Ciao, Italia! American award-winning actor, director, producer and author Stanley Tucci happily returns May 1st to premiere the highly anticipated second season of Searching for Italy on CNN (9 pm ET/PT). With his robust Italian heritage and unbridled love of food, Tucci’s four fun new episodes swoop spectacularly into Venice, Umbria, Piedmont — and (surprise!) London, where he has lived for the past decade. Why is England’s capital included in this series? London embraces an energetic, inventive Italian culinary scene and is (surprise again!) home to more than 400,000 Italians. Get set for a gastronomic gallop. Here’s the promo/trailer.
Gorgeously filmed, Searching for Italy spotlights Tucci as he travels among countrysides and cities, exploring the flavors, ingredients and kitchen techniques of each distinct destination. Tucci’s enlightening moments with stellar chefs, winemakers, hunters, farmers, cheesemongers, historians, journalists, food writers, TV stars and other personalities are the golden threads that weave compelling storylines. These are joyful journeys, exuding warmth and humor, filled with laughter and friendship, lore and learning, plus plenty of eating and drinking.
“There’s an Italian proverb,” Tucci says. “At the table, one never grows old — especially when surrounded by incredible history, people and timeless food.” Searching for Italy is bringing its best spirit yet to the table this year. Pull up a seat, raise your glass and toast: Salute!
Venice: A Magnificent Fusion
“It’s the fifth century,” Tucci’s narration begins. “You’re an urban planner, pitching an idea: a city in the sea, built on stilts, canals instead of streets. You can only get there by boat.” He pauses to let the upshot sink in. “And incredibly, they built it! Over a millennium, Venice becomes the center of a world-trading empire: silks, spices, ideas and money. Lots of it. The Venetians live between Earth and water. It shaped their character. Salty, wise and ingenious…. The sea brought the outside world to the Venetians and fed their appetites. So many different cultures, right in a bowl.”
Hints of episode highlights: Gondoliers, grand buildings, piazzas, towers, bacaros (wine bars), a bonus ambiance of romance. Famous Harry’s Bar (with a martini named after Ernest Hemingway). The centuries-old Rialto Fish Market. Ubiquitous, coveted cicchetti (small plates of masterpiece appetizers). Classic street-food, such as scartosso de pesse (foil of fish). Traditional sarde in saor (sardines preserved in vinegar — tastily sweet, salty and acidic at the same time). Venetian meals are memorable: Duck ragù, black-ink risotto with cuttlefish. And Dorona-grape wine. Cheers!
“Venetians repeatedly make something beautiful out of the unfathomable and the impossible,” says Tucci. “They are a people resilient in the face of all odds.”
Umbria: Pleasures of the Land
Umbria is “the green heart of Italy. Not a jealous heart, but a fertile one,” almost purrs Tucci. He starts this show driving amid verdant terrain. “I chart a course through Umbria’s ancient forests and misty mountains. This is Italy before the Romans. A place where families live close to the land. A land of saintly legends, impossibly perched hilltop towns and rustic cuisine.”
Hints of episode highlights: A riveting wild boar hunt. Applause for the forward-thinking farm with more than 1,000 varieties of organic fruit and vegetables. The curious labyrinth of tunnels beneath the cathedral of stunning hilltop city Orvieto. Umbria’s most-known city: Assisi, the birthplace of Saint Francis, and its Giotto frescoes in the Basilica. Prodigious black truffles. Salami and sausage secrets. Stuffed porchetta. Delectable sous-vide cooked pigeon. Eggplant caviar. Baci Perugina, fine chocolates that Americans enjoy giving on Valentine’s Day. Luscious red wine.
“Umbrians eat a lot of meat, particularly pork. Like a lot of it. Huge amounts of it,” Tucci emphasizes about this carnivore haven. “Their land-locked homeland is right in the middle of the country. Bordered on the west by its more glamorous neighbor Tuscany, it’s often overlooked. But while the landscape here is similar, the culture is very different, less fancy, if you will, and I hear the locals like it that way.”
Piedmont: Mountain Majesty
“If you strap on your skies in the Alps and head straight down the mountains, you’ll find yourself in the fertile plains of Piedmont. This region, tucked into the northern corner of Italy, is a wonder, offering up some of the best produce in the world — from exquisite white truffles to rice for risotto and the finest wines,” says Tucci. “The people here are fueled by passion and ambition. They just don’t like to shout about it.” On the border with France, having such a larger-than-life neighbor has left its mark. French-inspired ideas, customs and cuisine are part of Piedmont’s fabric.
Hints of episode highlights: In the venerable city Vercelli, on the Sesia River between Milan and Turin, a Michelin-starred restaurant chef brainstorms rice-based dishes with imaginative twists, turning an unassuming grain into works of culinary art. Italy’s coffee has a revered reputation; it’s taken to greater heights in Turin, which perfects bicerin (a drink of layered espresso, hot chocolate and thick whipped cream). The white truffle of Alba is unrivaled in prestige and price; Tucci attends an auction during which a single truffle sells for more than $100,000. Piedmont’s fervor for the slow food movement encourages local specialties over mass-produced fast food. As well, the defended ritual of family and friends dining together is a connection held dearly. Delight in nutty, savory fontana cheese, as well as Barolo, made with Nebbiolo grapes, considered by many to be Italy’s finest wine.
“You have to expect the unexpected. And come at things a little differently, to unearth [Piedmont’s] real treasures,” Tucci adds.
London: An Italian Celebration
“This is one of my favorite places in the world,” enthuses Tucci. “There are more Italians here than in Bologna or Pisa. The ancient Romans saw it as their last frontier. It’s a place built on tradition and innovation. And whatever you’ve heard — the food here is incredible.” His adoration of London is unabashed. “In my mind, no city…can rival its elegance and charm.”
Hints of episode highlights: Feel the excitement about this global city’s myriad gifts. England’s oldest Italian delicatessen. A food hall housed inside a former church. Chefs that honor the craft of home-style cooking. Hearty peasant dishes that have morphed into gourmet hits. Freshly made pasta galore. Close your eyes and summon up the following set before you: zesty lemon tagliolini with London rocket (likened to arugula), agnolini in brodo (stuffed pasta parcels in broth), San Daniele prosciutto and super-creamy burrata cheese made with milk from English cows.
“There are over 3,000 Italian restaurants and delicatessens in London today. But this British love affair with Italian food didn’t simply happen overnight,” notes Tucci. “One man’s yearning for the food of his homeland wound up transforming this city’s culinary landscape forever. Gennaro Contaldo’s simple, genuine approach to Italian food started a gastronomic revolution.” One by one by a dozen and then hundreds and thousands of London-based chefs now rejoice in Italian food devotion. Lucky for Tucci, and fortunate for us, Searching for Italy continues.
For more Tucci touchés, his newest book Taste: My Life Through Food (Gallery Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster) serves up intimate, insightful, inviting stories about a fascinating life, replete with recipes. Check out his food- and travel-centric Instagram, as well.