong. The city is the birthplace of Perugina Baci, has a chocolate museum and cooking school, and also hosts the Eurochocolate Festival in the fall, usually October.)

Next, they visit La Prosciutteria (reviews), one of many outlets of a popular Italian franchise that was actually born in Florence. This type of shop, where you can enjoy panini and salumi and glasses of wine in an informal setting, is nothing new, but is based on the tradition of the “fiaschetteria osteria.” No doubt, it’s a great hangout for students and weary travelers.

Orvieto (visit). Lovely Orvieto, with its incredible jewel box of a church, is next on Tucci’s itinerary. But Stanley isn’t here for touring churches but for learning about pigeons. With Valentina Santanicchio, Tucci visits the Orvieto Underground (reviews), a subterranean labyrinth in use since Etruscan times. The Etruscans carved caves, cantinas, and cubbyholes for colombi (pigeons) in the tufaceous rock on which Orvieto stands.

Santanicchio, chef and proprietor of Capitano del Popolo (reviews), later shows Tucci how she cooks with pigeon, using traditional flavors with new methods and accompaniments. You can learn more about Santanicchio, her roots and recipes, in an interview in the book The Butcher’s Apprentice.

(As a bonus, here’s Valentina Santanicchio in a cute video about a food crime! This was created by our friends at The Beehive, a hostel in Rome. The owners split their time between Rome and Orvieto.)

Città della Pieve (visit). Tucci finishes the episode on a less meaty note by visiting a sustainable farm, restaurant, and shop in Città della Pieve. Run by twins Alessandro and Nicola Guggioli, Quinto Sapore (reviews) practices “agriconcura” or “farming with care.” It is here at the farm that Tucci and friends have a rustic open-air feast of grilled eggplant and tarragon bruschetta followed by a simple pasta with fresh tomato passata and garlic.

Umbria on your itinerary? Book a delicious Umbria food and wine tour

Episode 4: London

There are more Italians living in London than in either Bologna or Pisa, Tucci proclaims in the intro for episode 4.

This is a fascinating detour for the show—not many people know about Italian cuisine in the English capital. But, since this is a website about Italy, I’m going to briefly list the locations he visited:

I wrote about Stanley Tucci’s visit to Italian London for episode 4 on my other blog.

Episodes 5-8 (aka Season 3)

Episodes 5 through 8 of the second season kind of felt like the third season since their original airing came many months after the airing of Episode 4. Nevertheless, it was nice to see Tucci continue his journey to some lesser-known areas.

Episode 5: Calabria

Tucci, who has Calabrese roots, mentions Calabria in the first season of Searching for Italy and even takes a ferry from Calabria to Sicily. But he had yet to explore his family’s region for the show.

In this episode, Tucci—along with his parents Joan and Sam (whom we saw in the Florence episode of Season 1)—returns to his ancestral homeland of Calabria, a region that is “as troubled as it is beautiful.” Beyond wanting to learn what his family—including both sets of grandparents—left behind, Tucci journeys to this poor southern region “between rock and sea” to understand how Calabrians remain so tenaciously hospitable.

Marzi. Tucci’s first stop is Marzi (pop. 900), the village from which his paternal grandfather Stanislao Tucci emigrated. As they walk through Marzi, down Via Morti and other alleyways searching for the old family home, Stanley learns that Tucci is still a very common name in the town.

Here they also learn about the importance of bread to the Calabrian meal. They stop first at Panificio Cuti, a bakery in Rogliano (20 minutes east of Marzi) that uses very old starters to make its dense sourdough bread. We then get to see the ingenious origin of the “bread bowl.” Explaining that Calabrese laborers would carry a stuffed bread with them to keep them from going hungry throughout the day, the affable baker hollows out a loaf and fills it with a mixture of broccoli rabe and sausage. The cut-out “lid” of bread is then placed back atop the contents and the whole thing gets wrapped in a kitchen towel, ready to be transported. Man, that looks delicious!

By the way, the most typical filling, historically, is morzello, an offal stew.

