Pesce All'Acqua Pazza (Fish Poached in "Crazy Water")

pesce all'acqua pazza (fish poached in crazy water)

When I come across a really interesting-sounding dish on a menu, I have to order it! Maybe it's my curiosity or my sense of adventure. Either way I'm always up for trying something new. That's exactly what mood I was in many years ago when I first had the Italian dish called acqua pazza at a New York City restaurant that has since closed. I've been making acqua pazza at home ever since--that's how much I've come to love this unique preparation.

Literally translated to "crazy water," acqua pazza is a fragrant and flavorful liquid that's used to poach white fish. What makes it "crazy" is that it features white wine, chile pepper, garlic, and fresh herbs along with tomatoes. That's the traditional way of making acqua pazza. When I'm in a different mood; however, I often vary the ingredients. Sometimes I add a little onion, or I take it in an Asian direction and add ginger and even miso paste. You can find this Asian-Italian fusion acqua pazza recipe variation here.

cherry and cocktail tomatoes

Lately, though, I've become inspired to make acqua pazza the traditional way, especially after encountering it numerous times during my travels throughout Italy. Despite this dish being Southern Italian in origin, you can find it from the top of the boot to the toe as it's well-known throughout the country. I've had acqua pazza outside of Rome in the beach town of Santa Severa, and I've had acqua pazza in the northern hilltop town of Bergamo. So, here I'd like to show you my classic take on pesce all'acqua pazza. But I encourage you to add you own touches. Use you favorite white fish. Add some more spice, if you like. This is the beauty of this dish--it can be completely customized to your own taste.

Pesce All'Acqua Pazza (Fish Poached in "Crazy Water")

Note: Like the picture of tomatoes above, I like to vary my selection. I love tomatoes in different sizes and colors. Just be sure to cut the larger tomatoes into about the same sizes as the cherry tomatoes so everything cooks evenly.

olive oil
1/2 small onion, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/4 teaspoon chile pepper flakes
1 pound cherry tomatoes and cocktail tomatoes, cut into halves or quarters
4 parsley sprigs
2 rosemary sprigs
1 cup dry white wine
2 4- to 6-ounce fillets cod, black cod, or sea bass

Heat a medium-to-large skillet over medium-high heat. Drizzle liberally with olive oil.

Add the onion and saute for 1 to 2 minutes. Add the garlic and saute for 1 minute. Add the chile pepper flakes and toast just until the flakes darken a bit, less than a minute.

Add the tomatoes to the skillet. Pour over with white wine and bring to a boil. Add a bit of water if you find that the tomatoes need move coverage, especially if you're using a wider skillet.

Lower the heat to a simmer, cover with a lid, and cook until the tomatoes have burst and the onions have softened, about 10 to 12 minutes.

Nestle the fish fillets among the tomatoes, and ladle the fish with some of the broth, tomatoes, and herbs. Cover again with the lid and poach the fish until translucent, about 5 to 7 minutes, depending on the thickeness of the fillets.

Plate the fish with plenty of broth and tomatoes. Drizzle with additional olive oil and serve immediately. Yield: 2 servings.


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