A Definitive Ranking of Trader Joe's Frozen Pasta

These pastas are the secret to my weeknight dinners.

May  9, 2022
Photo by Trader Joes

The frozen food section in Trader Joe’s is my safe space. Though the steps to prepare their globe-trotting frozen meals vary in rigor, most are to just add heat and water—a simple set of instructions, and one of the reasons why this is my favorite TJ’s aisle.

While you may know about Trader Joe’s frozen dumpling selection, or have read us wax poetic about their cheeses and dips, their frozen pasta offering is surprisingly impressive. I should know; I’ve eaten through every TJ’s frozen pasta I could find.

The frozen, bagged pastas are filled with a mixture of thin pieces of frozen sauce and par-cooked pasta. Though these pastas can be prepared in the microwave, my preferred method is dumping the contents of the bag into a skillet, adding a few tablespoons of water , and letting everything simmer until the pasta is cooked through and the sauce has thickened. Though the bags technically contain three servings, I think that they are a perfect dinner for two. From unexpectedly complex Cacio e Pepe to utterly confusing Inside-out Gnocchi, here are the best frozen pastas from Trader Joe’s.

Stand Outs:

Photo by Lucy Simon

Gnocchi alla Sorrentina

Trader Giotto’s (Joe’s Italian brother, I can only assume) take on this Southern Italian baked gnocchi dish is truly impressive. The skillet-ready potato gnocchi might be the ideal pasta type for the freezer-to-pan preparation Trader Joe’s calls for. Salty and acidic tomato sauce, streaked with melted mozzarella, coats the little pillows as they cook. It's nearly impossible to overcook this bouncy, chewy pasta.

Photo by Lucy Simon

Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe

The certifiable It Girl of the past few years, cacio e pepe is traditionally made with just cheese, pepper, and pasta. Since its rise in popularity a few years ago, the iconic Roman dish has been an inspiration for many recipe riffs (like biscuits, pizza,and ramen). Trader Joe's version comes with nests of spaghetti that unfurl in the skillet and a bright, peppery, cheesy sauce that (I can’t believe I'm saying this) rivals restaurant-quality.

Honorable Mentions:

Photo by Lucy Simon

Penne Arrabbiata

Though I am not penne’s biggest fan, the shape worked surprisingly well in this preparation—it stayed nice and al dente without sticking together. The sauce has good tomato flavor but could use a bit more heat to be the arrabbiata of my dreams.

Photo by Lucy Simon

Gnocchi al Gorgonzola

Like in the stand-out Sorrentina, the texture of the gnocchi is chewy and delightful. I would certainly make this pasta again, but perhaps with the addition of some extra gorgonzola (and maybe a little salt, too) to bump up the funky blue cheese flavor.

Photo by Lucy Simon

Mushroom Ravioli with Mushroom Truffle Sauce

I love a good mushroom sauce and this ravioli dish is everything you want it to be—plus, a truffle pasta sauce for $4?! The ravioli are on the large size, taken down in about two bites.

Photo by Lucy Simon

Linguine with Clam Sauce

Nests of linguine come together with a garlicky, parsley-flecked sauce made with chopped clams and broth. Though flavorful and a fun divergence from the tomato- and cream-forward offerings, the linguine fell apart in the skillet.

No Thanks:

Photo by Trader Joe's

Cheese Filled Fiochetti with Pink Sauce

Fiochetti are small, cheese-filled pouches made of thin pasta dough. While a super satisfying shape to eat, the downfall of this pasta is the pink sauce. It had some tang, but an overwhelming amount of sweetness. Perhaps some more flavor in the bland, ricotta-esque filling might balance it out.

Photo by Lucy Simon

Outside-In Stuffed Gnocchi

I was intrigued when I added this to my grocery cart, but my reaction at home was: “Who thought this was a good idea?” Coming from the overachieving gnocchi dishes, I had real high hopes for this outside-in variation. Though the package boasted crispy gnocchi oozing with bubbly sauce, these potato gnocchi turned out to be gummy balls and the sauce was mostly flavorless.

Have you tried any frozen pastas from Trader Joes? What's your favorite?