Tropea. The next stop on the episode is Tropea, the gorgeous “crown jewel” of Calabria that sits atop 150-foot-high cliffs. In addition to its beauty, Tropea is known throughout Italy for its red onions (cipolle tropea)

Here, we are introduced to Michele Pugliese, a local restaurateur who meets Tucci at an onion farm next to the sea. Tucci learns that the sandy soil of the Tropea coast is the secret to the onion’s renowned sweetness. He takes a bite of the onion as if it were an apple.

The title of this segment is “Roots Run Deep” because it is also here that Stanley pieces together his family history. His mother’s family—the Tropiana family— hailed from this town. Tropeana became Tropiana when the family moved to the United States.

Tucci follows Pugliese back to his aptly named restaurant Osteria della Cipolla Rossa Tropea, where Michele’s wife Romana cooks a delicious dish of spaghetti with Tropea onions. A recipe made with the simplest of ingredients—onions, garlic, vegetable broth, and ricotta cheese—is, like so many dishes in Italy, a revelation.

Scilla. Calabria, which has the sea on three sides, relies on the sea for sustenance. This fact brings Tucci to the seaside town of Scilla.

Inhabited since ancient times, when large swaths of southern Italy were part of a “Greater Greece” (Magna Graecia), Scilla is forever linked to Homer, whose Scylla and Charybdis sea monsters in the Odyssey menaced the perilous sea passage known today as the Straits of Messina. These sea monsters were probably swordfish (spada), a still-mythical fish prized for its size and flavor.

At the Scilla fish market, Tucci meets Gianni Giordano, owner of Il Principe di Scilla (The Prince of Scilla) hotel and restaurant. Giordano serves Tucci two different swordfish dishes. The first is spada carpaccio, i.e., raw, fresh swordfish dressed with lemon, parsley, and Calabrian olive oil It’s “as if prosciutto and salmon had a love child,” coos Tucci. The second dish is tagliatelle in a swordfish ragù. The sauce is made with a soffrito of garlic and Tropea onion, swordfish, small tomatoes (pomodorini), olives, parsley, and capers.

Aspromonte Mountains / Santa Cristina d’Aspromonte. Next, Tucci ventures to the Calabrian backcountry in the Aspromonte Mountains. Very few come to this very rugged land, which is what makes it so attractive to Chef Nino Rossi. Obsessed with the food and flavors found within these undiscovered hills, Rome-born Rossi opened his restaurant Qafiz in 2016 and earned a Michelin star in 2019.

Rossi’s cooking is informed by the interior of Calabria, including the wildfires that ravaged the landscape in 2021. For Tucci, he makes a dessert called Fire, which includes charcoal powder in a meringue. Made of citrus, balsamic vinegar, apple, white fir, charcoal meringue, “Fire” and Qafiz’s other dishes “capture the alchemy and enduring beauty of this place.”

Martone. Staying in the Aspromonte, but traveling to its northernmost point, Tucci goes next to the town of Martone, which is ailing from depopulation (due to emigration), social and economic hardship, and threats from the ‘Ndrangheta, Calabria’s brutal local mafia.

In this segment titled “Seeds of Change,” Tucci meets organic farmer Annalisa, who has formed a group of food-minded locals who have pushed back against the ‘Ndragheta’s threats and bullying.

Tucci and Annalisa visit the latter’s friends at La Collinetta, a little restaurant run by Giuseppe “Pino” Trimboli. After speaking out against the mafia, local people began to frequent his restaurant to gather around him as protection. This bold approach has kept the restaurant and the community cooperative safe for more than five years, proving that food is a powerful tool for social change.

Cittanova. Finally, Tucci travels to Cittanova for a big family feast with his extended family. They dine on Stoccafissa alla Cittanova, a stew similar to a codfish and tomato stew Tucci ate growing up in the U.S.; zeppole con alici (savory fried beignets with anchovies); and roasted goat. This “feast to remember” reminds us that “the food that we share together strengthens the bonds” we have with one another.

Calabria is often overlooked as a tourist destination, but that might not be the situation once Tucci leaves his mark on it. Book one of these Calabria tours now to get there before everyone else does. For beach vacations, consider these hotels in Tropea and Scilla.

