Tuesday

Zacusca

The word zacusca / zakuska is of Slavic origin, and simply means "appetizer" or "snack", and the root of the word indicates "tasty", "to bite" or "to snack". And believe me, this is way beyond tasty, is one of my favorites,  I can eat a whole jar by myself, that's how delicious this is.









Zacusca is a vegetable spread or relish, very popular in the Balkans, eaten typically on bread. Traditionally a family will prepare a large quantity of it after the fall harvest, and preserve it in sterilized jars to enjoy over the winter. 
It can be made of red peppers, eggplants, onions, mushrooms, tomatoes and even beans, but my personal favorite is my Mom's recipe, made only with red Kapia peppers. Only this particular peppers give the distinctive taste I love so much, that takes me back to wonderful childhood memories.

Once you manage to find the peppers, you passed the hard part of the recipe. It was quite an adventure for me. I was lucky and found some (just 4 pounds) at our local Whole Foods, after a nice employee there offered to look for them in the back, only by my description, as apparently nobody around here ever heard of Kapia peppers. And they didn't even have a pricing on them. But in the end it all worked out. 

Ingredients for 6 half pint jars:
4 pounds Kapia peppers ( sweet red peppers, not spicy ones )
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons mustard
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
6 bay leafs

You will also need a larger jam pot and 6 half pint wide mouth Mason jars with lids, or any other preserve jars.

Wash thoroughly and roast the peppers by arranging them on a baking sheet and place it in the oven at 500 degrees F (or use the broiler).  Keep a watchful eye on them. When dark spots begin to appear on the peppers, remove the baking sheet from the oven. The peppers will be very hot. Using tongs, carefully turn each pepper over and return the sheet to the oven. When they are roasted on all sides take them out and cover with aluminium foil or plastic wrap, in order to make them sweat, as it will make peeling the skins much easier. Once the peppers are cool enough to handle (probably about 15 minutes) hold by the stem down on a flat surface and gently peel the skin off of each. The skin should slide off fairly easily. 

With the backside of the knife, slit open the side of each pepper and spread them out (ribbed side up). Using the dull side of your knife, scrape off any of the ribs or membrane that remains in the pepper, and the stems. Let them drain in a colander. Place the peppers in a food processor and chop, to small pieces, but not a paste.

In a pot ( I like to use a copper jam pot ) over medium heat mix 1 cup extra virgin olive oil, 2 tablespoons mustard, 2 tablespoons honey, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns, 6 bay leafs, and bring to a boil. Add the chopped peppers, and stirring continuous with a wooden spoon for it not to stick, let it boil for 7 minutes. Turn the stove off. 

Now you will fill the jars.
For a more detailed canning guide you can go here.

I just wash all the jars and lids in the dishwasher, right before I start making the spread, so that they will be done drying at the same time I am done cooking, leaving the jars in the closed dishwasher, to keep them hot until I am ready to fill them. 
After filling the jars with the hot zacusca, making sure there are no air bubbles left, by pressing the spread with a non metal spatula on the walls of the jars, and cleaning the rims, put the lids on, twisting just until "fingertip tight".

Place the jars in a deep roasting pan filled with boiling water in the oven, at 450 degrees F, for 30-40 minutes. Let them cool a little before taking out of the water, and then let them cool completely on a wire rack or towel on the counter. Do not re-tighten the lids, because you will interfere with the sealing process. 

You can keep the jars for few months, in a dry, dark and cool place. I like to use small half pint jars just because I want to open a fresh one every time we want to eat some. After opening the jar you can only keep it for few days in the fridge, and there is just two of us. But if you have a larger family feel free to use bigger jars, and just multiply the recipe, to make more delicious zacusca. This will go fast, so you will want to have made more. I wish I did. Our 6 jars vanished in a week :)

2 comments:

  1. Kelly5:43 AM

    Had zacusca while traveling in Romania years ago and have always wished I had a recipe. Looking forward to trying this one out.

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    1. That is great! Hope you will like this recipe. Usually zacusca is made with eggplants, peppers and mushrooms too, but this recipe is my favorite, and is a more special one, as it is made only with this particular type of red peppers (red sweet peppers), so the taste will be very different, the best in my opinion. Please let me know how it turned out and if you liked it!
      Best, A.

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