Best o’ Pesto: Once Upon a Pesto reveals unique recipes using local produce

Jessica Paholsky

In no time, pesto has become a global phenomenon, spreading around the world from its founding on the Ligurian coast of Italy.

Although basil is the most popular base for this sauce, pesto recipes can be made using many ingredients, including some you may not have thought of before. The resulting concoction might not even be green!

As the creator of Once Upon a Pesto, Dauphin County resident Jessica Paholsky specializes in unique pesto recipes. She combines often unfamiliar products to create pesto flavor profiles that help home chefs travel the world through their taste buds.

Once Upon a Pesto, Paholsky’s website, was born when she worked in a publishing house and dreamed of writing a cookbook. Its inspiration comes from the idea that pesto is a process, not a recipe. It can be crafted by grinding or mixing ingredients and is customizable from culture to culture.

Paholsky specializes in crafting pesto recipes that pair well with a signature dish, paying homage to the history of specific geographic regions around the world.

“When I create my recipes, I discover the meaning of a single ingredient in a certain culture or country,” she said. “From there, I research more about this food and why it plays a role in this culture. Then I use my culinary experience to combine flavors and textures, resulting in a whole new pesto.

Since its inception in 2016, Once Upon a Pesto has flourished in a fusion of food history, recipes and international cultures. Paholsky also expanded his social media presence, growing his followers into the double-digit thousands.

“My goal for everyone who consumes my content is to experience the history of food while exploring countries that are new to them,” she said.

Summer, with its vegetable gardens and abundance of locally grown vegetables, is the perfect time to try a new pesto recipe, Paholsky said.

“Summer brings us the freshest asparagus and herbs here in central Pennsylvania,” she said. “So now is the time to put those feeds to good use in prime time.”

With food sensitivities in mind, Paholsky enjoys cultivating pesto recipes that are allergy-friendly and versatile for peak seasons. Prime? Pesto sauces are a delicious way to hide vegetables from carnivores or picky eaters.

“You don’t need to be advanced in the kitchen to benefit from my content,” Paholsky said. “It’s as much about experience and learning as it is about cooking basics.”

Last summer, to scale his brand, Paholsky expanded his social media content to include videos, particularly Instagram Lives, with foodies around the world. Each conversation features a person who is an expert in the cuisine and culture of a certain region.

“I’ve hosted culinary gurus from as far away as New Zealand and South Africa, Germany and Honduras,” Paholsky said. “They are cookbook authors, TV show stars, and full-time food bloggers that I naturally connected with through our shared interests.”

That’s what Once Upon a Pesto is about: connecting people around the world, uniting around a common food language and learning from each other.

For more information and recipes, visit Follow the brand on Instagram @onceuponapasto to watch their Instagram lives and learn more about the history of food.

Sauce it!

Once Upon a Pesto specializes in unique pesto recipes, inspired by ingredients from around the world, including those listed below. Founder Jessica Paholsky says it’s easy to make these sauces — just combine all the ingredients in a food processor and blend until you reach your desired consistency.

Asparagus pesto

Inspired by Peru

Peru is one of the largest asparagus producers in the world. Through irrigation methods, farmers can grow the stem all year round and the plants are productive for 15 to 20 years. Half of their crops are green asparagus; the other half is white.


3 cups chunks of asparagus

1/2 cup onion pieces

1/3 cup shelled pistachios

3 tablespoons ricotta cheese

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

Swiss chard pesto

Inspired by Switzerland

Chard comes from the Latin word meaning “artichoke thistle”. And the use of the adjective Swiss is unclear because Swiss chard is not native to Switzerland. Instead, it comes from the Mediterranean coasts. Leafy green is a close relative of beets.


3 cups Swiss chard leaves

3 cloves of garlic

1/2 cup Gruyere cheese

1/3 cup walnut halves

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

1/4 cup olive oil

1 teaspoon of salt

Daikon Pesto

Inspired by Japan

Daikon is also known as “Japanese radish” or “true daikon”. It is a white radish, and its name literally means “big root” in Japanese. In Japanese food culture, there are many uses for the root vegetable, from pickling, simmering or drying daikon to grating into soy sauce.


2 cups of Daikon pieces

1/4 cup dill

2 green onions

2 tablespoons of honey

2 tablespoons of soy sauce

2 tablespoons lemon juice

Yam pesto

Inspired by Nigeria

In Nigeria, the yam is sometimes called the “queen of crops”. Not only do Nigerians appreciate the versatility of yams, but they also hold an annual celebration at the end of the farming season that honors the tuber. There are dances, parades, costumes and plenty of yam dishes to eat.


2 cups cooked yam pieces

3/4 cup cooked leek pieces

1/4 cup thyme leaves

1/3 cup pecan halves

1/3 cup orange juice

1/4 cup olive oil

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