(BPT) - There's something to be said for having a routine: Meatless Monday, Wednesday leftovers, Friday pizza night. A routine helps keep planning and shopping on track so there's less stress at dinnertime. But keeping to a routine doesn't mean meals have to be boring. Go global to shake things up!
You don't need a pantry full of exotic ingredients to add an ethnic taste to dishes. Often, it's just a matter of putting together common ingredients to create uncommon flavor. For example, did you know that grapes and sausage is a classic Italian combination? A dish like pasta with grapes and chicken sausage is a cinch to make, requiring only a few foods you probably already have on hand. The delicious duo of grapes and sausage is a perfect pairing, with the grapes' sweet tartness balancing the sausage's spiciness. This hearty, comforting dish is sure to become a favorite in your family, and it's a welcome change from the usual marinara sauce topping on pasta.
For another international vibe at mealtime, try arepas. A Venezuelan specialty, arepas were traditionally eaten as bread. The dough, made from a mix of white cornmeal, water and salt, is pressed into a patty shape, then baked, fried or grilled. Today, an 'arepa' actually refers to the signature Venezuelan sandwich that uses the corn bread as a base, that's then split open and filled with different ingredients.
Arepas are satisfying, simple to make, and fun to eat. Best of all, they inspire creativity - arepas can be stuffed with any type of filling. Add even more global flair to arepas' South American roots by incorporating a bit of Greek flavor with shredded chicken, smoked paprika, feta cheese and crunchy grapes. It's a deliciously global combo.
Pasta with grapes and chicken sausage
6 ounces spicy Italian chicken sausage, casings removed
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large red onion, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cup low sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup non-fat half and half
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 cups red California grapes, halved
1/2 teaspoon each salt and freshly ground black pepper
12 ounces dry pappardelle or fettuccine
1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley
Set a large pot of water on high heat. At the same time, brown the sausage in a large skillet over medium-high heat, breaking it up with a spoon. Once cooked, remove to a plate. Add the olive oil to the empty skillet, then the onion and cook until softened, about eight minutes. Add the garlic and cook one minute more. Stir in the broth and simmer until reduced by about half, about five minutes. Add the half-and-half, and bring to a simmer. Stir in the Parmesan and return the sausage to the pan. Add the grapes and parsley and turn off the heat. Season with salt and pepper.
Add the pasta and salt to taste to the boiling water. Cook until al dente; drain and transfer to the skillet. Pour the drained pasta into the skillet, toss and serve.
Makes six servings.
Nutrition information per serving: Calories 352; Protein 22 g; Carbohydrate 57g; Total Fat 6.5 g (Saturated fat 2g); 17% Calories from Fat; Cholesterol 27 mg; Sodium 463 mg; Fiber 3 g.
Chicken and grape arepas
2 cups arepa flour (pre-cooked masa, also called masarepa, which can be found online and in Latin specialty grocers, as well as some supermarkets)
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons safflower or grapeseed oil (divided)
1 cup shredded cooked chicken
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
2 scallions, thinly sliced
Salt and pepper
1 cup sliced red and green California grapes
1/2 cup crumbled feta
Preheat an oven to 250F. In a large bowl, combine the arepa flour and salt. Stir in 2 1/2 cups warm water and stir until smooth. Let stand five minutes. Knead the dough lightly and divide into eight pieces. Roll into a ball and then flatten to 1/2-inch thickness.
Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add half the arepas, cover and cook until golden (about six to eight minutes.) Turn and cook uncovered, another six to eight minutes, adding more oil if needed. Transfer to a sheet pan and put in oven to keep warm. Repeat with the remaining arepas.
Once the arepas are cooked, heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in the skillet over high heat. Add the chicken, paprika, scallions, salt and pepper to taste and cook until chicken is slightly crispy and browned, about 5 minutes. To serve, split the arepas and stuff with chicken, grapes and feta.
Makes four servings.
Nutrition information per serving: Calories 468; Protein 19 g; Carbohydrate 52 g; Total Fat 22 g (Saturated fat 5 g); 40% Calories from Fat; Cholesterol 53 mg; Sodium 680 mg; Fiber 4.5 g.