Best known as the Judge of ‘Chopped’, a hit American cooking reality series, chef Amanda Freitag’s illustrious career spans more than 30 years. One of the most prominent female culinary icons of the world, Chef Amanda was raised in New Jersey. She completed her graduation from Culinary Institute of America, post which she went on to work with premium restaurants such as Cesca, The Harrisson, and the Empire Diner. She became a household name owing to her various television appearances. Besides ‘Chopped’, you may also remember her as the contestant on The Next Iron Chef and as a co-host on American Diner Revival.

The celebrated chef joined the American Pistachio Growers for a virtual cook-along session wherein she prepared delectable dishes using pistachios. Award-winning mixologist and TV personality Charlotte Voisey also joined the chef for the event. Voisey stirred up some scintillating cocktails using pistachios that left everyone in awe.

We caught up with Chef Amanda after the session for a freewheeling chat. Excerpts.

1.   If you could speak about your fondness for pistachios? 

I love the flavour, colour, texture and versatility of pistachios. They are great in sweet and savoury preparations, and they are also the best snack in their purest form. I cooked and demonstrated two unique dishes in the session -- Beet Salad Pistachio Vinaigrette and Lamb Meatballs Pistachio Pesto, which have become very flavourful and tasty are wholesome. Pistachio is a superfood, and I am all for it for its nutrition and taste."

2.   Do you often use nuts and dry fruits in your preparations?

Yes, I use lots of dried fruits for the intensity of flavour and nuts for texture in rice or quinoa salads, green salads or topping for any seared fish or meat.

3.   Describe your comfort food?

I love a bowl of fresh Fettucine with a simple sauce of pecorino romano cheese like Cacio Pepe or Pomodoro sauce.


4. Describe the most luxurious meal you had recently?

I had a delicious brunch at a restaurant called "Spice Finch" in Philadelphia. The chef is Jenn Carroll, and she has such an excellent hand with spice from North Africa like Berbere and the Middle east. I love the menu and the cocktails as well.

5. Most difficult and most easy ingredients you have worked with?

The most accessible and most beneficial ingredient to work with is an onion. And the most difficult for me is the fresh sea urchin, opening it is so difficult.

6.  Your most treasured compliment?

From a young chef I did not know, she said my career inspired her to become a chef herself.

7. Most bizarre request you ever heard from a diner?

I was once told that a guest was allergic to salt!

8.   Your favourite kitchen tools?

I love the Microplane, and I use it for citrus zest, grating parmesan, grating ginger, and even grating garlic!!! I love it


9.   A recent food trend that impressed you too?

I love the plant-based food trend. I eat meat & fish, but I could happily live on vegetables & grains. I love finding new ways to cook vegetables and make them the star of the plate!

10. With winters around the corner, name five foods you cannot wait to dig into? 

1.   Any braised meats or stews

2.   All root vegetables. Potatoes, squash, turnips, all things starchy

3.   Hot beverages; hot chocolate, hot toddy's, hot apple cider

4.   Soups, all kinds, chunky, pureed, grain & bean soup

5.   Hot oatmeal for breakfast. I only eat it in the winter

11. Can you give us one of the recipes you cooked in the session

Lamb Meatballs With Pistachio Pesto

By Chef Amanda Freitag

Serves 6-8 portions  

Ingredients

  • 1 pound lamb meat  
  • 1 cup Japanese breadcrumbs  
  • ¾ cup milk  
  • 1 tsp ground cumin  
  • 2 tbsp shallot, chopped fine  
  • 1 tbsp garlic, minced  
  • 2 tbsp fresh mint 
  • 1 egg  
  • ½ cup pecorino cheese grated 

Pistachio Pesto 

  • 1 cup pistachios  
  • 2 cloves garlic  
  • ¾ cup olive oil  
  • ½ cup mint leaves  
  • 1 cup basil leaves  
  • 1 cup yogurt  
  • Salt and pepper  


Instructions:

  1. In a large bowl, combine the panko and milk 
  2. Let stand for 10 minutes 
  3. Then add the lamb, shallots, garlic, mint, pecorino, egg and salt and pepper.  
  4. Use your hands to mix and incorporate well.  
  5. Make a tester patty to taste for seasoning.  
  6. Simply sear a small amount of the meat, taste it and adjust the seasoning before you make the meatballs.  
  7. Roll the meatball mix into small (1-2 ounce) meatballs and line up on a sheet pan until they are all formed.  
  8. In a large sauté pan over high heat, heat enough olive oil to thoroughly coat the entire bottom of the pan.  
  9. Sear the meatballs, browning them evenly all around.  
  10. Let cook until done in the center.  
  11. Pesto Combine all ingredients in a food processor and blend until combined but still coarse.  
  12. Season yogurt with salt and pepper Dollop yogurt onto a plate, place meatballs on top of yogurt, top with pistachio pesto. Garnish with some chopped pistachios and mint and basil leaves