Mar 5, 2023 - Food and Drink

Sunday dinner: Sam Kass' Lucky Pasta

Pasta and spinach

Pesto pasta with spinach from Sam Kass' recipe. Photo: Monica Eng/Axios

I love gathering family and friends for Sunday meals before the week gets crazy again.

  • But like a lot of you, I can get in a rut with the same old recipes. That's why I'll be asking random interviewees — from chefs to artists to politicians — about their go-to recipes for a Sunday gathering and sharing them with you.

First up: Former Avec and Obama White House chef Sam Kass, who now serves as chief strategy officer for Do Good Chicken, a company that raises chickens on supermarket food waste. The birds landed in local Jewel stores last month.

The dish: Kass' "Lucky Pasta," featuring penne, pesto sauce and, wait for it, chicken.

What he's saying: "This is a dish that I made for the president on Air Force One on the way to the second debate in the re-election, and he credited his performance to my pasta," Kass tells Axios and recounted on my "Chewing" podcast.

The intrigue: The recipe calls for chicken breast, but, Kass says, "This is the only time I would use a breast, personally. Other than that I am all thighs."

Ingredients: Pasta, garlic, fresh basil, pine nuts, Parmesan cheese, olive oil, baby spinach and chicken breasts.


  • 1 pound mini penne or any pasta shape you like
  • Kosher salt
  • ½ garlic clove (Monica's note: I used three whole cloves)
  • 2 cups packed fresh basil leaves
  • ¼ cup toasted pine nuts or pecans
  • ⅓ cup finely grated Parmesan cheese, plus more to finish
  • ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cooked Do Good Chicken breasts, cut into bite-size pieces, warm or room temperature
  • ½ pound baby spinach


  1. Cook the pasta in boiling salted water until al dente. Reserve 1 cup of the water before draining.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Monica's thought bubble: My family loved this dish. It felt like a burst of summer in winter. Just don't overcook the chicken breasts.


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