Pasta always feels like a celebration to me. Perhaps it’s because I grew up spending summer vacations with an Italian grandmother who would make lasagna for lunch (yes, lunch). Or maybe it’s because pasta is simply something I indulge in every once in a while. There’s something romantic about a summer weeknight dinner consisting of pasta, salad with farmers market veggies, and a glass of white wine—whether you’re dining solo or with others. I’m no chef, but luckily, Trader Joe’s frozen options make pasta dinners quick and easy.
Walking the frozen pasta aisle at Trader Joe’s is always a treat, especially because TJ’s has so many options to choose from. The other great news? Preparing them requires basically no kitchen skills; you simply heat them up on the stovetop or even in the microwave. Plus, they’re ready to eat in 10 minutes or less. As an unofficial pasta connoisseur, Trader Joe’s aficionado, and lazy girl in the kitchen, I tried as many as I could get my hands on, then ranked them all. If you’re ready to have the at-home pasta dinner of your dreams, here are all the hits and misses, ranked accordingly.
7. Ricotta and Spinach Filled Ravioli with Tomato Basil Sauce
Growing up, ravioli was my favorite, so any kind of ravioli feels a bit nostalgic for me. But unfortunately, this one didn’t bring back any warm fuzzy feelings. The tomato sauce was watery, the ravioli was thin and had me wishing for more ricotta, and it seemed like the spinach was there just for a pop of color. I thought maybe adding parmesan cheese on top would make it more palatable, but in the end, it just wasn’t worth it. With the wide array of delicious pasta to choose from, I’d skip this one and spend my money on something else!
6. Cheese-Filled Fiocchetti with Pink Sauce
This stuffed pasta is shaped like a cute little bag, and I love a good pink sauce. This has been one of my go-tos since it came out a few years ago. I haven’t had it in a while though, so I was excited to dig in. After following the stovetop instructions on the bag, I realized the one-third cup of water it called for made the sauce a bit thin. Even though it thickened up a bit on the plate, I’ll use a little less water than it says next time.
On the plus side, there’s plenty of cheese in the pasta (yum!). The sauce leans on the sweet side though, and to my surprise, it’s a little too sweet for my liking. It also doesn’t look as appetizing on the plate as some of the others I tried. I want my food to taste good, of course, but looks matter, too. I’m shocked it landed this low on my list, but that just goes to show that Trader Joe’s doesn’t mess around with their frozen pasta! Onwards and upwards.
5. Outside-In Stuffed Gnocchi
OK, so Trader Joe’s has a lot of gnocchi to choose from. In addition to the regular potato gnocchi, there are a ton of alternatives (like kale, cauliflower, and sweet potato gnocchi). But for the sake of clarity and focus, I stuck with potato gnocchi options for this round-up, and this tomato and cheese-stuffed gnocchi piqued my interest, for sure. Although it doesn’t take much for me to fall in love with pasta, especially one as thick and doughy as gnocchi, this stuffed gnocchi left me wanting something more. The cheese-to-tomato sauce ratio seemed a bit off to me, and I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to add my own sauce since each gnocchi has sauce in the middle. Regardless, it just wasn’t flavorful enough for me. Are they tasty? Absolutely. But I could see myself eating them as a fun snack instead of for dinner.
4. Penne Arrabbiata
If you’re looking for a tasty, no-frills pasta dish in a tomato-based sauce, penne arrabbiata is it. This tomato sauce is much better than the basil sauce in the ravioli IMO, and as someone who loves cheese and a creamy sauce, I didn’t mind that this dish comes without. Arrabiatta sauce isn’t sweet like marinara is—since it’s made with red pepper flakes, it’s meant to be spicy. If you like some heat though, I’d say this TJ’s arrabbiata sauce is mild without much kick at all. To add some spice, you could simply sprinkle your own red pepper flakes on top. Overall, penne arrabbiata is a solid choice and a good reminder that the basics, if done well, deliver.
3. Gnocchi al Gorgonzola
I admit, I never thought to reach for this because the pasta options with fancier names always call to me. However, this is delicious and a true sleeper hit! The gnocchi is satisfyingly doughy, the cream sauce is thick, and the gorgonzola isn’t overpowering. A sprinkle of pepper on top takes it to another level. Although gnocchi is obviously very different from macaroni, this gave me fancy mac and cheese vibes, and I’m here for it.
2. Breaded Fried Ravioli
What’s not to love about breaded, crispy pasta with soft, oozy cheese in the middle? These fried ravioli are a game-changer. What I love most about them is you can eat them as your meal or serve them as an appetizer. Pop these babies in the air fryer for a few minutes, arrange them on a plate with a small bowl of marinara for dipping, and you’ve got a great pre-dinner treat. Or pair them with chicken and a salad for a hearty Italian meal. Especially if you have an air fryer, you won’t want to miss these crispy, gooey bites of heaven.
1. Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe
If pasta can be chic, that’s exactly how I would describe cacio e pepe. Simple and understated, this was my favorite out of all the pasta options I tried. Out of the bag, the spaghetti comes in little nests that eventually unfurl as they heat up, which is very satisfying. The creamy sauce is flavorful and comes with a bite, thanks to the generous amounts of black pepper sprinkled throughout. It is delicious and even looks lovely on the plate.
I found that the pasta likes to stick together though, and it requires a bit of extra wiggling around in the pan to break up all the noodles. If you prefer individual strands of spaghetti, make sure you take the time to separate the nests. However, if you’re someone who appreciates biting into a thick, clump of noodles, keeping the groups of spaghetti somewhat intact will be oh-so-satisfying.