Reviewing TJ’s 5 Cheese Greek Spiral the other day got me in the mood for other cheese and dough related, disc-shaped appetizers of Mediterranean origin that are suitable for a variety of toppings. By which I mean pizza! Luckily, Trader Joe’s was able to deliver with their Bambino Pizzas Formaggio – a box of 4, tiny little 5″ cheese pizzas that come frozen and ready to get cooked up in your oven.
|What it is:||Mini cheese pizzas|
|Size:||Four 4oz. pizzas.|
|Worth it:||Yes. This is acceptably tasty pizza.|
Trader Joe’s has had a variety of these pint-sized pizzas for years – however, they’ve recently debuted an eye-catching new box design that ditches the “boring Italian-food look” for an aqua blue that really pops out at you. Hey, it worked on me – good job box designers, you’ve tricked my ape brain again!
Aside from the box, there’s nothing really all that innovative about little cheese pizzas you cook at home. These are basically what you’d expect – medium crust, cheese and marinara sauce pizzas about the size of CD’s. What really suckered me in (as it so often does) was the cool name Trader Joe’s stuck on these. Or should I say “Trader Giotto”.
As I’ve talked about time, and time again, the little noms de cuisine Trader Joe’s utilizes both delights and frustrates me. On the one hand, as a borderline insufferable psuedo-intellectual, I treasure these slyly literate winks. “Ho ho”, I think, not unlike Dr. Hibbert, “I wonder if anyone else caught that”. On the other hand, their consistent lack of consistency drives me right up the wall. Case-in-point, Trader Joe’s Guacamole vs Trader Jose’s Spicy Edamame and Guacamole dip.
Apart from the exotic name, these are actually pretty basic fare – your standard no-fuss, frozen cheese pizzas. However, the execution is pretty much beyond reproach. You’re always going to loose a bit of quality when you scale down a pizza to personal size – you end up with more crust for a lesser amount of sauce and topping (not unlike the miniaturized Trader Joe’s Pot Pies) – however TJ’s does a good job making sure there’s still plenty of rich and tangy marinara sauce, and melty mozzarella cheese to satisfy.
Unlike, say, french fries, pizza is one food that manages to hold up well when frozen. Just pop these in your oven for 11 minutes and they come out bubbling and crispy. It may not be the most exotic thing Trader Joe’s has ever brought to market, but they’re easy to cook and perfectly tasty. And just like our aforementioned 5 Cheese Greek Spiral, they’re easy to dress up with a spring of basil, a few slices of pepperoni, some olives, or you know, whatever. Nothing wrong with that!
Would I Recommend Them: Sure, everyone can agree on mini-pizzas.
Would I Buy Them Again: I don’t see why not.
Final Synopsis: Yum yum, tasty tiny pizzas.
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.