Episode 6: Sardinia

In episode 2, Tucci travels to Sardinia (Sardegna), the second-largest island in the Mediterranean (Sicily is first). While on board one of the many ferries to Sardinia,” Tucci explains that the fiercely independent-minded “mini continent is “a little bit Italian and a little bit something else entirely.”

Cagliari. He starts in the capital, Cagliari, where he meets Letitia Clark, author of Bitter Honey: Stories and Recipes from Sardinia. The UK-born transplant then takes him to the San Benedetto fish market, a good place to start as he explains the island’s long history of being conquered and invaded by different cultures. “Eating [in Sardinia] is like the culinary equivalent of an archeological dig.”

Clark then introduces Tucci to bottarga, one of Sardinia’s most famous culinary contributions. The preparation of the prized grey mullet (muggine) fish roe came to Sardinia by way of the Phoenicians. Tucci notes that Sicily has its own bottarga as Letitia calls bottarga the “caviar of Sardinia.”

Editor’s Note: Because they are islands and autonomous regions, Sicily and Sardinia are often compared. Indeed, they do share some similar cultural and culinary traits. But then, they are quite different, like the yin and the yang of Italian island life.

What is Bottarga? 8 Ways to Cook With Bottarga (Italian Fish Roe)

Read on masterclass

Nora. Next, Tucci heads south to Nora, a small seaside town within the metropolitan city of Cagliari known for its lagoon and open-air archeological park. Here, Stanley meets Francesco Stara, head chef at Fradis Minoris (reviews), one of five Michelin-starred restaurants on the island.

Chef Stara demonstrates how Sardinians make fregola, a grainy, cous-cous-like pasta that has origins in ancient Africa/Phoenicia. In olden days, knowing how to make fregola made a woman “good marriage material” in Sardinia, Clark explains, giving us insight into how important this pasta type is to the island—or, at least, this end of it.

Fregola con frutti di mari is the signature dish at Fradis Minoris. Fregola is traditionally served with fish and/or seafood. Chef Stara toasts his fregola before blanching it, then serves it with freshly cooked octopus, bottarga, mussels, shrimp, and herby tomato sauce.

In the kitchen, the trio drinks beer—probably Ichnusa, the most popular Sardinian beer (there are many artisanal ones, too). But when they dine on the fregola ai frutti di mare, they appear to drink white wine. This is likely a Vermentino, among the best-known of Sardinia’s wines.

Editor’s Note: Sardinia is also known for Su Filindeu, aka “threads of God,” which has been deemed the rarest pasta in the world because so few are left who can make it. You can see my original videos of it being made here. Stanley Tucci did not cover this on the show, but I wish he had been able to.

U.V. Sella & Mosca La Cala Vermentino di Sardegna
Delicious 3.6 star wine from Vermentino di Sardegna. A Southern Italy White with 6338 ratings from the Vivino community.
2020 Quartomoro Q Òrriu Vermentino di Sardegna
Delicious 4.0 star wine from Vermentino di Sardegna. A Southern Italy White with 3 ratings from the Vivino community.
2021 Pala Stellato Vermentino
Delicious 4.1 star wine from Vermentino di Sardegna. A Southern Italy White with 62 ratings from the Vivino community.

Ales. From the coastal ruins, Stanley ventures into Sardinia’s wild interior, which is dotted with Nuraghe. These are the ancient stone fortresses of the Nuragic people, a civilization that inhabited the island in the 18th century BCE (aka the Bronze Age).

Tucci’s destination is Ales, a village in a land “between thistles and thorns.” These mountains have long been a safe haven, both for innocent Sardi escaping invaders and for bandits on the lam. Here in remote Ales is where we meet Luigi Manias, a beekeeper whose family has maintained beehives here since 1631.

Luigi treats Tucci to a bite of the honeycomb which is surprisingly sweet. Then, Luigi takes Tucci indoors to show him his most-prized nectar: his award-winning Sardinian bitter honey known as Miele di Corbezzolo. The bees that produce this amaro honey feed specifically on the nectar of the indigenous and wild strawberry tree. Calling it the “breakfast of bandits,” Luigi serves miele amaro in the typical way—over whole-roasted lamb.

