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Clams in Crazy Water (acqua pazza)

5 from 4 community reviews

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Savory clams simmered in a fresh tomato garlic broth. Serve over couscous for an easy and delicious meal.

A black enamel Dutch oven filled with cooked clams and a broth with cherry tomatoes and chili with a serving bowl on the side.

“What’s crazy water got to do with cooking and anyway, who wants to eat fish in water?” ~ Marcella Hazan, Marcella Cucina

Marcella Hazan writes in her book that “water is what brings together all the seasoning ingredients, the tomatoes, garlic, parsley, chili pepper, salt and olive oil.”

So simple. It’s the beauty of a brodo, or Italian broth.

There is a coincidence of my planning to write about these clams in Neapolitan-style crazy water – acqua pazza – and all the watery weather in life.

A black enamel Dutch oven filled with cooked clams and a broth with cherry tomatoes and chili with a serving bowl on the side.

Since the clams and crazy water come together to make a beautiful soupy-zuppa, I decided to bulk it up with fregola (sometimes spelled fregula), a type of couscous-shaped pasta from Sardinia.

I love the artisanal pasta produced by Rustichella D’Abruzzo; the fregola sarda they make is made from semolina. It’s much like large grains of couscous, only toasted.

It has an appealing toothy texture and sweet, nutty flavor, which is perfect for rustic broths like this one.

Clams in Crazy Water (Acqua Pazza)

Clams in Crazy Water (acqua pazza)

Karen Tedesco
A tasty Italian-inspired soup made with fresh clams simmered in a garlicky fresh tomato broth and served with couscous pasta. Delicious!
Print Pin
5 from 4 community reviews
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Total Time 55 minutes
Course Seafood
Cuisine Italian
Servings 4 servings


  • 20-24 littleneck clams or cockles, rinsed
  • 1 pound (450 g) cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
  • 3 whole garlic cloves, lightly smashed the side of a large knife
  • 1 chopped parsley
  • 1 fresh red chili pepper, chopped or 1/2 teaspoon dried chili flakes
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Pinch saffron threads
  • 5 tablespoons (75 ml) Extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
  • 1 shallot, thinly sliced
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 cup (175 g) fregola sarda or pearl couscous


To clean the clams:

  • Fill a large bowl with cold water. Add a teaspoon sea salt and add the clams. Swish them around a little then let them soak one hour. Lift the clams out of the water, leaving any sand or grit that settled on the bottom of the bowl.
  • Set aside 1 cup of the tomatoes. Put the rest in a saucepan with the garlic, parsley leaves, chili, salt, saffron and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add 4 cups water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a slow bubbling simmer and cook 30 minutes. Pour the broth through a strainer set over a bowl of small saucepan, (discard the vegetables).
  • Cook the fregola sarda in boiling salted water. In my experience it can take longer to cook than other types of small pasta before becoming tender, about 20 minutes. Drain and toss with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil cover and keep warm
  • Heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium heat in a saute pan large enough to hold all the clams (12 inches diameter should do it). Add the garlic and shallot and cook until fragrant and sizzling. Toss in the clams, reserved tomatoes, broth and lemon juice. Cover the pan and turn up the heat to high and cook until the clams open, about 5 minutes. Discard any clams that haven't opened. Taste the broth to see if it needs salt or chili.
  • Spoon the fregola into individual bowls and ladle with the clams and broth. Sprinkle with the chopped parsley.

Karen’s Notes and Tips

Recipe inspired by Fish in Crazy Water in Marcella Cucina by Marcella Hazan


Serving: 1serving | Calories: 358kcal | Carbohydrates: 41g | Protein: 9g | Fat: 18g | Saturated Fat: 3g | Sodium: 664mg | Potassium: 394mg | Fiber: 3g | Sugar: 4g | Vitamin A: 715IU | Vitamin C: 44mg | Calcium: 37mg | Iron: 2mg

Nutrition facts are calculated by third-party software. If you have specific dietary needs, please refer to your favorite calculator.

Did you make this recipe? Search @Familystylefood or tag #familystylefood on Pinterest
Recipe developer Karen Tedesco of the popular website Familystyle Food in her kitchen making a kale salad.

Hey, I’m Karen

Creator of Familystyle Food

I’m a food obsessed super-taster and professionally trained cook ALL about creating elevated dinners with everyday ingredients. Find simplified recipes made from scratch and enjoy incredibly tasty food! Read more about me here.

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  1. This looks like a delicious dish- my family loves clams so this will definitely be on my try list!

  2. What a beautiful dish – and this coming from a non-clam eater! As always, you have lovingly photographed your food, with a realism and lack of artifice I find particularly pleasing and refreshing. The grace and serenity of your work is an inspiration. Brava, amica! I hope your spirits are up, and I hope things are going well for you.

    1. Adri, thank you for the really wonderful compliment – it means so much. And what do you mean non-clam eater?! Actually, although I grew up foraging for mussels and clams on the beaches where I grew up, I didn’t enjoy eating them until much later in life.