Eggplant and pepper spread (zacusca simpla)

This is a simplified version of my childhood favorite zacusca, a delicious eggplant spread that we would prepare in large quantities in the fall and preserve it in jars for the cold winter months. The original recipe requires charring the eggplants on an open flame, then peeling and grinding them, it also requires grinding the onions and the peppers. As much as I like to cook, I like eating even better so if I can simplify things (and I always can!) then I certainly will! Instead of charring the eggplants, I just roasted them in the oven - easy and mess free! The onions and peppers were finely diced by hand but you could always use a food processor to help with that. You could even blitz the eggplants in the food processor after baking and before adding to the pot if you wish to obtain the finer texture suggested by the original recipe (just remember to peel them before cutting them into cubes). This spread is best served at room temperature the next day, after the flavors have blended. Serve it with a hearty bread, on its own, or add avocado slices and Kalamata olives for an unconventional touch.

- 1 large onion, minced
- 1 large red pepper, diced
- 2 medium size eggplants, cut into cubes
- 300 ml tomato sauce
- 2 bay leaves
- 1/2 teaspoon allspice
- 6 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
- sea salt and pepper, to taste

Place the eggplant cubes on a rimmed baking sheet, toss with 3 tablespoons olive oil and roast at 375F until tender (about 25 minutes, depending on the oven). Heat the remaining olive oil and sauté the onions until translucent then add the peppers and continue cooking until tender. Add the cooked eggplant, tomato sauce, bay leaves and season with salt, pepper and the allspice. Simmer, on low heat, stirring often until the sauce comes together (about 10 minutes). Taste and adjust seasonings. Allow to cool (if you're patient!) and serve with bread. Enjoy!

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