Yield: 4 servings
Easy enough for a weeknight, this simple, simmered fish dish originated along the Amalfi coast, where seafood is eaten regularly. Acqua pazza, which means “crazy water” in Italian, is derived from the way Neapolitan fisherman used to cook the day’s catch; in seawater, imbuing it with salty notes. This recipe calls for simmering fish over a simple broth seasoned with burst tomatoes, wine, salted water and the caramelized bits created by first quickly searing the fish in olive oil. Like many Italian dishes, the preparation is simple and requires only a few ingredients. Canned tomatoes can be substituted for the cherry, but if using out-of-season cherry tomatoes, a pinch of sugar can revive and build complex flavor. To round out the meal, serve with some crusty bread to sop up the sauce.
Four (8-ounce) skinless white fish fillets, such as cod or halibut, preferably of an even thickness
Kosher salt and black pepper
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 small yellow onion, minced
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
¼ teaspoon red-pepper flakes
4 cups cherry tomatoes
½ cup white wine
½ teaspoon granulated sugar (optional)
3 to 4 basil leaves, torn into small pieces
Season the fish with salt and pepper on both sides. Heat a cast-iron skillet over high and add the oil, tilting the pan to coat. Add the fish fillets and cook for about 1 minute, until you can easily slide a spatula underneath to release the fish. Transfer fish, cooked side up, to a rimmed plate.
Lower the heat to medium. Add the onion, garlic and red-pepper flakes to the skillet and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until onion is translucent, and garlic begins to brown. Add tomatoes, white wine, and sugar (if using). Cover the skillet and cook for 5 minutes, until tomatoes begin to burst.
Uncover and add ½ cup water plus 1 teaspoon salt. Increase heat to medium-high and cook for an additional 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Carefully place the fish on top of the sauce, cooked side up, along with any liquid from the dish. Cover and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, until the fish is opaque and just cooked through. Remove from heat and garnish with fresh torn basil. To serve, spoon the burst tomatoes into a dish, place the fish on top and add the broth on top.