[Recipe Series] Make Food Great Again: Pesce all’Acqua Pazza

I’ve never understood why some people think healthy food has to taste bad. Growing up as the daughter of an Italian we ate simple but delicious recipes. As an adult I learned nutritionists refer to this style of cooking as the Mediterranean diet. I didn’t categorize what my family ate as ‘healthy’ until I got older. I’m here to share with you the easiest, tastiest healthy recipe you’ve ever eaten.

More than ever in today’s world we’re bombarded by the skinny and guilt-free version of our favorite foods. All the while under the guise that they’re healthy for us. Grocery stores are bursting at the seams with countless options labeled fat free! sugar free! and low calorie! We’ve bought into the myth of ‘healthy’ processed food thanks to clever marketing.

I’m not immune. I bought into the portion-control myth of the “100 calorie pack.” In my delirious state I thought, “Now I’ll finally have control over those pesky calories!!!” But, why is this about as much fun as gnawing on wet cardboard? Worse yet, why can I eat the entire box (sooo, like 600 calories) without ever feeling satisfied? God forbid I turn the package over and try to pronounce any of the “ingredients.” What am I even putting in my body? I finally admitted to myself that I’d rather have a real whole-fat cookie than chain myself to diet food culture.

Healthy food isn’t complicated. Trying to make a high fat, high calorie cookie ‘healthy’ is complicated because it’s loaded with chemicals to make it palatable. We become conditioned to the idea that if it’s healthy it will taste drab. Ordering at a chain restaurant is a good example. I experience vegetables one of two ways: drowning in a pool of melted butter or so undercooked you might as well shove them back in the ground. The “low cal” menu options are typically so flavorless and sad in appearance you wonder if the food was bussed in from the local prison cafeteria. What gives? Why is it so difficult to find healthy, tasty food while eating out?

Repeated exposure like this reinforces the idea that eating healthy is punishment. But it’s not. And I’m here to prove it to you with the simplest recipe ever.

But before we do that let’s address the elephant in the room. Cooked seafood: it’s not attractive. Do you see Pinterest teeming with seafood recipes? Heck no. It’s meltedbrownielavabutter heaven (excuse me, skinnymeltedbrownielavabutter heaven). And that’s for a reason. I know this dish doesn’t look particularly exciting (she doesn’t photograph well, okay? Why do you think I chose that header image?) But if you like fish, I encourage you to try this recipe. It tastes a thousand times better than it looks, I promise.

Eating pesce all’acqua pazza on the Amalfi Coast. Complimentary fish head included.

In Italian it’s called “pesce all’acqua pazza” which means “fish in crazy water.” While the exact origin is unclear, it was traditionally a dish of the poor. At the time salt was expensive so fisherman would use sea water as a substitute for salt and water. They’d poach fish in sea water and white wine (hence the ‘crazy’) for a simple dish. 

For a moment I thought “why even post this?” It doesn’t require any special skill or interesting ingredients. We agree it’s not particularly attractive. What I love about this recipe (and Italian food in general) is that it’s so simple yet delicious. It hasn’t evolved into something complicated. It’s basic and true to its roots. No measuring required. A few high quality, fresh ingredients are all you need for your dish is going to come out great.  

You’ll need:

  1. White fish of your choice (meatier white fish like red snapper are perfect)
  2. Good quality extra virgin olive oil (seriously, don’t skimp)
  3. Cherry or grape tomatoes
  4. Flat leaf parsley
  5. Dry white wine
  6. Water
  7. Garlic


  1. Place fish in a baking pan deep enough so liquid won’t spill out.
  2. Drizzle olive oil over each filet (do not completely coat the fish)
  3. Add just enough white wine and water to coat bottom of pan (the liquid should not rise above the fish)
  4. Toss in smashed garlic cloves, chopped parsley, tomatoes, salt and pepper.

Processed with VSCO with m5 preset

Your dish should resemble something like this before it goes into in the oven. This was for 2 people, if you’re cooking for a family, buy enough fish for each person and eyeball the rest. Bake for 350 degrees Fahrenheit until the fish is, well, done. 15-20 minutes depending on your oven. The fish will stay white due to the liquid, so don’t rely on browning that as a sign of ‘done-ness.’

Discard garlic cloves, squirt a little fresh lemon on top if you like, and serve immediately with good Italian or French bread (I’m not biased, what?) A good baguette is essential for something every Italian learns as soon as he/she is able to talk. Fare la scarpetta. Literally “make the little shoe” refers to wiping up the delicious sauce off your plate with a piece of bread. This is the most rewarding part of the meal, if I’m being honest.

Great bread = non negotiable

The way I ate this as a kid was as a second, after a main dish of pasta. However you can serve this as a main with another vegetable or rice/quinoa on the side to make it more substantial. Repeat after me: pasta is never to be served as a side dish. We respect pasta,  we don’t do that to her (but that’s for another day).

However you serve it, you’re bound to enjoy it. I hope you’ll find it tasty and quick enough to add to your “go-to recipe” arsenal. If you give it a go let me know what you think! I’d love to hear your thoughts.