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.CARPACCIO’S DOUBLE ENIGMA : HUNTING ON THE LAGOON AND THE TWO VENETIAN LADIES
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 called “rice field in winter” that includes crispy rice, chestnuts, and chocolate.
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
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.
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.
Click on page 2, below, for details on Calabria, Sardinia, Puglia, and Liguria…