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

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

Jessica Paholsky

In a short time, pesto has become a worldwide phenomenon, spreading around the globe 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—some you may not have thought of before. The resulting concoction may 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 produce to create flavor profiles of pesto that help at-home chefs travel the world through their tastebuds.

Once Upon a Pesto, Paholsky’s website, was born when she worked at a publishing house and dreamed of writing a cookbook. Her inspiration stems from the idea that pesto is a process, not a recipe. It can be made by grinding or blending ingredients together and is customizable across cultures.

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 creating my recipes, I discover a significance to a single ingredient in a certain culture or country,” she said. “From there, I research more about that food and why it plays a role in that culture. Then I use my culinary experience to combine flavors and textures, resulting in a brand-new pesto.”

Since its founding in 2016, Once Upon a Pesto has blossomed into a fusion of food history, recipes and international cultures. Paholsky also has expanded her social media presence, growing her following to the double-digit thousands.

“My goal for anyone consuming my content is to discover food history while also exploring countries new to them,” she said.

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

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

With food sensitivities in mind, Paholsky enjoys cultivating pesto recipes that are mindful of allergies and versatile for peak produce seasons. Bonus? Pesto sauces are a delicious way to hide veggies from carnivores or picky eaters.

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

Last summer—to evolve her brand—Paholsky expanded her social media content to include videos, specifically Instagram lives, with foodies from around the world. Each conversation features one person who is an expert in a certain region’s cuisine and culture.

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

That is what Once Upon a Pesto is all about—connecting people around the world, uniting over a common language of food and learning from one another.

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


Sauce It!

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


Asparagus Pesto 

Inspired by Peru

Peru ranks as one of the world’s largest producers of asparagus. Through irrigation methods, farmers are able to grow the stalk year-round, and the plants are productive for 15 to 20 years. Half of their crops are green asparagus; the other half are white.


3 cups asparagus pieces

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 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper


Swiss Chard Pesto 

Inspired by Switzerland

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


3 cups Swiss chard leaves

3 garlic cloves

1/2 cup Gruyère cheese

1/3 cup walnut halves

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

1/4 cup olive oil

1 teaspoon salt


Daikon Pesto

Inspired by Japan

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


2 cups Daikon pieces

1/4 cup dill weed

2 scallions

2 tablespoons honey

2 tablespoons soy sauce

2 tablespoons lemon juice

Yam Pesto 

Inspired by Nigeria

In Nigeria, the yam is sometimes called the “king of crops.” Not only do Nigerians value 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 many 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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