Mike is reading A Culinary Traveller in Tuscany by Beth Elon. It includes a bunch of recipes from the region, so I took a look through it when I needed an idea for something to do with this week’s cod from the CSF. I came across a recipe for Pesce all’acqua pazza which translates as Fish in Crazy Water. With a name like that I had to try it.
Wikipedia claims that the original acqua pazza (crazy water) was made by Tuscan peasants. When the grapes were harvested, they made wine and gave it all to the landlord. All the peasants were left with was the grape skins and stems. Being resourceful, they would boil this mess in water and let it ferment. When they were done, they had a reddish liquid that they called acqua pazza. That’s not this recipe though. This one is from Naples and is made with fish and tomatoes. The story is that someone decided that the color of this broth reminded them of the original Tuscan crazy water, and it copied the name.
There appear to be as many variations on this recipe as there are regions/towns in Italy. After looking at a few here’s what I came up with. The cooking liquid is so tasty you have to have a nice loaf of crusty bread to mop it up.
Pesce all’acqua pazza
1 small, or 1/2 large onion, finely chopped
2 carrots, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
1-2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved (or good plum tomatoes)
1 1/2 cups dry white wine
1 sprig rosemary
1 generous teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped fine
2 Tbsp capers
1 lb cod fillets, cut into pieces
handful of good olives, coarsely sliced
3Tbsp parsley, chopped
olive oil, salt & pepper
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Meanwhile, sauté the onion, carrots, celery and garlic in a glug of olive oil in an oven-proof pan. When the vegetables have softened, add the tomatoes, wine, capers, rosemary, and thyme. Bring to a boil. Add the large chunks of fish to the pan and spoon some of the veggies over the top. Pop the whole thing into the oven for 10 minutes. Add in the sliced olives, mixing them into the sauce and put it back in the over for another 10 minutes for 20 minutes total. I used Sicilian olives, which added a nice fresh flavor. Sprinkle with the chopped parsley and serve with slices of crusty Tuscan bread.
In tonight’s dish I only used 1 clove of garlic, and I would definitely put two in next time, but then I think everything needs more garlic. The amount of olives is really up to you – you could even leave them out if you don’t like them. In that case I might spice it up with a little red pepper.