TJ’s Cacio E Pepe Pasta Sauce


“A creamy, cheesy pasta sauce made wth Pecorino Romano and Black Pepper”

Trader Joe’s Cacio e Pepe pasta sauce has been getting a lot of buzz since they released it, so I had to give it a try. You know what? It is pretty good. I made a fettucine cacio e pepe with it which turned out to be quite tasty. Making a cacio e pepe (“cheese and pepper”) pasta dish with this could not be easier, basically cook your pasta, open the jar and combine things. The sauce right out of the jar is really thick. A few spoons go a long way, meaning obviously you would not use this whole jar to make say 2 or even 4 portions of pasta. The Nutrition label suggests a jar makes 7 servings. My suggestion is basically use a nice huge heaping 2 tablespoons of sauce per portion of pasta, which you will thin a bit with some of the pasta cooking water later to get a consistency you like to coat the pasta.

TIP: I suggest making this with one of TJ’s excellent Artisan Pasta varieties (spaghetti , fettuccine, radiatore…) Of course shaped pastas, like ziti, are wonderful as well with this type of creamy sauce. You could even do a pan fried Gnocchi.

Cook your pasta, slightly less than al dente, then drain it (saving a 1/2 cup water). Finish your al dente pasta in a pan with a little saved pasta water and a nice grind of black pepper, and add the cacio e pepe sauce, mixing it up a nicely with tongs to coat the pasta, adding a few tablespoons of pasta water as needed, get it to your desired consistency and turn off the heat. Serve immediately.

Naturally they are saving a bit on some ingredients, for example this contains sunflower oil not olive oil. Don’t worry you will fix it up so when you plate it. When you serve, grate a nice hit of fresh Pecorino on top, a bit of freshly ground pepper, and if you like a drizzle of your best EVOO. I even put a wee bit of chopped arugula for color (a Roman would protest any addition to the 2 ingredients). If you wanted to put some grated Parmigiano or Grana, they could be delicious additions but again I would not tell your Roman friend about it.

NOTE: be sure to have a block of Pecorino cheese to grate on top as well as fresh ground black or rainbow peppercorns. These fresh items to finish really make this dish.

It says once the jar is opened, refrigerate it and use it up within 3 days. I didn’t want to have it again so soon, so I figured I would just put the jar in the freezer. The following week I did an overnight defrost in the fridge and that seemed to work fine. Naturally you can do other things with this sauce besides using it on pasta. You could use some on vegetables (brussel sprouts, potatoes?) and even mix some into scrambled eggs….?

https://www.traderjoes.com/home/products/pdp/070650

Having said this I am all for making a real Cacio e Pepe from scratch once in a while. Cacio E Pepe is basically two ingredients (Pecorino cheese and Black Pepper) and that’s where the magic happens getting it to emulsify (and not become gloppy). You may have to make it a few times to get the hang of it but once you do, you will really get a great deal of pleasure from making it yourself no doubt. I liked this guy’s take on making it (tip don’t use very hot water to mix with the grated cheese to make the emulsion though and don’t let the cheese boil, just get it warmed up so it doesn’t break) TIP: A few teaspoons of a corn starch slurry makes this foolproof BTW. In fact the Trader Joe Cacio e Pepe sauce incorporates corn starch.

A 14.5 oz jar of TJ’s Cacio e Pepe sauce costs $3.50.

If you get into Cacio E Pepe and want to try to make the sauce yourself yourself, watch these two pro’s, absorb some of their ideas and I bet you will end up with a terrific authentic Cacio e Pepe.

TJ’s POTATO GNOCCHI (& recipe ideas)


TJ’s Pasta Emporium Gnocchi. Made in Italy. “Autentico Italiano”. Shelf stable package.

These gnocchi are one of my favorite TJ items. Available in the dried pasta section, these packages of TJ’s POTATO GNOCCHI are a bargain at just $1.69 (1.1 lbs). Thesy are shelf stable, and can last months in your pantry (you could store them in your fridge if you like but you don’t have to). I probably usually use them within about 3 months? They have a pleasantly chewy texture, which you can accentuate even more by pan frying them (see below)

COOKING: You can simply toss these into boiling salted water for about 3 minutes and theyre ready to serve with your favorite sauce. Perhaps even better I’ve found is one can boil them for 1 minute, drain, them throw them in a non-stick or cast iron pan with 2 tablespoons of EVOO and pan fry them until they are golden brown. The crispy texture is a big plus. Actually an even easier way which I discovered and clearly others have figured out too, is you don’t have to boil them at all. You can just pan fry them, without the boiling. The chewy, crispy texture when you pan fry gnocchi is great.

PAN FRIED GNOCCHI: Just toss these gnocchi right into a pan with 1-2 tbl. of oil and pan fry them until browned on all sides, stirring occasionally. I do a variation on this. I put 2 tbls of EVOO (or even nicer, a mix of half oil and half butter) in a black cast iron (or nonstick pan). Get the oil hot on med heat until it shimmers. Toss in these gnocchi and stir till covered with the oil. COVER THE PAN with a lid. Cook covered 5-8 minutes, stirring occasionally. They kind of pan fry & steam at the same time for the best of both worlds. After 5 minutes or so, take off the cover and pan-fry them uncovered till Golden Brown and Delicious, maybe another 5-10 minutes. I like the texture this way, its especially chewy and a bit crispy.

What to serve with them for a sauce? Almost anything you can think of which you would do for a pasta. TJ’s jarred Pesto works quite well with these. It can be as simple as just butter and grated cheese plus some black pepper, a simple Cacio E Pepe. Or serve them with your favorite TJ tomato sauce.

In the photos below you will see I cooked them with greens (swiss chard but you can use any greens like kale, spinach, arugula…) I used lots of garlic and lots of grated Rosemary Asiago *. The gnocchi were delicious with greens. Of course any Italian cheese works Parmigiano, Pecorino, Asiago) even some Mozz cut into cubes to melt in. I had these last week with some leftover Bolognese sauce I had in the freezer and they were simply amazing with Bolognese sauce. TJ’s even has a vegan bolognese sauce.

Are these better than the frozen Kale Gnocchi? For me actually they kind of are and frankly these are half the price of the frozen gnocchi which I feel don’t have the same textural integrity when cooked this way (pan fried) though I could experiment some more. There is somewhat of a shock going from being frozen into heat that I think texturally messes up frozen gnocchi?

Anyway if you never tried these packaged Gnocchi, check them out the next time you are in the pasta section. I can’t tell you how many times when we “had nothing in the house to eat” we found we had a package of these in the pantry and had a dinner ready in under ten minutes.

*RECIPE : PAN FRIED GNOCCHI with Swiss Chard & Rosemary Asiago Cheese – Separate leaves and stems from Swiss Chard. Cook the cut stems with 3 cloves of garlic smashed until tender in olive oil. Remove greens from pan then into same pan, toss in a pack of gnocchi with a tablespoon of EVOO and 1 tbl butter. Cook covered as discussed above till browned all over. Now add back the swiss chard plus chopped up leaves. Cook and toss around in pan till leaves are cooked till your liking. Toss in some chopped parsley or arugula. Season to taste with a little salt, sprinkle of lemon juice and lots of black pepper (optionally – a spoon of BOMBA) Grate a few ounces of Asiago, Pecorino or Parmigiano over all and drizzle with good EVOO. Serve 2 as dinner or 4 as a side.

(Can substitute Kale, Arugula, Spinach or any green)

Pan fried Gnocchi with Swiss Chard and Asiago

SEARCH : Pan Fried Gnocchi Recipes – IDEAS

https://bit.ly/3hIZLHo

TJ Wild Large Argentinian Red Shrimp


“Trader Joe’s Argentinian Red Shrimp are caught off the southern coast of Argentina. They have a sweet lobster like flavor and texture. Grill, barbecue or sauté. Serve with pasta, on salads or as an entrée…”

RAVE

Trader Joe’s frozen Wild Raw Red Argentinian Shrimp are tasty and practical.

