We spent our Sunday making a very delicious vegetable spread called zacusca or zakouska or zakusca or however else Google might like to index it.
This is probably my favorite vegetable spread, aside from my newfound love of guacamole, and it is quite easy to make. It doesn't require over-the-top cooking abilities, but it does take a lot of time and patience.
This Sunday we found we had both, and on top of that we had fresh tomatoes from our own garden, so we ventured into the unknown territories of canning.
These are the ingredients for 5 big jars of zacusca:
2 medium eggplants;
2 medium white onions;
14 medium tomatoes, the juicier the better;
4 bell peppers (we used one of each color: green, yellow, orange and red);
3 table spoons of olive oil;
a tablespoon of salt;
3-5 bay leaves;
All of these ingredients will end up in a large pot, so be sure to have one before you start.
This method requires roasting, broiling, sauteing and boiling, so arrange with friends to check up on you every once in a while to make sure you didn't set your kitchen on fire. Or let them know in advance that they'll be getting phone calls in which whimpering and the occasional cursing of your burners are the only things they'll hear. It's ok, that's normal.
There are a lot of ways to make this dish, but we chose one that is suitable for a healthy diet. This means that we reduced the oil substantially, we used fresh tomatoes instead of canned tomatoes or paste, and we broiled the tomatoes instead of roasting them. The key to a good zacusca is roasting some of the vegetables, so they get a smoky aftertaste.
Put your hair up so you're not tempted to pull it all out. Here it is, in 20 (twenty!) easy steps:
1. Roast the eggplants and the peppers on the grill. Blacken their skins, but don't burn them. This requires the same skills as parallel parking: hand-eye coordination and lateral vision. So I've heard, I can't parallel park.
2. Peel their skins off while they're still hot. It's easier if you do it under cold running water.
3. Let the juice seep out of the eggplant. Your liver will thank me for this later.
4. Remove the stem and the seeds from the peppers. Remove the stem of the eggplants, but don't bother with the small seeds.
5. Finely chop the peppers and the eggplants. My mom says that if you use a metal knife to chop the eggplant, it oxidizes and looks really ugly in the final mix. We chopped it with a wooden spoon (yes, it is possible).
6. Do you remember we had tomatoes on the list of ingredients? Good, now it's time to broil them.
7. After the tomatoes are broiled, skin them and remove their stems. Do this in a bowl, not a sieve. You don't want the juice to seep out, we need it in the zacusca.
8. Finely chop the tomatoes.
9. Julienne the onions. Amaze yourself with the fancy cooking terms you're using while your husband is crying his eyes out because he is the one in charge of the onions.
10. Saute the onion in the olive oil. Just a little browning should do. Do this in a large pot, this is where all your ingredients will end up.
11. Have a glass of wine. This is the time you'll probably realize that you're 10 steps and only 50% into this recipe.
12. Add the chopped eggplants, tomatoes and peppers to the onion you were sauteing in the big pot. Stir and add 1 tablespoon of salt, about 3-5 bay leaves and as much pepper as your weakest link can handle. In our family, I'm the weakest link, and I have the final say when the pepper stops.
13. Cook all this for about 30 minutes. Stir often to prevent it from sticking to the pot.
14. The 30 minutes are up; you've probably had some more wine; sober up 'cause it gets tricky. Now you have to transfer the mixture to glass jars. Don't let it cool, we're not done with it yet.
15. Once your zacusca is in jars, it's time to seal them. We'll use the same big pot that you used for cooking it, so go ahead and wash that. I know, tedious!
16. Put a kitchen towel/napkin/rag on the bottom of the pot. (Really important step! I'd put orange cones around that sentence if I could.) Fill half of the pot with water. Bring it to a boil.
17. Wrap you jars in paper or newspaper. Or use this unexpected opportunity to get rid of old bank statements.
18. Place the jars in the boiling water and boil for another 10 minutes. Don't worry, they won't crack, as long as you didn't forget step 16.
19. Let the jars cool in the water.
20. That's it! You're done! Do a celebration dance and drink the rest of the wine. Yes, I do mean that second bottle.
You can eat it as a spread or as a dip.
Linked at Frugally Sustainable, My Humble Kitchen, Living Well, Spending Less, and Serving Joyfully.