“What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.” John Steinbeck
Zacuscă (Romanian) is a vegetable spread popular in Romania.The main ingredients are roasted eggplant, sauteed onions, tomato paste, and roasted red peppers . Some add mushrooms, carrots, or celery. Bay leaves are added as spice, as well as other ingredients such as oil, salt, and pepper. Traditionally, a Romanian family will cook a large quantity of it after the fall harvest and preserve it through canning. Zacuscă can be eaten as a relish or spread, typically on bread. It is said to improve in taste after some months of maturing but must be used within days of opening. As only a little can be eaten at times due to its strong taste, often there is a leftover which craves creative usage.
To make about five jars of zacusca about 2 kg fresh eggplants, 1.5 kg red peppers, 500 g onions, salt (to taste), black pepper (to taste), 250 ml tomato paste, 250 ml olive oil. Over an open flame (gas stove or grill) completely blacken the skins of the eggplants and peppers. Peel skins off immediately. Puree each of the three vegetables separately (however, leaving some larger bits results in a thicker texture). Place oil and onion in a large pot. Saute onions for about 4 minutes over medium-low heat. Add eggplant, red peppers, tomato paste, salt and pepper. Cook until a thin layer of oil remains on top and when a spoonful of zacusca is removed, only the oil should run off the spoon, not the zacusca. Taste and adjust salt and pepper. Spoon mixture into sterilized jars. Wipe rims clean and place clean lids and rings on jars. Place into a single layer in large pot. Fill pot with water up to the necks of the jars. Bring to a boil and boil for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool in water bath.
500 g strong white bread flour, plus extra for dusting
10 g salt
25 g fresh yeast
170 ml kefir
250 g duck fat
1 jar of zacusca
Fresh chopped herbs
1 free-range egg, beaten
Make the base dough by bringing the flour, salt, yeast, kefir and eggs together in a bowl. Tip the dough onto a floured surface and knead for about ten minutes, or until the dough becomes smooth and shiny. Gradually incorporate the lard piece by piece into the dough. Tip the dough into an oiled bowl and leave the dough to rise until at least doubled in (at least an hour, or overnight in the fridge).
Oil one large or two smaller bundt pans. Tip the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Roll it out to a thickness of 2 cm, in a rectangle, having the long side facing out. Cover the dough with zacusca and fresh herbs. Roll up the dough from the long side furthest , into a long sausage shape. Cut the roll of dough in half down the length to expose the filling, resulting two long strips side by side. Twist the two strips together, holding both ends of the dough and twisting in opposite directions, to make a long rope. Form the rope into a circle, join the ends together, and put the crown into the oiled pan(s). Put the pan(s) in a large plastic bag and leave to rise for 1-1½ hours, or until it has at least doubled in size.Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C. Whisk an egg with a pinch of salt and brush the egg over the bread. Bake it in the preheated oven for 25 minutes, or until golden-brown. Leave to cool slightly.
“I know I am but summer to your heart, and not the full four seasons of the year.” Edna St. Vincent Millay