Although we haven’t spent much time looking at them yet, Trader Joe’s fields a pretty tasty line of ready to rock pasta dishes. Of course, the reason I haven’t really bothered to review them yet is that nothing has lept out at me as particularly crazy. The goal of this blog isn’t to review every average, Joe-schmo thing at Trader Joe’s, but to taste test the truly weird and daring – for better or worse. That means I haven’t felt a need to pick up any TJ pasta until now – with Trader Joe’s Girasoli Ricotta & Lemon Zest ravioli. There are a lot of delicious things to pack into ravioli, but never before this day did I dream that lemon would be one of them.
Let’s start with the name, which I was somewhat disappointed by. Girasoli, as all you literate latinate lovers out there already know, is Italian for sunflower. This immediatley led me to assume that these raviolis contained both lemon and, like, sunflower petals or something. A foolhardy assumption at most grocery stores, maybe, but this is Trader Joe’s were talking about – they already tried taking the sticks out of popsickles, I wouldn’t put anything past them.
Disappointingly, to me at least, there isn’t a seed or stem to be found in these ravioli. The eponymous sunflower refers, predictably, to the shape of the pasta, little flowery suns, not the contents. The lemon, on the other hand, is very real and, what’s even better, tastes terrific. Why put lemon in your pasta? Well, dammit, like most things in life the real question is why not? Actually, lemon zested pasta may be uncommon on American shores, but has a long tradition in Italy.
Trader Giotto lives up to his name here by not just zesting the ravioli with lemon, but with lemons harvested from around Mount Etna in Sicily. And while this sounds terribly authentic, it’s worth noting that while ricotta and lemon stuffed ravioli are certainly Italian, they’re a traditionally Sardinian dish, not Sicillian. I really hope someone got fired for that blundered.
Regardless of the providence of the dish, it’s tremendously tasty. Where Trader Joe’s gets it entirely right is in keeping it simple. The pasta is a basic, wholesome combination of flour, semolina and egg. Into these tender little pockets they add mild, creamy ricotta cheese dressed up with just the right touch of lemon zest. It’s easy to imagine this step going wrong. Lemon is delicous, but add a little too much and suddenly you’re serving up acidic pasta. TJ’s encounter’s no such difficulties here – the ravioli are touched by just enough lemon to bring out the flavorful citrus taste without being at all harsh or astringent. In fact, more than anything, the lemon tastes mellow and creamy – no doubt thanks to the mixture of butter and bread crumbs that also make up the filling.
So what’s the best way to eat this light, summery pasta? Keep it equally simple and light, of course. No need for a heavy pasta sauce here – just let the natural, intriguing flavor of the pasta shine shine through on its own – with a little help from a touch of pesto and fresh tomatoes. It’s a simple, quick recipe, perfect for a relaxed lunch or casual dinner.
Trader Joe’s Lemon Ricotta Ravioli with Tomato and Pesto
- 1 pkg Trader Joe’s Girasoli Ricotta & Lemon Zest Ravioli
- about 1/4 cup of Trader Joe’s Genoa Pesto
- 2 ripe, flavorful tomatoes, sliced and/or diced
- Boil water in a medium-sized sauce pan, and add the ravioli.
- Keep on boil for 6-7 minutes, until appropriately al dente. Drain and place in a mixing bowl.
- Add sliced tomato, a nice bit of pesto and mix.
Would I Recommend It: Yes, these ravioli are refreshing and filling.
Would I Buy Them Again: Certainly.
Final Synopsis: A traditional Sardinian ravioli that keeps things fresh with the right amount of lemon.
Today we follow up mochi with gnocchi.
Our good friend, mysteriously ethnic Trader Giotto has show up again, and he has brought us Trader Joe’s Gnocchi Alla Sorrentina. As a well-meaning carb avoider, gnocchi is a relatively unknown dish to me, let alone gnocchi that has some rather daunting appellations appended to it. In layman’s terms, Gnocchi Alla Sorrentina, or Gnocchi in the style of Sorrento, is a baked potato gnocchi (or in this case, a semolina, durham wheat and potato gnocchi) served with marinara sauce and mozzarella cheese.
Gnocchi, with it’s silent “g”, non-standard pronunciation, and strong resemblance to grubs has always seemed to me a strange and forbidding pasta dish – nothing like that friendly old goof spaghetti and his wacky cousins (fettuccine, linguine – even that lumbering yokel zitti). I was doubly hesitant to give this gnocchi a chance because of it’s residency in the frozen food section. I’m willing to give even the most outlandish fusilli a chance, but as soon as your pasta needs to be frozen I start to get wary. This wariness was not much alleviated when I poured out the contents of the bag – the gnocchi were rock solid and the marinara sauce and mozzarella cheese came out as big frozen discs, almost as if slices of frozen salami had been tossed in with the pasta. It was therefor a complete shock and surprise when this stuff came out of the microwave hot, steaming and perfectly delicious.
The marinara and cheese sauce is pretty good – the tomato taste is rich, strong hints of basil are present throughout, and the cheese is present but not overwhelming. It’s a nice sauce and it serves the gnocchi well, but the star of the show is really the gnocchi itself.
A common problem with gnocchi, or any type of doughy lump, is that it’s easy to make them too dense, either by compressing the gnocchi too much, or simply getting the recipe wrong. Trader Joe’s Gnocchi Alla Sorrentina get the formula exactly right – the gnocchi are pillowy and pleasantly yielding without giving up body or heft. You can enjoy the hell out of these straight out of the bag, like I did, or dress it up with your own concoction of condiments and accoutrements. In fact, you should feel free to dress it up, as the bag of pasta and cheese somehow only clocks in at 510 calories for the entire one pound bag. That seems practically impossible, but is evidently true.
In any case this is a simple, cheap and easy to cook dish that could stand in for your kid’s Spaghetti O’s as easily as it could compliment your next bit of fine Italian cooking.
Would I Recommend It: Absolutely, there really aren’t any downsides to this dish.
Would I Buy It Again: Even someone as afraid of carbs as myself might pick this up again.
Final Synopsis: Excellent gnocchi that are as good as they are easy to make.