This “food of the resistance” is the kind that can nourish a bandit all day as he hides out from authority. If you want to try Sardinian honey, Miele Manias is available online.

Barbagia. Deeper still goes Stanley, into the hard hills of Barbagia, the rugged heart of Sardinia. Shepherds here, like Antonio Putzu, let their sheep graze from hill to distant hill, an old and well-tested technique that gives Sardinian sheep the rich, aromatic, and creamy milk used for Pecorino Fiore Sardo cheese.

Barbagia sheep milk is also used in a more notorious type of Sardinia cheese: Casu Marzu (or Martzu) which is a soft, odoriferous cheese that has live insect larvae (i.e., maggots) moving throughout it. Stanley’s sheepherding friends invite him to sample the cheese, jokingly called “the cocaine of Sardinia,” because those who love it are crazy about it. Also known as the forbidden cheese or the world’s most dangerous cheese, Casu Marzu cannot be bought or sold and is technically illegal in Italy. However, it is protected as a local food product of Sardinia, meaning that farmers, shepherds, and other native Sardinians can make it at home.

After the cheese, Tucci stays a little longer with the shepherds as they make another local pastoral delicacy. Su Zurrette, often compared to the Scottish dish haggis, is sort of blood pudding that is cooked in a sheep’s stomach with pecorino cheese, mint, and pieces of flatbread.

Following a taste of the Su Zurrette, the shepherds engage in an earnest Canto a Tenore (or Cantu a Tenore), a pastoral singing style that is recognized by UNESCO as an intangible World Heritage.

Carloforte. Tucci then moves from the hills back to the coast with a visit to Carloforte. Located on the island of San Pietro, five miles off the southwest coast, Carloforte was originally settled by families from Liguria more than three centuries ago. Today, the town is known for its pastel-hued buildings and its bluefin tuna.

Here, Tucci meets with the “King of Tuna” Luigi Pomata, a star chef with award-winning restaurants in Cagliari and his native Carloforte. At Bistrot di Pomata, Luigi prepares Cassulli alla Carlofortina, a signature local dish that combines cassulli pasta with boiled tuna, tomatoes, and Ligurian pesto.

Alghero. The next stop in the Sardinia episode is Alghero, a city on the northwest coast. Conquered by the Kingdom of Aragon in the 14th century, Alghero still has a Spanish flavor to it. Indeed it is often referred to as Little Barcelona (Barceloneta) and locals speak the Algherese dialect, which borrows from Catalan. Read more about Alghero’s struggle to keep its Catalan roots.

The visit to Alghero begins with a stop at Al Forno Alghero, where Tucci tries sa panada. These stuffed pastries, which get their name from the Spanish “empanada,” are available at bakeries and homes across the island, but particularly in the northern province of Sassari.

Another typical food of this coastal town is lobster. Aragosta from Alghero is considered to be some of the best in the world because it lives in water that is saltier than ocean water and that is filtered by a red coral reef. With the affable and independent-minded Antonietta Solaris, the chef at Mabrouk, Tucci learns about Aragosta alla Catalana, Catalan-style rock lobster, which is boiled and split then topped with a mixture of onion, red wine vinegar, lemon, tomato, and parsley.

Battista. The final stop on Tucci’s tour of Sardinia is the town of Battista, where Tucci meets with Simonetta Bazzu. At her cooking school Arimani, Bazzu is committed to preserving the culinary traditions of Sardinia. She and her lovely assistants demonstrate how to make pane carasau, a Sardinian flatbread that has been around since at least 1000 BC. They also make a Zuppa Gallurese, a lasagna-type dish that uses pane carasau as a base.

Tucci ends this episode in the part of Sardinia that I know best: the subregion of Gallura. Battista is about 30 minutes south of Olbia, where you will find the international airport and transfers to Costa Smeralda, Sardinia’s playground of the rich. There are many wonderful places to stay in Gallura, especially beyond the traffic and hoi polloi of the Emerald Coast. I urge you to check out Villa del Golfo and Gabbiano Azzurro, two lovely hotels where I’ve had the pleasure of staying.

