Acqua Pazza (Fish in Crazy Water)

One go-to option when researching dinner menus for the week, is our subscription to the “Make-It-Tonight” series from Fine Cooking. As often as possible I try to include at least one fish/seafood meal, so this Acqua Pazza recipe caught my eye. And as soon as I read the list of ingredients, it definitely made the list.


In this Italian dish, fish is gently poached in “crazy water” flavored with fennel, garlic, and tomato. Any firm, flaky white fish, such as cod or red snapper fillets will do. As aficionados of bold flavors, I amped up the red pepper flakes but you can always soften the flavor profile by adding a reduced quantity.

While I know some folks who just can’t STAND the licorice taste of fennel (Dee, I’m thinking of you), hubby and I adore it. Not having ground fennel on hand for the rub, I put fennel seeds in my spice grinder and made the powder myself. That, with a thinly sliced fennel bulb, if your not partial to that particular essence, this dish is definitely not for you.

With only 10 simple ingredients, easy prep and short cooking times, this makes for a perfect healthy weeknight meal. If your not adverse to carbs, serve with a loaf of ciabatta to mop up the flavorful “crazy water.”



  • 1-1/2 lb. skinless firm white fish fillets, cut into 4 pieces
  • 1-1/2 tsp. ground fennel
  • Kosher salt
  • 3 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil; more as needed
  • 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 to 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 medium red onion, halved and thinly sliced lengthwise
  • 1 small fennel bulb, trimmed, halved, cored, and very thinly sliced crosswise
  • 1 14- to 15-oz. can diced tomatoes, drained
  • 1 cup good-quality dry vermouth
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil


  • Coat the fish with the ground fennel and season liberally with salt.
  • Combine the oil, garlic, and pepper flakes in a heavy-duty 5- to 6-quart heavy-duty pot set over medium-high heat and cook, stirring frequently, until the garlic begins to turn golden, about 2 minutes.
  • Add the onion, sliced fennel, and 1/2 tsp. salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables soften, 4 to 7 minutes.
  • Add the tomatoes, vermouth, and 2 cups of water and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer until the flavors have blended, 4 to 6 minutes. Season to taste with salt.
  • Nestle the fish in a single layer in the broth, cover the pot, and cook until the fish is opaque and just beginning to flake, 5 to 8 minutes.
  • Divide the fish and vegetables among 4 wide shallow bowls, spoon the broth around it, and top with the basil.

IMG_3469By Matthew Card from Fine Cooking

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