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Cookie
  • Beautybaby
  • MacGuffin
  • Ma_Faldine
  • Ray Hannigan
    Ray Hannigan
Lucy Simon

Written by: Lucy Simon

Editorial and Production Assistant, Food52


Cookie May 13, 2023
The lemon and ricotta ravioli -- something I'd never have time to make myself. It's in the cold section, not the frozen section. It's great alone with just oil, salt and pepper, but you can dress it up with shrimp sautéed in a little white wine, and throw in some asparagus or broccolini. Not a high sodium content either. A favorite in my family. And yes, even those of us totally devoted to quality home-cooking do an occasional TJ's pasta. Compared to other pre-made pasta's, its truly high quality. This is not your mother's frozen ravioli.
Beautybaby May 13, 2023
I have to say, I’m really surprised about the ranking of TJ’s Cacio e Pepe. The only thing I tasted was pepper. In fact, it was overwhelming. In addition, the sauce was claggy and there was very little of it; basically, peppery glue. Maybe I got a bad batch but I’m not about to take another chance. Rivals restaurant quality? Yeah…no.
Catherine May 16, 2023
You probably needed to add more water and ensure the sauce is looser than ideal before plating, as it will seize up more as it cools on the plate.
MacGuffin May 13, 2023
No mention of the sublime Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Butter & Sage?
Ma_Faldine May 17, 2022
I find the Arrabbiata too salty.
For quick "cheater's carbonara", I use TJ's frozen Fettucinne Alfredo with leftover cooked bacon cut into bits plus pepper, added towards the end.
Note about the bacon: heat separately in the oven and add once pasta is cooked through. It doesn't work if you heat the bacon then add the frozen elements.
Erin May 13, 2023
What is "leftover bacon"? I've never experienced that. 😊
Ma_Faldine May 13, 2023
Whenever I make bacon (in the oven), I save a couple of strips for a BLT or for adding to pasta. Perhaps I should have said "extra bacon"?
Erin May 14, 2023
Sorry... that's my sense of humor throwing off my written communication. I was kidding, as I never have any bacon leftover when I make it... no matter how many pieces!
I love your idea though!
who has leftover bacon? ☺
Ray H. May 17, 2022
This is exactly why I don’t get Trader Joe’s — it’s essentially frozen and processed foods and junk food. How difficult is it to make your own pasta? Cacio e pepe? It’s grated pecorino cheese pepper and spaghetti. Come on, who needs to buy that frozen?! Again, I just don’t get TJs, every visit just confirms it for me.
cyanpineapple May 15, 2022
I love those outside-in gnocchi prepared on a sheet pan with some sausage and a veggie. They crisp up really nicely and they're a great fast and no-effort weeknight meal.
Glenn May 13, 2023
That sounds good. In a separate pan, I saute garlic in oil with red pepper flakes, salt & pepper. When the outside-in gnocchi is done, I add them to the sauce with chopped parsley & sprinkled parmesan. It's delicious.
SJhapamama May 15, 2022
They all sound delicious, but I have to give most prepackaged meals a hard pass because of the sodium content. TJs has recently discontinued several no-salt-added or low-sodium prepared items (pasta sauce, for one).
LauL May 15, 2022
Top the Gorgonzola Gnocchi with poppy seeds! Delicious!
MacGuffin May 15, 2022
The Sweet Potato Gnocchi in Sage Butter are to die for during the winter.
cyanpineapple May 16, 2022
Those are also great roasted on a sheet pan
Joy R. May 15, 2022
Wish some of these great looking pastas were gluten free!
Hannah May 13, 2023
Joy, they've got a vegan bolognese bowl made with a lentil pasta -- it's just a single-serve microwave dinner but it's alright.
Patricia May 15, 2022
My Trader Joe's has been out of Cacio e Pepe for months. I assumed that, like the Fleur de Sel caramels, TJ's had stopped carrying it. I hope I'm wrong!
MacGuffin May 15, 2022
It seems they haven’t. I looked for it when I was shopping earlier today but didn’t see it. Since I know my local store had carried it, I asked the manager to check. It seems there was a shipment due this evening so no, it hasn’t been discontinued and it’s not seasonal.
Glenn May 15, 2022
Outside-in Stuffed Gnocchi does crisp if the pan starts out hot & you add 30 seconds to 1 minute to the initial cooking time before adding 4 TBS of water & steaming. I make a sauce using olive oil, minced garlic, minced parsley & a teaspoon of butter. It's delicious every time.
Lisa May 15, 2022
I do almost the same method but I omit the water. After the olive oil/ butter sauce is going then I add the frozen gnocchi and pan fry till they are crispy on the outside and tender little potato dumplings on the inside. At the end, you can add in a little tomato paste from the tube with some half and half for a little tomato cream sauce. Yummy!
Leila May 15, 2022
I have tried a couple of their pre-made meals and they tend to be delicious and fill a need -- then I checked the sodium level.... no wonder they taste good. 600-900 and more is not uncommon. Now I just walk on by.
Deleted A. May 15, 2022
That is a common problem with frozen prepared food, the amount of sodium in them is horrendous.
dcremerssf May 15, 2022
When you prepare the pasta in a pan do you start from frozen, or do you let it thaw first?
Deleted A. May 15, 2022

