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From Aqua Pazza to Fish poached in charred tomato broth

"There are many different variations of this sauce, from light broths, to thick tomato based sauces, which have been found on all types of seafood (not just the traditional white fish), and even chicken" Wikipedia

This was going to be a footnote to a post on something else - that something else not having been decided. So whilst I was still thinking about what I would write I started looking online for the recipe for this dish from Ixta Belfrage's book Mezcla, because I made it last night. I had featured it in the post on the book itself, and had not found the recipe online. But you never know - in between then and now somebody may have had a go and posted the recipe. Probably illegal I guess. Why was I looking? Well I did actually make it last night and it was absolutely delicious, so I thought I should at least give it a mention and encourage you to either buy the book yourself or ask me for the recipe. I won't post it here - but am happy to send it to you if you ask.

Above is the stunning picture from the book. Below are my less than stunning pictures of my version - made with barramundi - we don't have cod, hake or pollock here.

Also because of David's aversion to chilli I did not cook the tomatoes with a whole scotch bonnet chilli but diced half a green capsicum instead. I did slice some green chilli for the final decoration, but he could easily pick them out. Otherwise it was pretty much as instructed - barring the actual nominated varieties of tomatoes and olives.

Basically you marinated your fish in lime juice, charred the tomatoes and peppers, added oil, garlic, coriander, basil, paprika, then added water. Simmered it for a bit, added the fish and cooked with the lid on for a bit. Finally add more basil and coriander, some chopped green olives and that sliced chilli. Serve with toasted sourdough she said. We had Coles rustic baguette. And lime wedges. Oh I forgot to mention the aioli - egg yolk, salt and pepper, saffron (it's ons special at Aldi this week) and paprika and light olive oil, which you were meant to pour over the top at the table. Though this was optional.

It sounds fussy and complicated but it wasn't at all and I would do it again. David liked it too.

Precious is another thing I was going to mention, but I will save that for now - later.

The reason I am creating a whole post around this dish which would have been a mere footnote - look I made this - it was great - was that whilst I was looking for that recipe I realised that there are lots of similar dishes on the net - for example (there are dozens more) - Tomato poached fish on the Feel-good Foodie website; Poached cod with tomato and saffron from the Chewing the Fat website (apparently a Bon Appétit recipe) and Tomato-poached fish with chile oil and herbs from Alison Roman on the New York Times website.

A similar look don't you think? Although actually I don't think any of them are quite as sophisticated as Ixta Belfrage's version.

And that's when I found that this is because they all flow from an Italian dish called Aqua Pazza - crazy water.

The origin Italian version is fish poached in a broth made from tomatoes, wine (or water), garlic and olive oil. Simple peasant food which they think originated in Naples although it gained its name in Tuscany where:

"peasants would make wine, but had to give most to the landlord, leaving little left for them to drink. The peasants were resourceful, however, and mixed the stems, seeds, and pomace left over from the wine production with large quantities of water, brought it to a boil, then hermetically sealed in a terracotta vase and fermented it for several days. Called l'acquarello or l'acqua pazza, the result was a water barely colored with wine, which the fisherman may have been reminded of when seeing the broth of the dish, colored slightly red by the tomatoes and oil." Wikipedia

So off I went looking for recipes for Aqua Pazza - again dozens of them. So I shall begin with our own Recipe Tin Eats.

An aside - I mentioned the other day that I would make the Recipe Tin Eats version of ratatouille because it seemed a compromise between the authentic stewed version and Delia's roasted version. People, I followed it to the letter, but lo and behold it was mushy - which she had promised it wouldn't be. So I put it all in the oven to dry it out and char it a bit more. Which worked and it was pretty delicious. But still a bit mushy. I think I shall stick to Delia in future.

But back to our poached fish - Aqua pazza. As always Nagi gives you quite a bit of background, has beautiful photographs - the above is one of them, and a detailed run-down of the recipe with tips and tricks and notes about this and that. There is also a video:

I notice that she too recommends toasted bread - and I would certainly agree that you do need bread to sop up all the juices. She did not seem to have as much juice as I did, but then I guess I could have cooked the juices down a bit. As it is I have a little bit left over which I could use elsewhere - a smoked trout risotto perhaps.

Obviously there is no standard recipe for Aqua pazza though. Not even in Italy I suspect. Here are two more versions - one from Adam Liaw of all people, and one from a new website to me - Parsley and Parm. And perhaps here I should mention that the favoured fish for aqua pazza seems to be a flatter fish than my barramundi or the favoured overseas cod - with bass or bream being mentioned most often.

I think I am now of the opinion that any white fish will do - well I even saw one version from the currently 'hot' Julia Busuttil Nishimura which was for a mix of seafood.

People use different herbs; fennel is occasionally dropped in, until they move rather a long way from the simple peasant dish of tomatoes, garlic, oil and water. All pretty nice looking though, and what a good basic idea to play around with.

I will end with a little bit more about 'precious' though. Ixta Belfrage herself succumbs mildly to this by 'charring' the tomatoes and including 'charred' in the title. Pretty ordinary preciousness though.

However my final variant, shown here - a vegetarian one - Peppers aqua pazza which comes from Daniel Pepperell on the Gourmet Traveller magazine website, and which is therefore aimed at the rich urban foodie ends the recipe with these words - from the Gourmet Traveller author:

"Pepperell uses Ortiz white anchovies, available from Simon Johnson and select delicatessens. Substitute another white or good-quality anchovy. Banyuls vinegar is available from The Essential Ingredient and selected delicatessens. Substitute aged sherry or red wine vinegar mixed with a pinch of sugar. Wine suggestion 2016 Radikon Pinot Grigio. Fragrant, pink and electric. An iconic winemaker. Wine suggestion by Andy Tyson." ...

"At Alberto's they ferment the tomatoes first for about a week and use the fermented tomato water. They also top the dish with a few drops of prawn oil. Start this recipe a day ahead to marinate the capsicum." Gourmet Traveller

How precious is that! Only this kind of writing would suggest that a substitute for Banyuls vinegar, is the equally unobtainable aged sherry or red wine vinegar. Well yes you can get both sherry and red wine vinegar in your local supermarket - but not 'aged'. Have you been to Simon Johnson where they suggest you go for the Ortiz white anchovies? It's an Aladdin's cave of gorgeous gourmet stuff which costs a fortune. Great for Christmas presents but not for everyday. Mind you, you might be able to get Ortiz white anchovies in the supermarket - one of those high-end ones anyway. I know you can get Ortiz sardines there - maybe the ordinary supermarkets too. Ferment the tomatoes?! Prawn oil - they don't even suggest where you could get that. And I have never heard of that 'iconic' winemaker', but then I'm not very wine literate.

I admit that the dish does look beautiful, but I'm also not sure it looks any more beautiful than oven roasted capsicum. It's certainly a lot of fuss to go through for an appetiser.

Ixta's recipe was in her Everyday section, and it was pretty easy. Not as easy as the peasants' Aqua pazza, but easily done by anyone who was prepared to read the recipe. And the aioli was an optional extra. But go have fun with some white fish, some tomatoes, olive oil, garlic and water. Good for you too.

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