Spaghetti all’Acqua Pazza (Spaghetti with Fish and Tomatoes)

Acqua Pazza (which literally means “crazy water”) is a dish from Campania, the region of Naples. It can be either a primo piatto or a secondo piatto. As a secondo, it is fish cooked with cherry tomatoes. As a primo, it is pasta with fish and cherry tomatoes. I don’t have a clue why it is called crazy, but it sure is delicous.

Acqua Pazza is a poor man’s dish, that was made by the fisherman’s wife from fishes that were not sold or too small to sell. Everything is used: the bones and heads of the fish are turned into a stock to impart their flavor to the dish. If you keep homemade fish stock in your freezer, this dish only takes as long as it takes to cook the spaghetti and is perfect for a weekday meal.

Even though it is a simple dish with simple ingredients, it is important to cook it right. As is often the case, that means not overcooking anything. The garlic and onions should not be overcooked (i.e. they should not be browned). The cherry tomatoes should not be cooked to pulp. The fish should not be cooked until it falls apart. The spaghetti should be kept al dente.

Like most Italian poor man’s dishes, this is very tasty as long as you use good ingredients. With fresh fish and ripe cherry tomatoes, this is absolutely wonderful.


For 2 servings

150 grams (.33 lb) spaghetti

fillets of 1 sea bream or sea bass, about 450 grams (1 lb), use the head and bones to make the fish stock

240 ml (1 cup) fish stock, simmered to reduce it to 120 ml (1/2 cup)

250 grams (.55 lb) ripe cherry tomatoes

60 ml (1/4 cup) dry white wine

1 Tbsp minced fresh flat leaf parsley

salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 small onion, minced

1 clove garlic, minced

2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil


Cut the fish fillets into 1 cm (1/2 inch) pieces. Season with salt and reserve.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add salt and spaghetti and cook 2 minutes less than the time indicated for al dente.

While the spaghetti is cooking, prepare the sauce. Sweat the onion and garlic in the olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat until the onion is soft and fragrant, about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, cut the tomatoes in half. There is a neat trick to do this quickly. Arrange the tomatoes on a plate and cover them with another plate.

Now slice between the two plates with a large, very sharp, knife.

The tomatoes will be cut in halves quicker than cutting them individually.

Add the tomatoes to the onions.

Cook for a minute. [At this point many Italian recipes will have you add the fish, which will surely result in overcooked fish that will become dry and flaky. The fish only needs a couple of minutes to cook, so it is better to add it at the end.]

The add the white wine…

…and the fish stock.

Drain the spaghetti  2 minutes before cooked al dente and add to the sauce. Stir carefully and bring to a boil.

Now add the fish.

Arrange the fish on top of the spaghetti. Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with the parsley. Cook for 2 minutes over medium heat, shaking the pan gently. Try to stir as little as possible to keep the fish and the tomatoes whole. After 2 minutes the fish should just be cooked through and the spaghetti should be al dente.

Serve at once on warm plates.

Wine pairing

This is great with many white wines. To stay in the area of Campania, a Greco di Tufo would be an excellent choice. We enjoyed it with a pinot grigio from Alto Adige, which was an excellent combination.


Two years ago I prepared homemade fresh pasta with clams, bigoli alle vongole, and it was delicious. Pasta alle vongole is one of our favorite pasta dishes. The thick homemade noodles take this dish over the top.


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