Trader Joe's frozen section magnetizes shoppers for a reason. The aisles are full of cult-status appetizers, meals, seasonal specials, internationally inspired fare, reasonably priced frozen produce, seafood, and so much more. One section with a steady crowd: the frozen pastas. The freezers stocked with spaghetti, lasagna, mac and cheese, and various types of gnocchi attract the masses thanks to the variety and easy preparation. Most can be simply heated in the microwave or quickly tossed into a warm skillet on the stove.
And while Trader Joe's also has a great selection of dried and refrigerated pastas and sauces, it doesn't get much simpler than opening a bag of prepared ingredients for a quick meal or side dish. Trader Joe's frozen pasta dishes are unique in that the pasta and sauce are frozen separately, keeping the texture of the noodles intact as it defrosts in various cubes of sauce, melding like al dente pasta would in a warm sauce at a restaurant. It's much quicker than waiting for a pot of water to boil, cooking pasta, and then heating the sauce, and many of the dishes are a bit more sophisticated.
I tried nine of the most popular Trader Joe's frozen pasta dishes, and was surprised to find such a range of textures, tastes and preferences. While many of the pastas were high in sodium and a bit salty, I did find a few sleeper hits in the mix. Here's how all nine ranked, from my least favorite to the best.
Gnocchi Alla Sorrentina
This frozen bag of pasta is simply gnocchi with tomato sauce and mozzarella. It's not the worst frozen pasta out there, per se, but it's a miss. The gnocchi is texturally off-putting, chewy and flavorless, a dull piece of potato dough without that fluffy, bouncy gnocchi magic. The cheese mixes in with the tomato sauce, which doesn't taste super tomatoey or cheesy, so it's kind of like bouncy pucks in a sticky, monotonous marinara. You're better off boiling a package of shelf-stable gnocchi and mixing it with the sauce and cheese of your choice.
Cheese Filled Fiocchetti with Pink Sauce
I was super looking forward to this one because I love filled pastas and pink sauce. To be fair, maybe my expectations were too high, because this frozen pasta was full-on disappointing. The pink sauce was bland, with a hint of onion flavor, and the stuffed pasta also lacked flavor. Some of the cheese-filled fiocchetti in the bag had also broken, which made the dish slightly less attractive. Good in concept, bad in execution.
Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe
As a cacio e pepe lover, I was supremely disappointed with this version of cacio e pepe. The frozen spaghetti clusters did not defrost easily, and the creamy sauce was extremely peppery. And yes, I love black pepper, but this was a lot, as in, the only flavor of the entire dish. It was edible as a side to a big salad, but on its own, the single flavor and uneven texture made this dish pretty lackluster. Maybe a different noodle would improve the overall frozen cacio e pepe experience.
Rigatoni alla Contadina
This frozen rigatoni in a creamy sauce is tempting, thanks to all the greens: asparagus, broccoli, and green peas. And parts of it were good. The greens didn't wilt too much and the rigatoni was nicely al dente. The sauce itself, however, didn't quite taste like cream or cheese—or, really anything, except the tiny pieces of onion throughout. Some garlic and chili flakes helped flavor this dish, but it was far from excellent.
This is the "Dance: 10, Looks Three" of frozen pastas. Taste-wise, this dish was great! The ravioli was firm on the outside and creamy with cheese on the inside. The sauce itself had a bold mushroom flavor, plus pieces of mushroom throughout. Unfortunately, the beige-hued dish wasn't aesthetically appealing, even dressed up with a little fresh pepper, parmesan, and parsley. If there was a way to make this pasta a little more attractive, it would be a complete winner.
Reduced Guilt Mac and Cheese
Have I ever felt guilty about eating mac and cheese? Definitely not. Still, the slogan on the box appealed to me, so I grabbed this microwaveable tray of pasta. It was super quick to make, but the portion was more of a side dish or snack than a meal. Nutritionally, this pasta is higher in calories, sodium, and carbs than many servings of the other pasta, so I'm not sure where the "guilt" factor plays in. Taste-wise, this was pretty good. The pasta had a nice bite and the cheese clung to all the elbow noodles. The cheese sauce tasted cheddar-forward and not too processed, which I liked. Would buy again.
Alfredo stan checking in and this was pretty good! The noodles were thick and glossy, easily coated with the Alfredo sauce that had a bit of funk. It was satisfyingly creamy and easy to eat. The clusters of fettuccine unraveled better while reheating than the spaghetti in the cacio e pepe. The flavor was also neutral enough to mix in frozen peas or other veggies or protein. Would definitely try this again as a base for a heartier meal.
This was basic pasta and sauce, pretty equivalent to what you'd make by boiling pasta and heating it with a jar of sauce. That said, this penne is faster to make on the stovetop or microwave, and the pasta was nicely al dente. While the sauce has a bit of a kick, it isn't too spicy and doesn't need any add-ins to feel like a complete pasta dish.
This pasta slapped. It was creamy. It was chewy, It was super cheesy and way too easy to eat. I loved how the mild gorgonzola flavor could also lend itself to so many savory mix-ins. I added shredded kale to my leftovers, which soaked up the extra sauce nicely. Any greens,or protein would work so well with this for a quick meal. It's also rich enough that just a few bites on the side of a heartier meal would be satisfying.