Zacusca is a slow cooked eggplant and red pepper spread. This traditional Romanian dish is made in Autumn when its main ingredients, eggplants and gogosari peppers are in season. Gogosari peppers very similar to red bell peppers, which is what I use in this recipe.
During our time in Romania, we came to enjoy having Zacusca slathered on rustic bread. Bread spreads are very common in Romania. We also enjoyed Salata de Vinete, (eggplant spread) and Fasole Batatu, bean spread, which are also common traditional Romanian foods.
The spreads are really eaten any time of day, from breakfast onward. We found that zacusca was actually something we enjoyed with many things, such as with Romanian meatballs (chiftele) or as a simmering sauce for fish or accompaniment to roasted meats. It is even wonderful when used as a pasta sauce.
Chiftele (Romanian Meatballs) served with zacusca sauce
The vegetables can be cooked either in the oven or on a grill, which gives them deeper smoky flavor. For this recipe, I use the oven method. The resulting eggplant and tomato sauce will have a lighter taste that allows more of the fresh vegetable flavor to shine through.
It also, in my opinion, adds to the versatility of the recipe. Smoky flavors can be very nice, but they are rarely subtle. Once smoke joins the party, the flavor can become dominant and overwhelm rather than enhance a dish.
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Here are some additional Eggplant recipes you might enjoy:
Zacusca is a traditional Romanian dish made with Eggplant and Red Bell Peppers. This versatile recipe is fantastic as a spread on bread, but also can be used as an accompaniment to grilled or roasted meats or as a pasta sauce.
Prep Time10 minutes
Cook Time45 minutes
Additional Time1 hour30 minutes
Total Time2 hours25 minutes
2 medium eggplants (aubergines)
3 medium red bell peppers
1 Serrano chili pepper (optional - for a spicier sauce)
1 large white onion, diced
16 oz can (500 ml) crushed tomatoes
1 tablespoon (14 g) tomato paste
½ cup (120 ml) vegetable or olive oil (sunflower is traditional)
2 Bay leaves
1 teaspoon salt
Fresh ground pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F (200 C).
Wash the peppers and eggplant.
Pierce the eggplant several times with a fork to allow steam to escape while it cooks.
Place the eggplant and peppers on a greased cookie sheet (cover with foil for easier cleaning).
Turn the vegetable several times (3 - 4) so that they will cook evenly. Eggplant should take about 45 minutes, 25 - 35 for the bell peppers, and 10 - 15 if you are using the Serrano chili pepper in the recipe.
Remove the vegetables when they become soft and their skin begins to blacken.
Lightly salt the vegetables and place them in a plastic or glass container covered with a lid or plastic wrap. Allow them to cool.
Remove the skins and stems.
Place the eggplant in a strainer and allow the liquid to drain for an hour.
Remove the seeds from the peppers and set aside (note: if using a Serrano chili, leave the seeds if you want more heat).
Place the eggplant & pepper flesh into a food processor and blend until they are coarsely chopped.
Place the onions in a saute pan with oil and cook until they are translucent (10 - 15 minutes).
Add the tomato puree, cooked vegetables, bay leaf and ground black pepper.
Bring the sauce to a boil and then reduce the heat to a low simmer.
Allow to cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce reaches your desired consistency, which should be that of a thick spread. This is a slow cooking process that could take between 1 - 1 1/2 hours.
Remove the bay leaf and adjust the seasoning.
This recipe can be canned and stored so that the sauce can be enjoyed for up to 2 years.