Apr 2, 2009

Pezzogna all'Acqua Pazza recipe

My Amalfi Coast friends are very familiar with this dish. This is the area's signature fish recipe, made with all-local ingredients. White fish cooked all'acqua pazza, literally, in 'crazy water,' is one of the simplest ways of preparing fresh fish.

acqua pazza, the simplest southern Italian fish recipe
Photo courtesy of ioviaggio.it

The origin of acqua pazza dates back to 1800, this cooking technique was practiced mostly by the less fortunate fishermen of Campania, Lazio, Sicily, Calabria and Puglia. These seafarers prepared their lunches on board their boats and instead of seasoning their seafood recipes with salt––which was too expensive––they used sea water, in addition to tomatoes, garlic and olive oil. So fresh fish, and unpolluted sea water, were a must. The unique flavor of acqua pazza lies in the simple combination of salted water, the fluids released by the fish and the tomatoes. The best to use here are the the terrific pomodorini al piennolo, a variety of local teardrop-shaped vine tomatoes which are harvested in clusters and hung on beams and trellises to ripen.
pomodorini al piennolo, Naples

The ideal fish to use for this recipe is the Mediterranean pezzogna (or pagello), which goes by the English name bluespotted, red or blackspot Seabream (Pagellus bogaraveo). This is a salt water fish that swims in the deep Sorrento peninsula and Amalfi coastal waters around the islands of Capri, Ischia and Procida. It's very similar to pandora or snapper.
pezzogna, or pagello - Mediterranean seabream

Here's the recipe for "crazy water"
Any one of the above mentioned fish, weighing 1kg (2 lbs)
250 g (1 cup) organic, possibly vine-ripened heirloom tomatoes, quartered
2 garlic cloves
A small bunch of Italian flat leaf parsley, finely chopped - I use basil instead
Slices of sourdough or country-style bread for bruschetta
Extra virgin olive oil
1 glass of dry, white wine

Soak the tomatoes in water and baking soda to remove any traces of dirt, then rinse well and pat dry.

Clean and scale the fish. Put it in a pan with two cloves of garlic, parsley and the tomatoes. Add the glass of wine and enough water to soak the fish half way. Cover the pot, bring the water to a boil, and simmer the fish until done, about 10 minutes.

In the meantime, make bruschetta: lightly toast your bread, rub the slices with the remaining garlic clove, and season them with a thin drizzle of olive oil. Divide the fish into 4-5 portions, arrange them on the plates, and serve with the bruschetta, and plenty acqua pazza sauce on the side.

I love this recipe's simplicity. It can also be enriched with the addition of clams or mussels, to be added 2 minutes before serving so as not to overcook them.

Tip: Make sure the fish cooks only half soaked in the crazy water, too much would drown it.


  1. Yes, very familiar!
    Right down to those tomatoes which I was going to do a post on.

    My husband especially loves his fish cooked this way. And looking at your picture, I can just smell the tempting wafts of fragrance that would come from it!

    Those tomatoes are a flavoursome work of art and combined with very fresh fish...yum!

  2. Oh! yummy yum yum! thankyou darling girl.xx

  3. Delectable! A lovely fantasy (for the landlocked and garden-tomato deprived)...

  4. That looks so wonderful; light and full of taste. And the cherry tomatoes have an incredible colour!;)
    I love Italian cuisine.;)
    I found you through sallymandy, you have a lovely blog.

  5. This looks fabulous and the write-up was fascinating.

    I wonder if this was the origin of the U.S. West Coast Italian-American dish, cioppino? They sound very similar.

    How lovely to be reading your blog again!

  6. I saw you mentioned on the Blue Kimono. This stuff looks very tasty. I look forward to taking a closer looker around

    Hey, your verification word below is "disho"

  7. Oh my, is this a blog I ever need! May I thank you on behalf of my poor children? I am going to follow this recipe (and this time religiously keep the washing up liquid bottle well out of reach).

    I'll keep you posted (smile)!

  8. I love fish photos. This one looks so friendly :)

  9. I'm always looking for encouragement to eat more fish. Your beautiful post provides grand motivation.

    Gosh, what beautiful tomatoes. One of my favorite memories of visiting my cousins in Trissino were the amazing tomatoes from their garden. What is it about Italy that they grow so sweet there? Soil? Sun? Love?

  10. Lola thanks for the chipped tooth.

    I tried to eat the computer screen.

    Love Renee xoxo

  11. Scintilla - Knew you'd smile reading this.

    Natalie - You're very welcome yummy mum.

    Anno - Oh no! Didn't mean any harm...

    Protege - Thanks for stopping by for a nibble. Please come back anytime you like, there's always plenty of tasty foods here.

    Jen - I've never heard of cioppino!!! Must get to work and study about it pronto. Thanks!

    Clever Pup - Of course, you're welcome here anytime. Can I tempt you with a snack?

    Shrinky - Washing detergent *away* from the kitchen. You can do the dishes tomorrow!

    Maryann - With those big eyes, yeah. He's very friendly, the pezzogna.

    Pyzahn - Fish rocks, and it's a lot easier to cook that we think. Tomatoes are magical here. A combo fo soil, sun, water and of course Love.

    Renee - (snickering) I'm so sorry. Tee hee...

  12. Something interesting to do with fresh cherry tomatoes! I plan to 'fish' this out of the archives in July.

  13. Susan - Yeah, I took a seasonal leap forward with this, but hey, it's spring already! Ciao

  14. Do you know how crazy good this looks? I've just dribbled right down the front of my shirt.

  15. Ciao Lola, I think this is a wonderful dish and new to me. I also enjoy the way you write, may I say you do a great job! All the flavors must be easily distinguished in this simple dish. Just to taste the sea water! Plus, I thank you for sharing this recipe from my heritage land! Grazie !

  16. Erin - purpose of post achieved!
    Chuck - grazie, you're sweet! Buon appetito

  17. That looks delish! I'll have to try it!

  18. Hi Lola,

    My mouth waters just looking at the photo of those tomatoes. What is the purpose of soaking them in baking soda? Does it draw out the juice? I can't wait to try fish this way.

    Yes please post that African daisy sign on your blog. I made it just for you!


  19. Saretta - Thank you! Buon appetito...

    Sallymandy - Baking soda is a base, it neutralizes the acids found in pesticides, chemicals etc. If you buy organic, you don't need this step. Ciao and thanks again, the daisy's proudly displayed!

  20. Like Erin, I have dribbled down my T shirt! Oh yummyotious - I'm quite certain that every spoonful would make a sonorous bluesy mouthful....

    I have some nice fresh gurnard in the fridge - I wonder if it would work with your recipe, Lola? (I have a feeling that Italians regard the poor ugly gurnard with some distain - eek!)

  21. Tessa: Any firm, white fish works with Acqua Pazza. Gurnard is a bit bony, but being deep-dwelling like seabream, it should work ok. I never disdain fish, I love it all!

  22. That looks very good!

  23. Thank you... it is! Very saporito (tasty) and oh so easy to make. Ciao