Lucky Pasta Recipe by Sam Kass

Ingredients

2 boneless, skinless Do Good Chicken breasts, cut into bite-size pieces


1 pound mini penne or any pasta shape you like


Kosher salt


½ garlic clove


2 cups packed fresh basil leaves


¼ cup pine nuts or pecans, toasted


⅓ cup finely grated Parmesan cheese, plus more to finish


½ cup extra-virgin olive oil


½ pound baby spinach

Even if you weren’t following politics during the 2012 election, you probably heard about the first presidential debate. The president faced off against former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney in Denver, and let’s just say it didn’t go as planned. In that debate, President Obama delivered a sober, detailed discussion of policy. And he paid the price. His performance was universally panned in the media, and Governor Romney’s poll numbers surged. The pundits declared that if Obama tanked another debate, he would probably lose the election. Needless to say, the pressure was on.

I was on food duty during debate season, traveling with the president and helping to feed him in the run-up to all three. Practically the only breaks he took were to eat. Finally, the day of the second debate arrived. 

In the hotel kitchen, I prepped a simple lunch: I cooked a chicken breast, whipped up a classic pesto, and boiled mini penne just shy of al dente. I grabbed some raw spinach and Parmesan, then loaded into the motorcade with the rest of the president’s staff.

When Air Force One took off, I stopped by the plane’s conference room to see if the president wanted something to eat. In the middle of a game of Spades, he hemmed and hawed a bit, then said, “Sure, just nothing too heavy.” 

The kitchen on Air Force One is surprisingly tiny and intimidatingly immaculate. When I got there, it was crammed with two Air Force chefs. They stopped work when they spotted me, as they did whenever the boss needed to eat. I resuscitated the penne in a pan with a little olive oil and water, tossed in the chicken, and then the spinach. I hit it with some pesto, threw on a handful of grated Parm, and hustled a plate to the president.

After a few minutes, I popped back in to see if he was happy, assuming I’d get a simple “solid.” Instead, he beamed at me. “Sam, it’s perfect!” he raved. “Sometimes you don’t know what you want until someone gives it to you, and you realize, ‘That’s exactly what I wanted!'” I had never seen him react quite like that to anything I’d cooked. Later, just before he took the stage at Hofstra, I bumped into my friend Pete Souza, the president’s photographer, who told me, “I don’t know what you put in the pasta but the president has been talking about it all afternoon.”

He did well that night, dominating the debate and making his case to the American people with clarity and passion. 

Before I turned in, I sent him an email: “It doesn’t get better than that! One more left.” He replied with one line:

“It was the pasta!”

From then on, it became known as “Lucky Pasta.” I made it for him again before the third and final debate, and he turned in a stellar performance–no thanks I’m sure to rigorous prep and a firm command of the subjects. But I’ll tell you what: I also made it on Election Day. 

You may not have an election or debate coming up, but we all need a lucky charm, or at least a meal that comes together in minutes. Feel free to cook the chicken, boil the pasta, and even make the pesto the night before. If you do, undercook the pasta slightly or reheat it in just a little water in a sauté pan. Store the pesto in the fridge with plastic wrap pressed against the surface to keep natural discoloration at a minimum.

  1. Preheat the oven to 450F. Put the chicken breast on a parchment-lined baking sheet and coat with the oil. Season generously all over with salt, about 1 teaspoon total. Roast them until lightly browned and fully cooked but still juicy, about 20 minutes. Let them rest on a cutting board for a few minutes, then cut into bite-sized pieces.
  2. While the chicken is resting, cook the pasta in boiling salty water until al dente. Drain, reserving 1 cup of the water.
  3. While the pasta cooks, drop the garlic into a food processor with the motor running and process until the garlic is finely chopped. Add the basil, nuts, cheese, half the oil, and ½ teaspoon of salt and pulse to a coarse puree. With the motor running, add the remaining oil in a slow stream and keep processing until pretty smooth.
  4. Toss the hot pasta with pesto, chicken, spinach, and 1/3 cup of the reserved pasta water. Gradually add more pasta water if the dish seems dry. Season with salt to taste and top with more grated or shaved parmesan.

Ingredients

2 boneless, skinless Do Good Chicken breasts, cut into bite-size pieces


1 pound mini penne or any pasta shape you like


Kosher salt


½ garlic clove


2 cups packed fresh basil leaves


¼ cup pine nuts or pecans, toasted


⅓ cup finely grated Parmesan cheese, plus more to finish


½ cup extra-virgin olive oil


½ pound baby spinach

Featured Product

Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts