Ciao! Grazie, Italia! American actor, author, director and producer Stanley Tucci enthusiastically returns to the land of his heritage to launch four new episodes of Searching for Italy, premiering October 9 on CNN Original Series (9 pm ET/PT). This second half of the second season spotlights four distinctive regions: Calabria, Sardinia, Puglia and Liguria. Engaging and enlightening, the two-time Emmy Award-winning show is fueled by Tucci’s passion to ultimately explore all 20 regions of Italy — savoring a multitude of pleasures en route, as viewers are welcomed along. Gorgeously filmed and strategically edited, Searching for Italy opens doors to surprises and succulence that even the most ardent Italy-loving travelers have likely not seen. Accompanying Tucci on his quest are charismatic and insightful artists, bakers, cheese mongers, chefs, community leaders, farmers, foragers, historians, hunters, restaurateurs, shepherds, winemakers, writers and other stellar personalities. It is often said that the greatest thing about travel are the people you meet — and this spirit is evident in Searching for Italy. Extra applause to Tucci’s producers who deftly layer ample foods, ideas, stories, locations and characters into each episode, while keeping the whole result feeling seamless and unhurried. Here, a preview to whet your appetite.
Calabria: The Ancestral Home of Millions of Americans
“I’ve been dreaming of coming back to Calabria since I was a boy,” says Tucci, who was 12 years old when, with his parents, he last vacationed here. Those childhood memories have mostly faded. So for this season’s first episode, Tucci and his mother, Joan, and father, Stan, have traveled to Calabria together again to create new memories.
“It’s a wild and rugged region,” continues Tucci, “steeped in mystery and myth. A place that is as troubled as it is beautiful. But Calabria means more to me. It is my ancestral home. I want to get to know the region that my [forebears] left behind all those many years ago.” Along with millions of Italians, “all four of my grandparents immigrated [from Calabria to the U.S.A.] with nothing except the clothes on their backs…. I think of my grandfather Stanislao leaving Calabria, and of that special bond that Calabrians have with food that reminds them of home.”
Calabria sits in the toe of Italy’s boot with dramatic mountain ranges and some 500 miles of coastline. “Caught between a rock and the sea, the Calabrese are notoriously tough…,” opines Tucci. Yet “despite suffering invasions for over 3,000 years, Calabrians are tenaciously hospitable.”
“Calabrians have always had to rely on the sea for sustenance, surrounded by water on three sides. The catch here is as unique as it is plentiful,” says Tucci. About the prized swordfish, he remarks: “Catching one of these sabered sea monsters is not easy, but it is lucrative. A single fish can fetch up to $5,000.”
Some hints of episode highlights: In Marzi, Pina Olivetti, baker at Panificio Cuti, demonstrates how she makes morsello, a covered bread bowl stuffed with sausage and broccoli rabe, then wrapped in linen dishcloth — an ingeniously portable meal historically made by wives for their on-the-go working husbands, such as farmers, hunters, stone masons and vineyard tenders. Then, Tucci switches gears, heading to a boisterous fishmongers’ auction in Tropea. A drive to the backcountry of Aspromonte leads to chef Nino Rossi, a dessert mastermind, who runs a remote restaurant, Qafiz, where Tucci gets a woodland foraging lesson. In the nearby hamlet of Martone (one of more than 200 Calabrian mountain towns that have lost population and are at risk of being deserted), Tucci talks with farmer and activist Annalisa Fiorenza about Calabria’s infamously destructive mafia, known as ‘Ndrangheta, and the cooperative of chefs whose inspiring efforts have curtailed the attacks. Tucci’s candor about Italy’s difficulties and challenges is frankly refreshing, giving this feel-good foodie show an honest and important journalistic reality check. Bravo. They later join Chef Pino Trimboli at his restaurant La Colinetta for a specialty: lamb baked in clay. Tucci and his parents travel next to Cittanova, from which his mother’s family hails, to relish a reunion meal with scores of relatives, their festivity centered at a very long table al fresco, topped with dishes, shaded by verdant trees, and brimming with laughter and smiles. (Airs October 9.)
Sardinia: Italy’s Wild West
“There is a story,” says Tucci, describing a local legend, “that when God created the world, he took all the leftover bits and wanted to make something beautiful with them, so he made Sardinia.” And there is a truth at the essence of such an epic tale, continues Tucci: “Sardinia is really an island of bits and pieces, in the best possible way. Each local community is like an island of its own with wildly varying geography, languages and food. Put together, you get a region with a ferocious independent streak — a little bit Italian and a little bit something else entirely. Although they respect tradition, things here are never dull.” A compelling introduction? Yes. But there is more, adds Tucci: “Here, nothing stands in the way of freedom…. Because this is a place at the edge of reason.”
“Due west of Rome and right in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, Sardinia is so cut off from the rest of the Italian peninsula that fellow compatriots joke about it being a mini-continent with customs and ideas all of its own,” explains Tucci. For millennia, conquerors and settlers from far and wide have left marks on this land, “so much so,” says Tucci, “that eating here is like going on a culinary equivalent of an archeological dig…. After 3,000 years of trade, invasions and conquests, the people…have taken the best of what has been brought here and made it their own.” Tucci drives from the south to the island’s interior, “among the thistles and thorns of a harsh brutal landscape,” he says, his words melodious with playful gravitas. “Little has changed since the earliest civilizations…. This ancient landscape is famous for bandits, age-old customs and being very anti-authority. Rumor has it that even the mafia failed to take hold here, as people aren’t interested in group activities.”
Some hints of episode highlights: At gargantuan San Benedetto Market in the capital city of Cagliari, on the south coast, a prized Sardinian caviar delicacy, made by curing roe from Bottarga fish — a method of preservation invented 3,000 years ago by the Phoenicians — is introduced to Tucci by food writer Letitia Clark. At Fradis Minoris, a Michelin-starred green restaurant, chef Francesco Stara prepares fregola ai frutti di mare, a classic Cagliaritano seafood recipe, with a twist, adding a North African-influenced pasta. On the Compidano plain, a rare, unusual honey is made by beekeeper Luigi Manias, whose family has been tending to buzzing nectar collectors since 1631. A sunrise drive to Mount Corrasi navigates to a secluded spot of shepherds, where shepherd Antonio Putzu instructs Tucci how to milk sheep — a feat that might seem comical, as Tucci attempts to secure the ewe between his legs. Then listen to the shepherds harmonize a mesmerizing pastoral song in their Olianese dialect. The region produces excellent pecorino cheese. Tucci boats to a sustainable blue-fin tuna event that employs an ancient net-catching technique on nearby small San Pietro isle. Coveted sushi-grade tuna is an indulgence at Da Nicolo restaurant, where chef Luigi Pomata cooks cassuli alla carlofortina, a pasta recipe that incorporates tuna with pesto. At the coastal city of Alghero, called Little Barcelona due to its 14th-century Catalonian influence, chef and restaurateur Antoinetta Salaris markets with Tucci for fresh lobster — large and flavorful, considered among the best in the world. Then she cooks her signature dish of lobster, which is dressed with roe sauce, tomatoes and onions. In the village of Battista, where food expert Simonetta Bazzu runs her culinary school, marvel at freshly baked pane carasau, an unleavened bread that inflates balloon-like as it is heated in a wood-fired oven. (Airs October 16.)
Puglia: The Heart of Italy’s Olive Trees
Situated in the heel of Italy’s boot, a peninsula with more than 500 miles of coastline, “Puglia is Italy at its most elemental,” explains Tucci. “Simple fresh cuisine that is grown and produced here.” Fragrant olive oil, robust vegetables, outstanding cheeses and durum wheat, for pasta and bread. “The taste of Puglian olive oil is exceptional: terrain, climate, and mineral-rich soil combine here to create a unique peppery flavor that’s revered the world over,” says Tucci, who visits the Petroni family and their thousands of centuries-old olive trees. Puglia produces 40 percent of Italy’s olive oil. Yet “despite it being such a fertile region, Puglia is one of Italy’s poorest,” he adds. “Hardship is very much a recent memory in this part of the world…. Today, Puglia is coming into its own. There is a newfound sense of pride for its gastronomic roots…. I want to find out how this region has seemingly gone from rags to riches and turned its humblest ingredients into sources of national pride.”