Sardinia is the second largest island in the Mediterranean and such a different world than mainland Italy. But a lot of travelers don’t know how to fit the island into their itinerary, if at all. Check out these Sardinia tours to find ideas.

Episode 7: Puglia + Basilicata

In season 2, episode 7, Tucci goes to the heel of the boot: Puglia (often written as Apulia in English). He walks in a vast olive grove as he tells us that there are 60 million olive trees in Puglia, i.e., approximately one per every Italian in Italy. “Italy at its most elemental,” Puglia has a cuisine based around olive oil, fresh vegetables, cheese, and pasta and bread made from durum wheat.

Bari. In the opening sequence, Tucci moves from the olive grove to Bari Vecchia, the old town in Puglia’s capital Bari. He stops in for focaccia-like Pizza Barese at the bakerty of Panificio Santa Rita.

Bari has been an important port since ancient times. He joins guide Sophie Minchilli, whose grandfather designed the buildings on the seafront during the 1930s.

Minchilli takes Tucci to Molo San Nicola (map) in Bari’s old port so he can see the unregulated fishermen selling their catch, grabbing attention with their strong Barese dialect. By the way, a well-known, tongue-in-cheek phrase in Barese is “Se Parigi avèsse lu màre, fosse na piccola Bbàre”—”If Paris had a sea, it would be a little Bari.” Many Italians claim that the Barese dialect is one of the hardest to understand. The Italian website Barinedita highlights some colorful jargon from speakers of the dialect.

While still at the port, Minchilli and Tucci sample “the sushi of Italy” aka Il Crudo Barese, which the people of Bari have been eating since the 1500s. They eat “tagliatelle,” squid that has been cut to look like the pasta of the same name. The seafood is beaten and soaked in saltwater to tenderize it before eating.

Sophie then takes Stanley to Bari Vecchia, of which we have already seen a glimpse. Bari Vecchia, with its maze of alleyways, has long had a bad reputation as a high-crime area. But that has changed a lot over the last few decades. It is now a very popular destination for pasta lovers, who can watch women of the neighborhood making and selling orecchhiette from tables lining the small streets. (Note: you can get Tucci’s recipe for orecchiette and broccoli rape from his cookbook The Tucci Table: Cooking With Family and Friends.)

The segment continues at Urban Bistrot (reviews), where Chef Celso La Forga shows the pair how he makes a dish that is unique to Bari and found nowhere else in Italy: Spaghetti all’Assassina. It’s called “The Killer’s Pasta” because it is so spicy (compared to most Italian food). Urban Bistrot is so well known for the spicy, crunchy, “burned” spaghetti dish that it has several varieties on its menu.

Foggia. Walking through a vast green field of wheat dotted with olive trees, almond trees, and grapevines, Tucci meets next with Chef Pietro Zito. Wheat is one of Puglia’s most prized contributions to Italian agriculture, forming the essential ingredient of breads and pastas. The Foggia province is known as the “breadbasket of Italy” because of its production of durum wheat.

Most wheat farmers in this area, Tucci explains, have Mussolini to “thank” for their crops. During the Fascist era in Italy, Mussolini sought to free Italians from the “slavery of foreign bread with the Battaglia del Grano propaganda campaign.

“This campaign was successful in increasing wheat output and lowering the trade balance deficit, but was ultimately economically counter-productive for Italy’s agricultural sector as farmers who grew other produce had to clear their land for grain cultivation which decreased exports and thus resulted in higher food prices which placed Italian families under financial strain.”

Battle for Grain, Wikipedia

In those days, when the crops were cleared after harvest, poor people would look for the burned kernels of grain and make flour from them. “Una farina povera.” The stigma of having to survive this way in the Mezzogiorno lingered for decades.

But Pietro Zito is on a mission to revive the flavors of his region. He and Stanley pay a visit to Molino Daddario Antonia in Cerignola (the town that gave the name to my favorite green olive). There they meet Nicola Lagrasta who has developed a technique for toasting wheat that can be used to make dark bread and taralli.

