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Zacusca Recipe (Roasted Eggplant and Bell Pepper Spread from Romania and Moldova)

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Enjoy a sweet and lusciously thick spread with our Romanian and Moldovan zucusca recipe that’s ideal for serving at parties, celebrations, and large gatherings.

Zacusca Recipe

This beloved Romanian and Moldovan spread brings together the tenderness and sweetness of both roasted eggplant and bell pepper, in a thick, fibrous texture that tastes divine on top of bread, grilled meats, roasted vegetables, and so many other foods. You definitely need to try it at home!

What is Zacusca?

Simple to make, zacusca is a dish of Romanian and Moldovan origin. It is a spread traditionally consisting of roasted eggplant, peppers, tomato paste, and sauteed onion, along with other ingredients and seasonings, depending on region.

Similar types of spread exist throughout the Balkans, and anyone who has grown up in a Romanian or Moldovan household will be very familiar with this dish.

Traditionally it is made in large batches, after the fall harvest, and stored to be consumed throughout the winter for months on end.

Variations

Paprika Pepper – Known as gogoșari in Romanian, paprika pepper is native to Hungary, and is the pepper traditionally used in making zacusca and other types of similar spreads in the Balkans. However, if you cannot source this type of pepper, you can use most types of bell pepper instead.

Additional Ingredients – Some do add the likes of carrot, celery, and/or mushroom to their zacusca or spread. Bay leaf for spice, as we have included in our recipe, is also optional for some people.

Recipe Ingredients

To make our simple, sweet, and delicious zacusca recipe, you’ll need the following ingredients:

  • Eggplants – 5 eggplants (1.7 kg or 3.7 lb)
  • Red Bell Peppers – 5 red bell peppers (1.1 kg or 2.4 lb)
  • Onion – 2 brown onions (250 grams or 0.5 lb)
  • Passata – 2 cups (about 500 ml) passata (or tomato sauce)
  • Salt – 2-3 tsp kosher salt
  • Bay leaves – 2 bay leaves
  • Black Pepper – 1 tsp ground black pepper
  • Oil – 3/4 cup (180 ml) sunflower oil (or another neutral-tasting oil such as canola oil or vegetable oil)

Step-by-Step Instructions

Step 1 – Wash and pat dry the eggplants and the peppers and arrange them on a roastin pan or baking sheet. Use baking paper so the vegetables don’t stick to the roasting pan.

Step 2 – Pierce the eggplants (aubergines) first with a knife or fork.

Step 3 – Bake the eggplants and red bell peppers in the preheated oven at 390°F (200°C) for about 40 minutes for the bell peppers and 50-60 minutes for the eggplants.

Note: Traditionally, the bell peppers and eggplants are roasted over open fire, and they have a very nice smoky flavor afterward. If you have the possibility to char them over open fire or grill them on an outdoor BBQ, the flavor will be enhanced!

Step 4 – Take them out of the oven and let them cool (for about 10-15 min) until they’re cold enough to handle. Then, scoop up the flesh of the eggplants and put it in a colander to drain for about 5 minutes.

Step 5 – Peel and dice the roasted red peppers.

Step 6 – Once the eggplant flesh has drained for about 5 minutes, dice it.

Step 7 – Peel and grate the onions. You can use a box grater or a food processor with the grating disc.

Step 8 – In a large frying pan, over medium-low heat, add the oil and the grated onions and fry them for about 3 minutes.

Step 9 – Add the diced peppers and keep sauteeing the onions and peppers for about 3 minutes more, stirring from time to time.

Step 10 – Add the diced eggplant flesh, salt, black pepper, bay leaves, and passata. Mix everything well.

Adding the eggplant
Adding the salt and pepper
Adding the passata/tomato sauce
Adding the bay leaves

Step 11 – Cook the mixture on medium-low heat until thickened (about 40-45 minutes), stirring often and making sure the mixture doesn’t stick to the pan.

You can simmer it longer if you prefer a thicker/denser spread. And you can simmer it less if you’re in a hurry (25-30 minutes of simmering time still produces a very delicious zacusca!).

Step 12 – Remove the bay leaves from the zacusca and taste and adjust the seasonings, adding any salt and black pepper to taste.

Tip: If the zacusca is hot, it’s difficult to determine how much salt and pepper it needs. So, scoop up a tablespoon of zacusca and spread it in a thin layer on a plate to cool down quickly. Then, after a minute, once it’s cooled down, scoop some up from the plate with your tablespoon and taste it. You can then better understand how much salt or black pepper it needs.

