Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Fermenting Basil for Pesto

I have had a lot of really big changes in my life recently, and not a lot of time for the things I have traditionally been doing - like blogging! I have continued to make ferments. Starting new batches of Sauerkraut and Picalilli are repeats, but I have also put together a fermented riff on the Hot Pepper Mustard that I had traditionally cooked and canned. I had started a pesto to ferment and just yesterday took that to completion. 

Fermented Pesto finished to Stage Two

The pesto recipe I most love is one I called My Favorite Pesto, and one I have continued to make year after year, because it tastes great to me and serves my purposes. Since learning about fermenting foods, I have seen that people ferment herbs, herbal flowers and many other tender greens that I would not have thought to put to this purpose. There are things that can ferment, and there are some that cannot. Cheese is already fermented, and if it is going to be added to pesto, I felt that using it from the beginning would be illogical. I could be wrong, but for that reason I left it out. I also left out the oil and butter I usually add, as they would give rise to the possibility of botulism (read about that here) if the oil sat on the surface. 
Finished Pesto below, fresh batch above

So ultimately, the idea was to process the basil and parsley, salt, garlic, pine nuts or walnuts and some whey and allow that mixture to ferment, and only then add the remaining ingredients (cheese, butter and oil) to finish off the pesto. I have a very vigorously growing basil plant and I cut some of the stems and brought them in to make the first batch. I didn't quite have enough parsley to use the half and half mix of basil and parsley that is the norm in my regular pesto recipe. I started with 2 cups of very firmly packed basil leaves and one packed cup of parsley. I had intended to add some pine nuts to the initial Stage One ferment, but completely forgot to add them in, so instead they went into the mixture yesterday as I finished the pesto.

New Stage One batch of Pesto, ready to Ferment
When doing research on whether anyone else has done a ferment of basil or pesto ingredients, I found quite a few, with all of them recommending a fermentation time of about 2 or 3 days. In that short time, there is no apparent fermentation even started, so I left it in the dark on the back area of a counter and continued to let it go. I had added enough whey to cover the top after placing the mixture in its jar, and then added a piece of stocking filled with glass marbles to weight the mixture down. I ended up using this fermented mixture to finalize the pesto yesterday, after 19 days. I could still see no apparent sign of fermenting. There were no noticeable surface bubbles anywhere. There were some bubbles showing throughout the mixture, though they were not actively popping to the surface. Still, I opted to continue with the finalization and see how it would taste. This is what I did:

Fermented Pesto

2 cups basil leaves, firmly packed
1 cup parsley leaves, firmly packed
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
3 ounces / 6 tablespoons whey (drained from plain yogurt containing live cultures)
2 - 3 tablespoons more whey to cover the surface

Color difference in Stage One and Stage Two Ferment
Place the basil and parsley with the minced garlic and salt into a food processor. Process until fine, stopping and scraping down the sides as needed. Add in the 3 ounces of whey and process fine.  Have a clean jar ready and pour the mixture into the jar, with care to keep the sides of the jar clean. It becomes far more difficult to keep all the fine herbal mixture submerged if there is already a mess of particles around the jar sides. Top with some kind of weight to keep the mixture submerged, and top with the added whey to create the anaerobic separation from air. Cover and allow to ferment for anywhere from 3 days to 3 weeks.

3 tablespoons pine nuts or walnuts, optional
2 - 3 total ounces good quality Parmesan and/or Romano cheese 
2 tablespoons butter (this makes it pasty and nicer to spread)
1/4 cup olive oil

Remove the weights from the jar of fermented Stage One pesto. If the whey has stayed on top, some may be poured off to use in the next batch of fermented pesto. Set aside 1 tablespoon of the fermented mixture to add to the next batch, if starting right away.

Place the nuts and cheese into the food processor and process until fine. Scrape the remainder of the ferment into the processor with the butter and oil and process until well combined. Pour into a clean jar and refrigerate. 

Yesterday was when I opted to finish Stage Two of the pesto and refrigerate. I had another new batch of basil leaves and parsley ready to go, so I did set aside about 1 tablespoon of the liquid (whey) from the top of the jar, plus one tablespoon of the actual basil ferment to "jump-start" my next batch. This time my basil plant had grown so much that I ended up with a full 4-cup measure filled to bursting with clean basil leaves. I used 2 well-packed cups of parsley, 6 cloves of garlic, 4 tablespoons of pine nuts, 1 tablespoon coarse sea salt, 2 1/2 tablespoons lime juice (not normally added to pesto, but lime juice is supposed to be good for fermentation). I added in a smaller amount of whey, along with the tablespoon of liquid reserved from the top of the previous jar, and the tablespoon of fermented pesto mixture. All of this well processed, I started over in a new, clean jar, topped with weights and some whey and it is now on the counter, covered to keep dark, and we shall see how this batch comes out! 

The fermented mixture with its added ingredients does not taste much different from freshly made pesto without the fermenting time. Still, for whatever it may be worth, it seems a tasty experiment!

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.