At Antichi Sapori (reviews), Zito’s Michelin Bib Gourmand restaurant in Montegrosso (Barletta), his mother concetta prepares orecchiette made with half-burnt flour. The orecchiette form the base of his signature pasta dish topped with a cream of fava beans, buratta cheese, and black olives.

Cisternino. Next, Tucci drives through the Valle dei Trulli, an area dotted with Trulli (cone-shaped houses) typical of the area. The most famous Trulli city in Puglia is Alberobello, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. But Tucci heads instead to Cisternino to meet up with Vito Zurlo. He passes by Arrosteria del Vicoletto before he enters Zurlo’s Trattoria Bere Vecchie. Both places are known as a fornello, a sort of butcher shop whose name is derived from the type of oven used at community fairs. Traditional fornelli “don’t just sell the meat but cook it for you on the spot.” The typical fare includes roasted meats and spiedini, basically Italian kebabs.

Bere Vecchie is known for its bombette, which are choice cuts of pork neck wrapped around lamb offal or anything else…cheese, salami, capocollo, etc.

Andria. In Andria, a town known for the 13th century Castel del Monte (also a UNESCO site), Tucci visits with journalist Agostino Petroni on his family’s olive farm. Puglia’s distinctive, peppery olive oil is revered throughout the world and the region produces about half of Italy’s olive oil.

Unfortunately, “this thriving, historic industry” is under attack by xylella fastidiosa, a bacterial virus that chokes the trees to death. Petroni wrote about the olive tree apocalypse as a 2021 fellow at the Pulitzer Center.

Salento. Still with Petroni, Tucci travels to the southern reaches of Puglia to the subregion of the Salento to see the earliest tree deaths from this virus. Around 2013, when Xylella Fastidiosa began killing off trees that had been resilient for thousands of years, many locals did not want to believe it. They blamed scientists for the problem. But those very scientists also found out that a certain variety of olive tree was resistant to the virus. So olive farmers have begun the difficult but necessary task of grafting the two types of trees together and replanting them, kilometer by kilometer.

Back in Andria. After seeing the ghostly white and monumental trees in the Salento that had succumbed to xylella fastidiosa, Tucci and Petroni return to the latter’s farm to taste olive oil and drizzle it over local produce, cheese, and friselle (a type of dry bread that is popular in Puglia).

Altamura. The town of Altamura, which is dominated by its 13th century cathedral, is known throughout Italy for its bread. Tucci posits that “wherever in Italy there is good bread, there is usually good cheese.”

Tucci has come to Altamura to visit the Caseificio Dicecca, where Vito Dicecca has created a Puglian blue cheese. Vito happens to be quite active on Instagram under the name @cheeseinside. A fourth-generation cheesemaker, the unconventional Dicecca has created 66 types of blue cheese including one made with buratta.

Vito’s cheese bar, also on Instagram as @baby.dicecca, is unique. Operated from a kiosk in the middle of the Mercandante Forest, the cheese bar offers customers a chance to try Vito’s cheese inventions with a glass of wine. It also serves focaccia Barese.

As I mentioned in my post about the first part of Season 2, CNN and Tucci dropped a hint back in February that he would travel to Puglia when they posted about his recipe for a traditional Puglian pasta dish.

Matera (Basilicata). The final stop in this episode is Matera, an ancient town that was once part of Puglia but is now part of the region of Basilicata. Matera is an incredible town that was, in 2019, the European Capital of Culture.

But Matera was not always a tourist destination. Local historian Francesco Foschino explains how Matera grew across a craggy slope (La Gravina) and its cave dwellings, known as Sassi, are recognized by UNESCO as heritage site.

Now a bustling tourist hub, Matera was once the “shame of Italy,” becoming so infamous that Italy used the grave living conditions of its inhabitants to secure post-war Marshall Plan funding. The plan was successful; but it meant that residents abandoned the sassi for modern homes on the edge of town.