I have never understood why people purchase these premade meals, of ANY kind.

Most pasta dishes take little more time, if any, to prepare than these frozen things. It is very easy to prepare your sauces in advance and freeze them in individual, or larger portions in vacuum sealed bags. Then it is simply a matter of cooking the pasta, which takes minutes, heating up the sauce, and tossing it together. And in some cases, making a sauce from scratch won't add any significant time either. Here in Montreal, you can pick up fresh ravioli or tortellini in about any grocery store, or a package of frozen if you prefer to have some on hand, for less than it costs for any of these frozen products.

And I know it has already been mentioned, but it cannot be stated enough times... gnocchi is NOT PASTA.
Whitney D. May 15, 2022
Because sometimes you just have no energy, and cleaning one skillet vs several pans seems now inviting. Honestly, the gnocchi and the ravioli got me through a couple of pregnancies and a husband working overnights.

Also great for people with disabilities. Glad you feel like you always have the time and energy, clearly there are people who do not. (But the fully made ravioli is about the same as a package of fresh ravioli)
MacGuffin May 15, 2022
Since it’s plural, maybe we should be posting “gnocchi ‘are’ NOT PASTA?” Just sayin’.
Deleted A. May 15, 2022
Several pans? One pot or skillet to prepare the sauce, one pot to cook the pasta. Toss cooked pasta with sauce. Serve. In fact, if you have your sauce already made and frozen in vacuum sealed bags, you can reheat it in the sealed bag in the pot of water while heating the water for the pasta.

I have had plenty of friends tell me they never have time to cook, so they always order out instead. Many of them, I have shown how to prep things in advance so that they can prep a healthy quality meal in a very short time that will taste better than take out, be ready quicker, and will cost less per week than one evening of ordering out will. Of course, there are those who refuse to even try, but some of them now pay ME to do meal prep for them, which I am glad to do. :)
Whitney D. May 15, 2022
I cook from scratch on most nights. But I'm also disabled and prep days are sometimes impossible.

All I'm pointing out is that you assume everyone has the same circumstances, and I'm telling you that on some days, people cannot accomplish more than opening a bag. Not that they don't want to, they can't. So asking them to do a prep day with multiple dishes is also not on the cards. (and yes, several. Not everything can be done in one pot or one skillet)

I'm glad you have the skill and ability, but you can't assume everyone is on the same boat.
Deleted A. May 15, 2022
I never assume that everyone is in the same boat, but I do tend to assume that people who come to a COOKING site, come here for cooking and recipe tips, not to learn which grocer has the best frozen meals to prepare. Everyone has days when they do not have the time or the inclination to cook dinner, that is normal.

