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Zacusca – Romanian Eggplant Spread

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Zacusca recipe – the most popular Romanian spread made with roasted eggplants and red peppers (also known as gogosari).

zacusca eggplant and pepper spread

Zacusca is something you are definitely going to eat if you ever decide to visit Romania. Maybe not necessarily in a restaurant, but if you happen to eat at somebody’s house, they will probably have a few jars of zacusca waiting somewhere in the corner.

Just like vinete – eggplant salad, mici – grilled sausages, sarmale -cabbage rolls or papanasi – fried cheese doughnuts, zacusca is one of the best-known Romanian foods.

So what is zacusca? It is basically a bread spread made every autumn by women all over the country.

Ingredients

Vegetables:

  • The main ingredients are gogosari and eggplants, which fill the markets there in autumn. Mountains and mountains of gorgeous eggplants, gogosari, and other vegetables.
  • My grandmother used to buy like 10 – 20 kilograms of each of them and then spend a few days grilling them on the stove (we lived in an apartment in the city, so there was no possibility to make that in the garden as other people do), peeling them, cooking them and then preserving the jars.
  • Gogosari are some kind of Romanian red peppers, sweeter and thicker than the usual red peppers.
  • As I cannot even find a translation of the word and as I never ever seen gogosari outside Romania, I can assure you now that zacusca can be made with normal red bell peppers.

Tomato puree:

  • You will also need tomato puree, simply pureed tomatoes with no added salt, sugar or anything. Also not tomato paste or tomato sauce.

Oil:

  • Neutral tasting oil, either canola or a mild tasting sunflower oil.
  • Sunflower oil is traditional, but make sure it is a mild sort.
  • Don’t use olive oil.

Spices:

  • Salt and black peppercorns, bay leaves, and some honey.
  • The amount of honey you use is according to taste. It will depend on how acidic the tomato puree is, some cans are more acidic than others, so taste and decide accordingly.
  • You normally have to grill the vegetables but if you don’t have the possibility or don’t feel like doing it, then just place the stuff in the oven and let cook until the skin blackens and the vegetables are soft.

The result is the BEST vegetarian/vegan bread spread you have ever tasted. And as you can make a lot of it and then preserve the jars you can enjoy this for quite a long time.

Bread with zacusca eggplant pepper spread

How to make zacusca?

How to prepare the vegetables?

Grilling:

  • Grill the eggplants and gogosari or red peppers on a hot grill until the skins blacken all over and the eggplants and peppers are very soft.
  • See this post for Vinete – Roasted Eggplant Salad for more information on preparing eggplants to make zacusca or vinete.
  • Depending on their size, you should grill the eggplants somewhere between 20 to 40 minutes or until the skin is evenly charred and the eggplant collapses, the flesh should be really soft.
  • The peppers will be faster to cook, keep them on the grill, turning often, until the skin blisters and has dark spots.

Stove top:

  • You can only use this method if you have gas burners.
  • If cooking the vegetables on the stovetop, cover the stove’s surface with aluminum foil to protect it.
  • Prick the eggplants all over with a fork.
  • “Burn” the eggplants and the red peppers directly on the flame, turning often with tongs.
  • Burning the eggplants takes about 10-15 minutes for a medium eggplant, so if I use two or three of my burners, I am done in no time.
  • The cooking time for the peppers is even shorter.
how to roast eggplants for salad vinete

Oven:

  • This is the easiest method.
  • Place the vegetables on baking trays lined with parchment paper and place them in the hot oven at 200 degrees Celsius/400 degrees Fahrenheit for about 20-30 minutes for the bell peppers and about 40 minutes for the eggplants, turning the veggies about 3 times in the meantime.
  • Make sure that the vegetables are really soft (especially the eggplants) before removing them from the oven.
how to roast eggplants for salad vinete

Peeling:

  • Cover the veggies with plastic wrap. This procedure makes the peeling afterward easier.
  • Let the vegetables cool separately.
  • Discard the juices released by the eggplants, but keep the juices released by the pepper.
  • Peel carefully, chop very roughly.
  • Place the eggplants in a large sieve and let drain well for about 1 hour.
  • Place the peppers in another container to cool, but reserve the juices they release during this time.

How to cook zacusca?

  • Chop the onions. Heat the oil in a large pan and cook the onions until translucent.
  • Add the roughly chopped eggplants and red bell peppers, pureed tomatoes, bay leaves, peppercorns and salt.
  • Add about 300 ml/ 10 fl.oz/ 1 ½ cups water and the juices released by the peppers as well, the mixtures should not be too dry.
  • Cook everything on a very low flame for about 1 ½ hours, stirring regularly.
  • Adjust the taste with salt and honey. You might need a bit more honey, depends on how sweet the peppers and the tomatoes were.
  • Puree the vegetables roughly (there should still be small bits in the zacusca, it should not turn to a paste) with a hand-held mixer.
  • Pour everything in the jars, close with the lids and can.

