One of the biggest challenges in permaculture is working out how to catch and store energy, especially when it comes to preserving food. I have been busy saving jars throughout the winter this year and I’m determined to find new ways of keeping food beyond the main growing season. I’m especially keen to learn about plants that have natural preservative properties so that I can avoid using sugar. Jams just don’t do it for me and there is only so much pickle one can eat.
I’m learning that permaculture is a bit like alchemy. Turning waste into resources is like turning common metal into gold. It’s all about changing one thing into another and combining ingredients to create a new substance. The new substance will have entirely different chemical properties and behave in a different way.
An overcrop of rocket that had started to bolt spurred me on to exploring how to make pesto. I found a recipe that called for rocket instead of basil and cashews instead of pine nuts. A quick internet search revealed that pesto-like recipes exist all over the world and that people use a myriad of vegetables in combination. I was on to something.
The word pesto comes from the Latin root word ‘pestle’, which makes sense, because you can use a pestle and mortar to make it. Excellent, no non-renewable energy required! There are two basic kinds of Italian pesto, one from Genoa called Pesto Alla Genovese and one from Sicily called Pesto Alla Siciliana. They both involve garlic and basil, but the Sicilian one contains tomatoes and less basil. Other ingredients could be peppers, pine nuts, walnuts, cheese or rocket.
A deeper search revealed that both basil and garlic can be used as preservatives. Basil is used as a preservative in both food and medicine because it is known to have anti-oxidant, anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties. Fresh garlic is also used as an anti-microbial and preservative agent in many parts of the world. Likewise, rocket has anti microbial properties. Some nuts also contain anti-fungal properties.
Pesto around the world
The Germans make a version with spinach, sorrel, watercress and walnut oil. They call it ‘Green Sauce’.
The Mexicans use pumpkin seeds, lime juice and coriander.
African pesto contains blue basil, lavender buds and almonds.
Thai basil, coriander, lemon grass, mint and ginger go in Asian Pesto.
Australians use macadamia nuts.
South American pesto is called chimichurri and has ingredients like paprika, cumin and peppers and is used to flavour fish and meat.
Spanish pesto calls for parsley, olives, garlic and pimentos. Parsley is packed with astringent phenolics, which are excellent preservatives.
I’m thinking that I might start using the word pesto as a verb. For instance, I will pesto my parsley.
Making pesto is really simple and does not require fancy equipment. Just mash up green leafy veg like rocket, spinach, chard or herbs like basil, coriander or parsley and combine them with oil, crushed nuts or seeds and garlic. Basically, you can use whatever you have too much of and partner it with whatever else you have in the house or is readily available. Common ingredients include some kind of crushed nuts, oil, lemon or lime and salt and pepper.
Pesto can be used with pasta, on pizza, as a dip, in soup, as a veg marinade, in burgers, on bread, as a butter, on jacket potatoes or mixed with hummus. Its vibrant green colour lets you know it is packed with nutrients.
I’ve still to find out how long it will keep in a jar and which combinations will last the longest. I shall be researching the theory of using herbs, bitter plants and nuts as preservatives and testing out my ideas.
There is a lot to learn, but it’ll be fun experimenting!