One of the many things I love about spending time in kitchens in Italy is that you always walk away with a lesson in immigration. At Il Giardino di Candida, a trattoria on Ventotene that bears the name of its chef Candida Sportiello (as well as the island’s patron saint) I heard of a community of ventotenesi 1,500 strong that immigrated to New York and still sends money back to the island’s main church. Ventotenesi, she told me as she tended to a rapidly simmering broth in which she was cooking whole fish, have always been immigrants. As she swirled the brothy acqua pazza in a large aluminum pot, she recounted how her home island was settled in the 1800s by 28 families from Naples. Given acqua pazza’s popularity in Italian restaurants across the globe, perhaps we have Ventotene to thank for exporting it from their humble volcanic island.
Candida makes uses pesce prete (Atlantic stargazer) and scorfano (scorpion fish) for her Pesce all’Acqua Pazza but I suggest substitutions below.
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, smashed
3 sprigs fresh flat-leaf parsley, plus chopped parsley for garnish
1 cup ripe cherry tomatoes, halved
Two (1-pound) fish (sea bass or branzino)
½ cup white wine
Heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. When the oil begins to shimmer, add the garlic and cook just until it takes color, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the parsley, fry for 30 seconds, then add the tomatoes. Season with salt, and cook just until softened, about 2 minutes. Add the fish, then the wine and enough water to submerge the fish half-way. Season with salt. Cover, increase the heat to medium-high and cook for 4 minutes. Turn the fish carefully and cook until firm to the touch, 4 to 5 minutes more. Serve immediately garnished with parsley.