How to can?

  • Sterilize your jars while your vegetables are cooking. I normally place the jars and their lids in a big pan filled with water.
  • Bring the water to a boil and cook the jars and the lids for about 5 minutes. Take the jars and lids out and let drain on a clean kitchen towel. Here you will find more information on sterilizing jars.
  • For preserving the jars I use the same huge, quite flat pot that I use for sterilizing the jars.
  • Place a folded kitchen towel on the bottom of the pot, put the jars on the towel taking care that they don’t touch each other, then pour enough hot water to cover the jars.
  • Let everything come to a boil again, then simmer the jars for 20 to 25 minutes.
  • Take the jars out of the water immediately (with a jar lifter and wearing mitts) and let cool at room temperature.
  • Keep the jars on shelves in the cellar or in a cooler room.
  • Or use a water bath canner, it makes things even easier.

How to serve?

  • The most common way to serve zacusca is as a bread spread.
  • We eat it for breakfast or dinner, I make sandwiches for work or school.
  • It can also be eaten as a dip or with noodles like a normal pasta sauce.
  • You can enrich the taste of other sauces with it.
  • You can mix a few tablespoons of it with sour cream or cream cheese and eat it over baked potatoes.
  • You can serve it as a side dish for grilled sausages like cevapcici. This recipe is very similar to Ajvar, which is always served as a side dish for cevapci.
slice of bread topped with romanian zacusca

Zacusca - Romanian Eggplant Spread

Yield: 4-5 jars
Prep Time: 1 hour
Cook Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours 15 minutes

Zacusca recipe – Romanian eggplant and red pepper spread.

Ingredients

  • 4 medium aubergines
  • 6 large red bell peppers
  • 2 large onions
  • 500 g/ 1.1 lbs/ 2 ¼ cups pureed tomatoes (See note 1)
  • 120 ml/ 4 oz/ ½ cup vegetable oil (See note 2)
  • about 20 black peppercorns
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 2 teaspoons honey, more to taste
  • 2 scant tablespoons fine sea salt, more or less to taste

Instructions

    Prepare the vegetables:

    1. Grill the eggplants on a hot grill until the skin blackens all over and the eggplants are very soft. See here for more information on preparing the eggplants.
    2. Grill the bell peppers until the skin blisters and blackens.
    3. Alternatively, you can place the vegetables on baking trays lined with parchment paper and place them in the hot oven at 200 degrees Celsius/400 degrees Fahrenheit for about 20-30 minutes for the bell peppers and about 40 minutes for the eggplants, turning the veggies about 3 times in the meantime. Don't take them out before they are really soft.
    4. Once cooked cover the vegetables with plastic foil. This procedure makes the peeling easier.
    5. Let the vegetables cool, peel carefully removing the seeds from the peppers as well, chop very roughly and keep separated.
    6. Place the eggplants into a sieve and let drain well for 1 or 2 hours.
    7. Let the peppers stand in another bowl and make sure to reserve the juices they release.



    Cook zacusca:

    1. Chop the onions. Heat the oil in a large pan and cook the onions until translucent.
    2. Add the roughly chopped eggplants and red bell peppers, pureed tomatoes, bay leaves, peppercorns, and salt.
    3. Add about 300 ml/ 10 fl.oz/ 1 ½ cups water and the released juices from the peppers as well, the mixtures should not be too dry.
    4. Cook everything on a very low flame for about 1 ½ hour, stirring regularly.
    5. Adjust the taste with salt and honey. You might need a bit more honey, depends on how sweet the peppers and the tomatoes were.
    6. Puree the vegetables roughly (there should still be small bits in the zacusca, it should not turn to a paste) with a hand-held mixer.



    Can zacusca:

    1. Sterilize your jars while the spread is cooking.
    2. Pour everything in the jars, close with the lids and can in a water bath canner for 20-25 minutes.
    3. If you don't have a canner, you can still very easily can anything.
    4. Place a folded kitchen towel on the bottom of a large pot, put the jars on the towel taking care that they don't touch each other, then pour enough hot water to cover them.
    5. Let everything come to a boil again, then boil the jars for 20 to 25 minutes.
    6. Take the jars out of the water immediately (using a jar lifter and mitts) and let cool at room temperature.
    7. Keep the jars on shelves in the cellar or a colder room.

Notes

  1. Simple pureed tomatoes with no sugar or salt added. Not tomato paste/concentrate or tomato sauce.
  2. Neutral tasting oil like canola or mild sunflower oil. Not olive olive.
Nutrition Information:
Yield: 4 Serving Size: 1 jar
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 573Total Fat: 30gSaturated Fat: 3gTrans Fat: 1gUnsaturated Fat: 25gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 3192mgCarbohydrates: 81gFiber: 21gSugar: 34gProtein: 9g

Nutrition information isn’t always accurate.

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