I am so excited to share this recipe with you. I grew up eating this vegetable spread and it’s one of my favorite snacks. Though I have to confess, as a child I used to hate this, because like most children I hated vegetables. However as I grew up and smartened up, I realized how delicious this was.
Now if you’ve never heard of this vegetable spread, let me tell you now, it’s unbelievable. We usually eat it on bread just like you see in the pictures, it’s meant as a snack or an appetizer. Zacusca is the Romanian word, and this spread is pretty popular in Eastern Europe. There are two different types of peppers used here, regular red bell peppers and pimento peppers which usually are found at farmer’s markets. This is why I made this now, because you can find these pimento peppers in abundance at any farmer’s market.
This recipe here is my mother’s recipe which I have modified just a bit. My mom’s recipe calls for almost double the oil I have listed and double the salt, so as I try and make these recipes a bit healthier I wanted to reduce the oil and salt and see if there was a noticeable difference, and I’m proud to say there wasn’t any at all. Still tastes just like my mom’s.
This was the first time I attempted to make this, mostly because I never really make anything canned, and it is quite a bit of work, but the final outcome is so worth it and you will not regret it. So most of the work involves roasting all the eggplants and the peppers. The easiest way to do this is use your BBQ grill. You grill all the eggplants and peppers until they are charred, then remove the skin and the seeds from the peppers. This is probably the most time consuming, cleaning up all the peppers so that only the flesh remains. Once this is done you’re pretty much home free. All that’s needed to do is to cook the spread and sterilize the jars.
The sterilizing technique here is my dad’s, so if you have another way feel free to do it your way. Basically what I did to sterilize the jars is boil them in hot water first for about 10 minutes. After that, just before the spread is ready to be canned, you place the jars, lids off, in the oven at 180 F degrees for 10 minutes. Take them out and carefully fill the jars so that there is about an inch left from the top, place the lid onto the rim and, using one finger to hold the lid securely, twist on the screw band until it’s tight. Once this is done with all the jars, place them back in the oven and continue baking for another 15 minutes, after which you can turn off the oven, and let them cool in there.
One other thing I’d like to mention here is that the quantities listed in the recipe is what you need after the eggplants and peppers have been roasted and cleaned, not before, so to get 2 kg of roasted eggplant, you should double that when you purchase them, same with the peppers. You can also cut down the recipe, these quantities here will product 12 jars of 500 ml each. When you measure and if you end up with more eggplant than needed you can always use that to make this delicious eggplant salad, and if you have leftover roasted peppers, use that to make roasted peppers with garlic sauce, it’s to die for.
- 2.5 kg (5½ lbs) eggplant, grilled until charred
- 2 kg (4½ lbs) red bell peppers, grilled until charred
- 2 kg (4½ lbs) pimento peppers, grilled untill charred
- 1 kg (2.2 lbs) onions, chopped
- 1 L (34 oz) vegetable oil
- 1.5 L (50 oz) tomato sauce
- 5 tbsp salt
- 2 tbsp ground black pepper
- 5 bay leaves
- To grill the eggplants, make sure you poke holes with a knife, so they don’t explode. Grill them until soft and charred. After the eggplants have cooled off, remove the peel, using a knife, if you’ve cooked them enough, the peel should come off easily.
- Grill the peppers, or roast them in the oven until they are almost completely charred.
- Let cool and remove all the peel and seeds from them and wash them well.
- Place the eggplant in a colander and let it drain off any excess water. Do the same with the peppers. This may take about half hour or so.
- The next step you can do in small batches, depends how big your food processor is, but place some eggplant into the food processor and pulse a few times until the eggplant is finely chopped but you don’t want it to be look like a paste. Repeat the same with the peppers.
- In a very large pot heat the oil and add the onions. Cook the onions until soft, make sure not to burn them. They should just start to change color.
- Carefully add the eggplant and peppers and stir using a wooden spoon. Add tomato sauce. Add the salt, black pepper and bay leaves. This will require 3 hours of cooking over low to medium heat, stirring occasionally, I stirred every 10 minutes, just so that it doesn’t stick to the bottom.
- In the meantime, boil the jars in hot water first for about 10 minutes. After that, just before the spread is ready to be canned, you place the jars, lids off, in the oven at 180 F degrees for 10 minutes. Take them out and carefully fill the jars so that there is about an inch left from the top, place the lid onto the rim and, using one finger to hold the lid securely, twist on the screw band until it’s tight. Once this is done with all the jars, place them back in the oven and continue baking for another 15 minutes, after which you can turn off the oven, and let them cool in there.