I have always had faith in Trader Joe's, adding a new product or two to my basket with complete certainty that they will be good, if not great. But when I recently stumbled upon a brand-new product in the frozen section, I found myself wondering, Has Trader Joe's gone too far?
I'm talking about their Kale Gnocchi, which first hit shelves earlier this month and has been the focus of Internet food chatter since.
Before committing to purchasing a bag, I took a photo of the packaging and posed the question to my Instagram followers (a solid mix of friends, family, and total strangers): Yay or nay?
The results were close, but ultimately favored giving the plump, forest-green orbs a try. The people had spoken.
The instructions on the back of the package offer two options: sauté or boil. I trusted my instincts and sautéed first, heating up half of the gnocchi in a skillet pooled with bubbling butter. At first, they turned cloudy white from the shock of the heat, but as the minutes went by, slowly softened and crisped.
The key word there is crisped. And that's why I suspect, after sprinkling the cooked gnocchi with little more than flaky salt and grated Parmesan, the texture was good: buttery-crusty on the outside, tender on the inside. They had a distinct grassy taste, but it wasn't too overpowering.
Strangely (or maybe not so strangely) it reminded me of Veggie Pirate's Booty, a brand of puffed rice and corn snacks I ate often growing up. In other words, I kind of liked it. Though I'll be honest, and there's really no nice way of saying this: They look like little green turds (turdlets, if you will).
Now Here's a Gnocchi Dish I Can Get Behind
I tried boiling the gnocchi next. This was a mistake. Prepared this way, they were decidedly unpleasant: slimy on the outside, with a texture resembling the Play-Doh you kept playing with as a kid even though it had crumbs and dirt stuck to it. The taste was overpoweringly vegetal. If you (foolishly) opt for this method, you can redeem yourself by crisping up the boiled gnocchi in a pan (which is what I did).
Trader Joe's Kale Gnocchi sautéed (left) and boiled (right)—nobody said they were pretty.Photo by Erin Alexander
Of course, I'm not the only one with a review. Michelle Santiago Cortés at Refinery29 wrote, "They're not as light and pillowy as regular gnocchi, but extremely delectable nonetheless." Lauren Masur from The Kitchn described them as "an unequivocal home run." Not sure I'd ever go so far as to call these delectable—let alone a home run—but everyone is entitled to their opinion.
Our managing editor, Brinda Ayer, on the other hand, was not a fan. "These were uniquely awful—even pan-fried in a ton of olive oil, they appeared and tasted like pieces of Play-Doh [Author's note: We're on the same page there] that had rolled around in grass all afternoon and somehow found their way onto my plate. And this is coming from someone who actually enjoys zeitgeisty wellness stuff, like green juices and spirulina-flavored, date-sweetened desserts (it's the Californian in me)."
As for my final verdict on Trader Joe's Kale Gnocchi, I'm a bit conflicted. I didn't hate the sautéed version, but I don't feel the need to buy it again anytime soon, maybe ever. (I'll stick to their Gnocchi alla Sorrentina, thank you very much.)
I guess the real question we should all be asking isn't whether or not we can gnocchi-fy all sorts of vegetables (and in one recent case, dessert). The question is, should we?
Erin Alexander is the Associate Editor at Food52, covering pop culture, travel, foods of the internet, and all things #sponsored. Formerly at Men’s Journal, Men’s Fitness, Us Weekly, and Hearst, she currently lives in New York City.