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The Pasta That Won Obama Re-Election

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Oct 29, 2018
The Pasta That Won Obama Re-Election

This week's episode of The Sporkful podcast is up! Listen through the player or iTunes/Podcasts app. (And please subscribe!)

In 2007, when then-Senator Barack Obama was running for president, Sam Kass auditioned for a job as the Obama family's personal chef.

The senator was on the road, so Sam cooked for Michelle, Sasha, and Malia. He figured all kids love pasta, right? So he made fettuccine with peas, basil, lemon, and parmesan.

He got the job.

Sam ended up moving to DC with the Obamas and becoming much more than a chef. He was instrumental in the creation of the White House garden, and was eventually named a Senior White House Advisor on Nutrition.

But he still had to get the president's dinner on the table every night.

Today on The Sporkful, Sam shares stories of his time cooking for the Obamas and working on the front lines of food policy, which he also talks about in his book, Eat a Little Better: Great Flavor, Good Health, Better World.

DC Farm to School Week

He tells us about cooking on Air Force One: "It's very small, you could fit maybe three people in it...I mean literally fit."

And he gives us a sneak peak into how he smuggled special ingredients in to the White House: "They're looking for things like guns. They're not looking for olive oil."

Plus, Sam reveals the story behind the special dish he made that just might have won President Obama re-election in 2012. Want to make "lucky pasta" yourself? Here's the recipe:



Start to finish: 20 MINUTES

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

¹⁄₃ cup finely grated Parmesan cheese, plus more to finish

½ cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 cooked chicken breasts (see below), cut into bite-sized pieces, warm or room temperature

½ pound baby spinach


1. Cook the pasta in boiling salty water until al dente. Drain, reserving 1 cup of the water.

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 the pesto, chicken, spinach, and ⅓ cup of the reserved pasta water. Gradually add more of the pasta water if the dish seems dry. Season with salt to taste and top with more grated or shaved parmesan.

Interstitial music in this episode by Black Label Music:

- "On The Floor" by Cullen Fitzpatrick

- "Dreamin' Long" by Erick Anderson

- "Happy Jackson" by Ken Brahmstedt

Photos courtesy of Sam Kass; recipe courtesy of Clarkson Potter


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