A mixture of tomatoes, garlic, and water, acqua pazza ("crazy water") is Italy's answer to court-bouillon. Other flavorful small fish, such as orate or black sea bass, can stand in for the branzini (Mediterranean sea bass).
6 cups water
1 pint grape tomatoes, cut into halves
2cloves garlic, crushed
1 dried hot red pepper
Stems from 1 bunch parsley, tied with kitchen string
2 slices lemon
2 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher or sea salt, to taste
3 whole branzini (about 1 pound each), scaled and gutted
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Garnish: extra-virgin olive oil and coarse sea salt
In a 12-inch skillet, combine water, tomatoes, garlic, hot pepper, parsley stems, lemon slices, and oil. Season well with salt and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer 1 hour.
Season fish inside and out with salt and pepper and let rest 5 minutes. Add fish to skillet -- the crazy water should be just rippling, not bubbling -- cover, and poach 6 minutes. Turn fish, cover, and poach another 6 minutes. Remove fish from water and let rest 5 minutes.
Skin and filet the fish. Serve in shallow bowls, with some of crazy water and tomatoes spooned over the top. Garnish with a drizzle of your best olive oil and sea salt.