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What’s it like visiting a town in Italy where more than half the population has the same name as you?
For actor Stanley Tucci, accompanying his elderly parents to his ancestral homeland in the southern Italian region of Calabria, it was “very emotional.”
The Tucci family made a pilgrimage to the town of Marzi, tucked away in the toe of Italy’s boot, in one of the latest episodes of his CNN Original Series “Searching for Italy.”
It was the first time the actor and his parents had visited the town since he was 12 years old, he says.
“It was very emotional,” he told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour this week. “You know, my dad is 92, my mother is 86, and they never thought they’d go again and see those people again, and we were able to make it happen.
“They had a great time, it was very moving.”
During the show, the Tuccis wander the streets of Marzi – some named after other Tuccis – in search of the home of his grandfather, Stanislaw Tucci.
Tucci’s father, also named Stanley, struggled to recall the exact location and the hunt was also hampered by the fact that Tucci isn’t an uncommon name in this corner of Italy.
“As it turns out, being a Tucci isn’t that remarkable over here,” Tucci relates in the Calabria episode of “Searching for Italy,” which airs on CNN Sunday night at 9 p.m. ET.
“Over half of Marzi’s population shares our name, which turns out to be a big problem as my dad wants to find his father’s house.”
Tucci told Amanpour that it wasn’t certain whether they found the actual ancestral home, joking that they didn’t knock on the door of a likely contender as they were distracted by food.
“I guess we had to go eat, probably,” he said.
Food, of course, plays a big part in Tucci’s exploration of Italy. In Calabria he says the locals were, like in other regions of the country, passionate about the superiority of their own cooking styles.
“Italians are very precious about their recipes,” he told Amanpour. “And they’re very distinct. They say, ‘I use exactly this kind of fish, I use this kind of tomato, I use this kind of oil, I use this kind of garlic, and it can only be this big…’ and it’s exhausting after a while, having been through the entire country.
“But it’s fascinating, it’s what makes them so singular.”
The frugality and simplicity of some Italian dishes have also made an impression on Tucci. He says many delicious recipes have evolved using offcuts of meat because that’s all that was available.
“That is the basis of Italian cuisine in almost every single region,” he says. “And of course that would change over the years, but for the most part, that’s what the majority of people ate.
“They ate the offcuts of things, they ate things that they grew seasonally.”
“If you look at the Italian larder, it’s a really simple set of ingredients. You can basically have about 10 ingredients and you have an Italian kitchen, and that’s sort of the beauty of it.
“The range that they have within those 10 ingredients is astounding.”
But, he observes, Italians can often be hidebound when faced with culinary innovation, citing one young cheesemaker he encounters on his travels who had the temerity to make an unusual blue goat cheese, which is now highly successful.
“In Italy they’re very specific and dogmatic about what kind of cheese you make, with what,” Tucci said. “Can a blue cheese be made with goat? Absolutely not! But he did, and his family were very upset. And now they’re happy.”
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CNN’s Emmet Lyons contributed to this story.