Some hints of episode highlights: Puglia’s capital is Bari — a major trading post since Roman times. It has long been a gateway to Greece, the Middle East and beyond. Tucci calls it a “rebel city.” He visits the port with author and guide Sophie Minchilli to meet on the sidewalk the fishermen of Molo San Nicola in order to taste raw squid, which he anticipates not liking, but does. Nearby, they stroll a scenic street in old Bari, nicknamed “orecchiette road,” where women sit at small tables outside their homes, rolling, forming and selling this pasta — even though it is technically illegal to do so without a license.
Baresi residents are known for insisting on doing things their way and this free-wheeling commerce illustrates their mindset. “Walking around the city, you are aware of two worlds colliding: a struggle between the way things have always been done versus the delights, shall we say, of modern bureaucracy,” adds Tucci.
In Foggia, the breadbasket of Italy, Tucci learns from chef Pietro Zito, whose mission is to reignite the best flavors of Puglia’s past. At his Antichi Sapori restaurant, he serves a toasted “burnt” grain orecchiette, a signature dish with creamed fava beans, burrata cheese and charred black olives that excites Tucci.
In Altamura, a city known for its bread, there is also extraordinary cheese. Tucci is dazzled by Vito Dicecca and his family of cheesemakers. At their Caseificio Dicecca, not only do they produce traditional Apulian cheeses, but with a maverick’s determination, Vito has also developed 66 different artisanal blue cheeses — an accomplishment that no one in this land has even thought to attempt.
Driving through the Valle dei Trulli, Tucci points out unusual stone huts with corbel roofs, another architectural ode to yesteryear. Tucci gets his protein fill in Cisternino, at butcher and restaurateur Vito Zurlo’s Bere Vecchie, a fornelli in which customers not only buy meat, but can also have it cooked right there.
In Matera, local historian Francesco Foschino leads Tucci to an eye-opening conclave of abandoned caves in the Sasso Barisano district, and then to chef Vitantonio Lombardo’s Michelin-starred restaurant, built into one of those 1,000-year-old caves, where he magnificently pays tribute to Matera’s complicated history, by combining elements of poverty and nobility in his menu. (Airs October 23.)
Liguria: Glamour on the Italian Riviera
An internationally famous region of Italy, Liguria — on the coast bordering Tuscany and France — is aglow with glamour and gourmand feats. Celebrities flock to its astonishing Portofino, Cinque Terre and Genoa. This narrow, crescent-shaped strip of mountainous land, sandwiched between the Alps and Apennines, displays rich culture and arts, acclaimed cuisine and a lively energy, explains Tucci.
Some hints of episode highlights: It is a gift for the eyes to start this episode in lovely Portofino, where Tucci climbs to take in breathtaking views. With Michelin-starred chef Carlo Cracco, Tucci joins octogenarian farmer Iva Lavagnino to delve into foraging for wild plants and cultivating herbs that are central to Ligurian cuisine. Notably, this is the region where pesto sauce was born. Tucci visits a basil farm — its aroma is pleasingly intense — with Roberto Panizza, the pesto impresario and founder of the Pesto World Championship. Tucci later ravishes the trenette al pesto dish that Panizza prepares for him at his Genoa restaurant Il Genovese. Indeed, Genoa has been an influential port city for centuries, setting forth far-flung traders and explorers. Its luxurious homes and stately palaces are head-turners, especially those with colorful trompe l’oeil-painted exteriors. Food writer and cookbook author Laurel Evans (originally from Texas) steers Tucci to Genoa’s fascinating gems, such as The Cook, a much-talked-about restaurant sumptuously tucked in a 14th-century palazzo. Eighty miles down the coast is Taggia, birthplace of Italy’s most regaled taggiasche olive. The area’s Valle Argentina (silver valley), stretching inland from the sea, encourages salty breezes and is an ideal climate for these olive trees. There, Paolo Boeri and his family embrace Tucci, showing him the land that they cultivate only by hand, as well as inviting him into the family’s five-generation mill. In Corniglia, one of five villages that make up Cinque Terre, Tucci gathers with Guido Galletti (an artist, farmer and fisherman) and his wife, Monica, in their home, which is also a restaurant. Head chef is Pietro, their son, who cooks fish caught by Guido, as well as fried anchovies stuffed with herbs and cheese, as they eat outside on the terrace. (Airs October 30.)