Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy airs Sundays at 9 p.m. EST on CNN

By Mary Honkus
February 18, 2021 01:46 PM
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Credit: CNN

It's been almost a year since the world has stopped due to the COVID-19 pandemic and many of us long for the ability to travel once more. As the vaccine rollout continues, we are getting closer to being able to experience the world again. But until it's totally safe, we will resort to watching travel series that document the beauty of different cultures and foods across the globe — like the must-watch series Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy.

In the six-part food and travel show, which some are jokingly comparing to "porn," actor Stanley Tucci explores his Italian roots and discovers the many little-known delights of Italy's diverse culinary culture. In each episode, Tucci takes viewers into family kitchens and world-renowned restaurants across the boot-shaped country to taste and learn.

Each region he visits has an array of delicacies that deserve a spot on your foodie bucket list. When it is finally safe to travel again, seek out these culturally-defining dishes that Tucci fell in love with — you'll want to make sure to try at least one (though we recommend multiple) of these unique foods for a gastronomic experience like no other.

EPISODE 1: NAPLES & THE AMALFI COAST

Pizza: Naples, the third-largest city in all of Italy, has experienced harrowing hardships over the centuries due to the fear of volcanic eruptions from nearby Mount Vesuvius, high-poverty rates, and threats of disease. But through the turmoil, the city demonstrated resilience — and became the pizza capital of the world because of how relatively inexpensive it was to make. During his "pizza tour," Tucci first visits the city's last known authentic fried pizza maker at Pizza Frite de Fernanda. Resembling a modern-day calzone, pizza fritte was a common source of sustenance for the poor in years past and is made from bread, creamy ricotta, and salty pork lard.

From there, Tucci's next stop is Michelin-starred Pizzeria la Notzia, where chef Enzo Coccia creates a classic margherita pizza using the freshest buffalo mozzarella and tomatoes from the true San Marzano region. Coccia has been perfecting his pizza-making art for 40 years, and each golden-crusted masterpiece is cooked to perfection in just 45 seconds.

Lemons: The romantic Amalfi Coast is known for its picturesque cliffside towns and the giant lemons that riddle the land. Pastry chef Sal De Riso reimagined the tart fruit into one of the country's most sought-after desserts: the lemon delight. The treat features a cake that is filled and topped with a variety of creams. The result is a luscious combination of sweet and tart.

EPISODE 2: ROME

The Four Pastas: There are four kinds of pastas that have defined the Roman culinary cuisine for centuries: Rigatoni All'Amatriciana, Carbonara, Cacio e Pepe, and Gricia. Carbonara, which is made with egg yolk, cheese, and fatty meat, is the most popular of the four when Tucci is there. He stops by Pommidoro restaurant in the San Lorenzo district to sample owner Aldo Bravi's take on the comforting dish.

Jewish-Roman Food: Jewish culture has flourished since the end of the Nazi occupation in Rome in 1943. Tucci meets 80-year-old Italia Tagliacozzo, a survivor of the occupation, who runs a lovely Jewish-Roman restaurant where she serves up specialties like fried zucchini flowers, anchovies with endives, and the most famous fare: fried artichokes.

Credit: CNN

EPISODE 3: BOLOGNA

Cheese: Situated in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy, Bologna is considered the food capital of the country. The city is home to the highest number of protected food products in Italy and its exports are world-renowned — especially cheese. Parmagiano cheese was born in the region (in the village of Parma) and has been perfected over the centuries. Creamy ricotta, which is a by-product of Parmigiano, is also produced in the region from the milk of white Modenese cows.

Balsamic Vinegar: Vinegar-making is a practice that has been passed down for generations in Modena. During his travels, Tucci meets 17th-generation balsamic vinegar maker, Claudio Giusti, whose family has made the highest-grade vinegar for centuries. Extreme measures are taken to ensure the vinegar is of the highest quality — for decades the vinegar is stored in wood casks in attics where it develops a complex balance of sweet and tangy flavors.

EPISODE 4: MILAN

Aperitivo: Italy's fashion capital and second-largest city is a metropolitan mecca. Life moves at a faster pace than in the rest of the country and the happy hours, known as aperitivo, are next level. Almost every restaurant in the city offers its own version — most of which include a cocktail (most popularly the Aperol spritz) along with a buffet of light hors d'oeuvres.

Milanese: Milanese is a cooking style that can be used on a variety of meats and seafood — veal being the most common. The meat is breaded with seasoned bread crumbs then fried in butter and is often served with salad or risotto. Tucci tastes veal Milanese at Osteria del Treno, a restaurant in Milan that used to be the headquarters for the rail workers union. The establishment is a popular place and often packed with smiling faces and the sounds of live music.

EPISODE 5: TUSCANY

Florentine Steak: Florence, the birthplace of the Renaissance, a city filled with exceptional art and glorious architecture, also has divine food. Tuscan wine comes to the forefront of people's minds when they think of the cuisine in the area, but the world-class wines are only the tip of the iceberg. Bistecca alla Fiorentina — Florentine steak — is Tuscany's signature dish. In the Middle Ages, the meat was reserved for only the richest families, but now the tender steaks can be enjoyed and appreciated by everyone.

Bread: Fresh bread is a part of almost every meal in Tuscany, and what's leftover never goes to waste. Stale bread is a key ingredient in a variety of what they call "poor man's food," including the light and tasty panzanella salad which consists of stale bread, tomatoes, onions and vinegar. Ribolita and Pappa al Pomodoro are soups that also feature stale bread which is blended into the finished dish to create a hearty meal.

Episode 6: SICILY

Wine: The Mediterranean's largest island and the southernmost point in Italy was formed thousands of years ago by Mount Etna volcano resulting in a rich volcanic soil that is perfect for growing just about anything — especially grapes. Tuscany may be known for its wines, but Sicilian wines are unmatched. During his visit to the island, Tucci receives a tour from Arianna Occhipinti, an artisanal winemaker who has been crafting luscious blends for 17 years.

Pasta alla Norma: The famous pasta dish of Sicily originated in the coastal city of Catania. The simple red sauce pasta features briny ricotta salata cheese, fresh basil, and fried eggplant. Me Cumpari Turiddu, a restaurant known for its Sicilian hospitality, has specialized in the dish since its opening.