In the 90s, Matera started to attract artists, hoteliers, and restaurateurs, lured by inexpensive, unusual property and the chance to take part in revitalizing the southern town. Tucci visits Ristorante Vitantonio Lombardo, a Michelin-star restaurant located in one of Matera’s once-abandoned caves. For Tucci, he made a dish of veal and sweetbreads dressed with black breadcrumbs that look like grated black truffles called “Poverty and nobility with a red wine sauce.”

Puglia is a hugely popular summer destination—among Italians and international travelers—so it’s never too early to start researching and booking Puglia tours for the summer.

Episode 8: Genoa and Liguria

Liguria, the crescent of land between France and Tuscany, is a picturesque, yet rugged environment where generations have had to produce sustenance from its terraced hills.

Portofino. Tucci begins the episode in Portofino, the jewel of the Italian Riviera. He climbs multiple flights of steep stairs to arrive at Castello Brown, where you can get a bird’s eye view of the ritzy harbor.

Tucci is in Portofino to meet with Carlo Cracco, one of Italy’s most famous chefs. Cracco, who became a household name on Masterchef Italia, owns Cracco Portofino, a Michelin-starred restaurant along the water. Cracco gets 70% of his restaurant’s ingredients from a farm above town. At the restaurant, Cracco Portofino’s head chef Mattia Pecis prepares Pansotti Preboggion, a typical Ligurian pasta dish of herbs (preboggion) stuffed into pansotti (ravioli-like pasta) and topped with a sauce made of walnuts. Tucci notes that this is a kind of “cucina povera”—a cuisine borne of poverty—but Cracco corrects him: “È cucina intelligente.”

Genoa. Next, Tucci heads to Genoa, the regional capital of Liguria and a historically significant Italian port city. Genoa is also known as La Terra del Basilico or the Land of Basil and hosts the biennial World Pesto Championship.

To learn more about the fragrant Genovese herb, Tucci meets with Roberto Panizza, aka the King of Pesto. The two visit a huge greenhouse above town where workers lie on slats while harvesting basil from the sea of green. Here is grown Nano, “the only certified basil in Europe.”

Then they go down to Panizza’s restaurant Il Genovese where the Pesto king shows Tucci the proper way to make the green condiment—with a very large mortar and pestle.

After a delicious lunch of Trenette al Pesto, Tucci meets up with Texas-born, Genoa-based food writer Laurel Evans to explore the historic center of Genoa. In the video montage, we see Genovese landmarks like the Palazzi dei Rolli, UNESCO heritage site mansions on Via Garibaldi; Piazza de Ferrari with its grand, circular fountain; and the maze of back alleys (carruggi) that extend beyond Genoa’s Porto Antico (ancient harbor).

In the carruggi, Evans takes Tucci to Antico Forno della Casana, which is a specialist in Genoa’s famous focaccia. Focaccia in Genoa transcends any other that you’ve had before.

Following nibbles of the “working class staple,” the pair head to The Cook, Ivano Ricchebono’s haute cuisine restaurant housed in a frescoed palazzo. It is there that we learn about Genovese corzetti pasta, which was traditionally “stamped” with a noble family’s seal for special dinners. If you’re keen, you can buy a corzetti stamp.

Chef Ricchebono also introduces Tucci and Evans to an extravagant Cappon Magro, a timbale or molded salad made of seafood and vegetables.

Every tour of Liguria includes a stop or a stay in Cinque Terre and there are many tours originating in Tuscany or Lombardy that include a visit to Liguria’s most famous corner.

For more insight into Ligurian cuisine, including exquisite recipes, check out Liguria: The Cookbook: Recipes from the Italian Riviera.

Will There Be Another Season?

Tucci has yet to visit every region in Italy. But unfortunately, this series in its current format has come to an end. CNN ended their sponsorship of the show after the end of the second season. There are hints that he is searching around for another sponsor, so stay tuned.

It’s a shame that Tucci didn’t make it to these four regions for the show:

  • Abruzzo
  • Marche
  • Molise
  • Trentino Alto Adige
Last updated on May 17th, 2023

Post first published on November 8, 2021

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