Acqua Pazza. Translation: Crazy Water. It’s the name of an Italian fish dish. As in Pesce all’Acqua Pazza. I’d heard of it for years, read recipes, but never cooked or ate it until my traveling group to the Amalfi Coast cooked it up at a local class in Ravello.
We used branzino in our cooking class at Hotel Villa Maria in Ravello. Fresh as fresh could be. Filleting the whole fish just before slipping it into the flavorful crazy water.
I was intrigued through the cooking process and then majorly hooked from the first bite.
I had always thought the dish originated in the Veneto because Marcella Hazan seems to be the first Italian cook/chef to introduce it to the US (she lived in Venezia). But it’s really from Campania, and apparently became a very popular dish on the aisle of Capri in the 1960’s.
Story goes that fishermen used sea water with tomatoes and garlic to make a broth for cooking fish. Sounds crazy, no? Maybe cooking with sea water is. But the recipe that evolved from the idea is nicely seasoned fresh water.
At home I use cod or tilapia. But I think any firm fish would work perfectly.
Here’s how to make it for 4-6 medium-sized fish fillets:
In a deep large sauté pan add:
3-4 ripe tomatoes that have been cut into bite-sized chunks
3-4 garlic cloves, peeled & minced or rough-chopped
healthy handful of flat Italian parsley, rough-chopped
healthy pinch of hot pepper, i.e. red pepper flakes or aleppo
3-4 cups water
1/4 cup olive oil or more
Season mixture with salt & pepper. Bring to a boil, then let simmer, partially covered for about an hour. Let the water reduce a bit in the process. I add some lemon juice and lemon zest (from one small-medium lemon), but that’s not in the traditional recipe. I just like lemon!
When the crazy water has simmered and reduced a bit, the ingredients will blend into a beautiful taste and color. Season your fish fillets with salt and pepper, slip them into the broth, cover the pan and let them simmer gently till cooked through — about 10-15 minutes. Done!
Serve in medium (pasta) bowls: a fillet, a couple of ladles of chunky broth, and a slice or two of toasted/or warm/or crunchy bread (I use baguette).
So easy. So healthful. So tasty. And not crazy at all.