Step 13 – Serve the zacusca warm or cold, as you prefer. The flavor is usually enhanced once it’s been in the refrigerator overnight.

Serving Suggestions

You can enjoy it either hot or cold, and can quickly become your trusted dinner table companion to serve as an appetizer or side for so many other dishes.

Bread – A generous spread of zucusca over a couple of slices of toasted bread is always a great place to start.

You can also try it with:

Grilled Meats – Zacusca works well as a sauce or relish on top of spicy hot or grilled meats.

Potatoes – A chilled dollop of zacusca is a complimentary pairing for a plate of boiled or jacket potatoes, with a fresh, green side salad.

It’s so diverse, beautifully balanced with its sweet, caramelized flavor, laced with earthy undertones, and a worthy addition to any feast or dinner party.

Zacusca Recipe Card

Zacusca

5 from 4 votes
Print Pin Rate
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 2 hours
Additional Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours 20 minutes
Author: Nomad Paradise
Course: Appetizers

Ingredients

  • 5 eggplants/aubergines 1.7 kg or 3.7 lb
  • 5 red bell peppers 1.1 kg or 2.4 lb
  • 2 brown onions 250 grams or 0.5 lb
  • 2 cups about 500 ml passata (or tomato sauce)
  • 2-3 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper
  • 3/4 cup 180 ml sunflower oil (or another neutral-tasting oil such as canola oil or vegetable oil)

Instructions

  • Wash and pat dry the eggplants and the peppers and arrange them on a roastin pan or baking sheet. Use baking paper so the vegetables don’t stick to the roasting pan.
  • Pierce the eggplants (aubergines) first with a knife or fork.
  • Bake the eggplants and bell peppers in the preheated oven at 390°F (200°C) for about 40 minutes for the bell peppers and 50-60 minutes for the eggplants (note 1).
  • Take them out of the oven and let them cool (for about 10-15 min) until they’re cold enough to handle. Then, scoop up the flesh of the eggplants and put it in a colander to drain for about 5 minutes.
  • Peel and dice the roasted red peppers.
  • Once the eggplant flesh has drained for about 5 minutes, dice it.
  • Peel and grate the onions. You can use a box grater or a food processor with the grating disc.
  • In a large frying pan, over medium-low heat, add the oil and the grated onions and fry them for about 3 minutes.
  • Add the diced peppers and keep sauteeing the onions and peppers for about 3 minutes more, stirring from time to time.
  • Add the diced eggplant flesh, salt, black pepper, bay leaves, and passata.
  • Cook the mixture on medium-low heat until thickened (about 40-45 minutes), stirring often and making sure the mixture doesn’t stick to the pan. You can simmer it longer if you prefer a thicker/denser spread. And you can simmer it less if you’re in a hurry (25-30 minutes of simmering time still produces a very delicious zacusca!).
  • Remove the bay leaves from the zacusca and taste and adjust the seasonings, adding any salt and black pepper to taste.
  • Serve the zacusca warm or cold, as you prefer. The flavor is usually enhanced once it’s been in the refrigerator overnight.

Recipe Notes

Note 1: Traditionally, the bell peppers and eggplants are roasted over open fire, and they have a very nice smoky flavor afterward. If you have the possibility to char them over open fire or grill them on an outdoor BBQ, the flavor will be enhanced!
Did you make this recipe?Mention @nomadparadisefood or tag #nomadparadisefood!

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Contributor: Efimia has been making Moldovan, Romanian, and Eastern European dishes for family and friends alike for over forty years from her humble home kitchen.

Authors

  • Doina Johnson is a recipe developer and writer. Doina has been cooking for most of her life, and her style draws from many different influences. She cooked with her mother and grandma growing up in Eastern Europe, before adding modern, western influences to her style when living in the United States for about a decade. Then, she traveled full-time for several years, trying food in Europe, Asia, and South America, and bringing those influences into her own cooking. She strives to introduce passionate homecooks to world cuisine, generally by trying the food herself abroad and then recreating it at home and, at times, enlisting the help of local foodies and chefs.

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  • Hey there! We are Dale and Doina, the founders of Nomad Paradise. We traveled full-time for over three years, and while we now have a home base in the U.K., continue to take trips abroad to visit new places and try new cuisines and foods. Our food guides are curated with the guidance of local foodies, and their contribution is indicated under each article. We also cook the foods we try abroad, and you can discover how to make them in our 'recipes from around the world' category.

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5 from 4 votes (4 ratings without comment)
Recipe Rating