But I am 65 years old, retired for the past 10 years after a major heart attack left me unable to work, so I am well aware of the difficulties of living alone, having certain physical limitations, and not always feeling like cooking something. But I also know that cooking my own food is about 100X healthier for me than any packaged food or take out I may find. And yes, I will criticize people who take the easy way out and stock their freezer with mass-produced, sodium packed, unhealthy food. While 'Trader Joe's' may have a reputation, it is no healthier than a Swanson TV dinner in the end.
MacGuffin May 15, 2022
I didn’t realize the site is called COOKING52 rather than FOOD52. I, for one, stand humbly corrected.
Deleted A. May 15, 2022
I should know better than to comment in these threads. It always ends up with someone who takes everything personally. I think I will simply delete my account here and unsubscribe. It will save me much aggravation.
MacGuffin May 15, 2022
And even if someone can prepare all of his/her meals from scratch, who says it’s a necessity? Sometimes you don’t feel like it, sometimes it’s easier to throw a single serving of a commercial frozen meal in the oven than to have all of the fresh ingredients on hand to duplicate it, sometimes a vegetarian like me gets a yen for a Quorn roast that can be made into “turkey” sandwiches, sometimes you have a yen for something you can’t be bothered to cook from scratch, et al., etc., ad infinitum.
I never thought I’d miss Chowhound as much as I do, even though it wasn’t the same after Jim Leff bowed out. It was remarkably free of culinary sanctimony.
Whitney D. May 15, 2022
I'd only responded because like many people, you'd missed that convenience meals are vital for the disabled community, who might have good days and bad days. Because a lot of people ignore that completely to decide its simply about laziness.

But it's a food lifestyle site. Recipes, shopping, and other food related discussions.
Whitney D. May 15, 2022
We come in multitudes. Some days I want to make something challenging, so days I want to find something simple and sweet. And some days I'd just like to open a bag. I'm right there with you!
MacGuffin May 15, 2022
I’m glad I don’t have to figure out a way to cook that Swedish doormat I purchased here--such a relief! :)
jenzip May 15, 2022
Even though they have already deleted their account, I figured I'd leave the comment for those who feel as I do. I am a student (an older student going back to school) and I work, and I volunteer in my community, I also see friends and family and I get enough sleep. Trying to cook every dinner leaves me overwhelmed and then I tend to just not even start. When I do have the time and resources, I will cook. But for days where I've got back-to-back meetings/classes, I need something I can pop into the microwave. And yes, washing TWO pots can be A LOT. The time it takes to prep, cook, and wash is time I do not often have.
ellen May 15, 2022
Wow… You do realize not everyone is living the exact same reality that you are, right? Not everyone has the time, energy, resources, physical ability or inclination to cook every single meal from scratch. That’s great if you do, but don’t shame other people who don’t. My mom is recovering from a stroke & for her to be able to open a bag & heat up an easy, delicious meal in a skillet is a MAJOR accomplishment for her right now. Maybe you should consider that all the other 7+ billion people on earth might not think exactly the way you do & take your sanctimonious bs somewhere else…
Pamela L. May 15, 2022
Way too fattening!!
jenzip May 15, 2022
If you don't like these, then just move on. No need to post a comment that could shame those who do enjoy/rely on meals like this.
Bogie123 May 15, 2022
Their Hatch Chili Mac & Cheese always has a home in our freezer. Great as a fast side to salmon or chicken.
MacGuffin May 15, 2022
It’s also my fave among their mac & cheese offerings. “World’s Best” Mac & Cheese, however is in a class of its own.
Misch B. May 15, 2022
The Alfredo is always sold out...when I'm lucky I but 3-4 very good
The Pink Sauce is very nice also
Misch B. May 15, 2022
MacGuffin May 15, 2022
Being able to edit would be a nice feature.
Jacquie May 15, 2022
Triangoli stuffed with butternut squash-the ultimate hot appetizer for drop-in guests. Add a little dip, but it's not really necessary. They just disappear while you are making other stuff for supper.
Catherine May 10, 2022
I too feel just as guilty opining about the restaurant-quality of the frozen Cacio e Pepe. It's so wrong... but it really is that good.
Lucy S. May 11, 2022
Hard to believe it's as good as it is!
MacGuffin May 15, 2022
Okay, you guys sold me. I usually make it from scratch (thank you, Vincenzo’s Plate) but I’ve had good luck with TJ’s frozen pasta, so I’ll pick some up today.
Cheryl P. May 15, 2022
Standard in my freezer! It is just delicious, and goes from freezer to plate in 6-7 minutes.
CliffB May 10, 2022
Gnocchi are NOT pasta.
MacGuffin May 15, 2022
You get an enthusiastic thumbs-up for correctly referring to them as plural.