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.
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
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.
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.]
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.
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.