It’s Fall, and in many Romanian homes this is equivalent with preparing for the winter. Since fresh produce are hard to find in the winter, are usually more expensive and generally tasteless, Romanians conserve the tastes of the Autumn and its finest flavors. The following is the recipe of a traditional Romanian bread spread, called Zacuscă. The origins of the dish are Russian (закуска, zakuska) but the Romanian Zacuscă recipe is significantly different compared to its Slavic relative.
3-4 kg fresh eggplants
1,5 kg fresh tomatoes
3 kg fresh red peppers (called gogoşari – in US pimento peppers. Alternatively you could use three types of meaty peppers, like pimento, capia peppers, sweet bell peppers, etc)
1 kg onions
1 kg minced carrots
salt (to taste)
black pepper (to taste)
1 kg sunflower oil (or virgin olive oil)
Preparing the Zacuscă Spread
Bake the eggplants and the peppers over an open flame (preferably grill) till their skins blacken. Peel them off, and wash the vegetable throughly with warm water. Mince the eggplants gently (don’t use food processors, as they transform the pulp into mush). Chop the pepper as well, in small cubes, and mix with the eggplant pulp.
Peal off the tomatoes and mince them (alternatively you could use 500 g tomato paste, but I believe that the fresh ones give a better taste).
Chop onions and place them in a large pot, add the minced carrots and the oil and let fry till golden over medium heat flame. Add the mix of eggplant and pepper to the boiling oil and onion, add tomatoes, then spice with salt and black pepper. Boil on low heat for about 2 hours, stirring repeatedly.
If you want to save it for the winter, spoon the mixture into sterilized jars, seal them then boil the jars for about 20-30 minutes into a large water bath canner. Allow to cool in the same water.
Other recipes might include cooked beans, mushrooms, celery or other ingredients, according to taste, including spices. It’s really up to your fantasy to “improve” this. You could add zucchini, for example, or even eliminate some of the ingredients mentioned above (like carrots). Some replace eggplants with cooked beans, and so on. There’s no unbreakable rule – feel free to experiment till you find the right taste. The recipe above is my personal favorite. Zacuscă tastes warm or cold – serve as you will.