I now buy these frozen shrimp at Trader Joe’s regularly as once I tried them I found them to be sweet, tasty and good value. They are big and meaty and have a sweet “lobster-y” flavor plus are wild caught, not farmed. Argentinian / Patagonian Red Shrimp are caught in the icy waters off Argentina’s coast. They are cleaned then flash frozen individually so easy to use. They are decently sized shrimp (20/25 count aka Large). Are Patagonian Red Shrimp “the sweetest shrimp in the world”? Even if some marketer came up with that line, they actually do taste kind of sweet and yes even “lobster-y”.

(If you are interested in learning more here’s detailed info about “Patagonian Red Shrimp”)

If I’m not using the whole bag I simply take out as many shrimp as I need and put the bag back closed with a twisty, then double bag that inside a Ziplock freezer bag. Use these Red Shrimp any way that you would normally use any shrimp. So first things first, best ways to defrost them. First I would suggest the traditional overnight thaw in the fridge in a covered bowl. Just plan ahead. If you have less time, some other options: Put them in a ziplock bag, submerge the bag in a bowl weighting it down under a plate, and run a light stream of cold water over it. They will be defrosted in about 15-20 minutes. I have also simply put some shrimp in a bowl and covered them with an inch of cold water, stirring them every 5 minutes or so, which also works and takes maybe 20-30 mins. I would not cook them right from frozen as they will surely shrink a lot and lose a lot of juice, nor would I nuke them to defrost them.

Cooking: Whatever cooking method you use, be sure not to overcook them. These shrimp do cook quickly. If you are say using a sauce, you can simmer the (defrosted) shrimp slowly in the sauce at the very end cooking them maybe 2-3 minutes (turning them over once). Patagonian Red Shrimp actually cook faster than other shrimp. They will be done quickly, in maybe 2 minutes. As soon as they are no longer translucent and look firmed up they are done, or at least should be removed at that point and then added back to your dish at the end. Not over cooking them will keep them tender, juicy and plump the way you want them. If you overcook shrimp they become tougher/chewier and shrink and curl up. TIP: Don’t throw out any liquid after defrosting, use it as stock.

They are of course terrific simply sauteed with olive oil and lots of garlic, scampi style. You can blot them with a paper towel, optionally sprinkle them with a little seasoned flour and sauté them in oil and butter. One trick I saw on MilkStreet recently was to grill shrimp on one side only, take them out of the pan then finish them in the dish for 30 seconds at the end. This is a Great idea! These shrimp are of course great grilled or sautéed and used in a pasta dish, or any recipe. Put them on a skewer and broil or grill them. They are equally great gently poached 3 minutes, which is a good way to make them for cold cooked shrimp or on top of salads. TIP: marinate 15 min in lots of TJ’s CUBAN SPICE BLEND, great with these. Or any spices of your choosing. Ajika also is terrific as is TJ’s Peri-Peri Sauce.

You’ll probably like these shrimp if you try them. I find them super convenient to have in the freezer. TJ’s sells Wild Red Shrimp (1 lb. bag) for $9.99 (UPDATE : TJ recently raised the price not long after I posted this; they are now $10.99 – Feb 2021).

More ideas for dishes below.

I made a nice Thai Shrimp Curry with veggies and TJ’s Thai Red Curry sauce and added the shrimp at the very last 2 minutes (a no-recipe recipe follows below).

THAI STYLE SHRIMP CURRYSauté some onions, garlic, and chopped ginger in oil for 5 minutes. Throw in chopped carrots, celery, potatoes (optional add ins: mushrooms, peas, sweet potatoes, scallions) …sauté everything for 5 more minutes, then add 1/4-1/2 cup liquid (water or broth*) simmer for 10 minutes, toss in a jar of TJ Thai Red Curry sauce, simmer about 10 more minutes till all veggies are tender. The last 2 minutes add shrimp and cook gently in the sauce, stirring occasionally. Serve the curry with jasmine rice on the side. Add chopped scallions on top.

Another dish: Ramen? Yes. I used these shrimp for (“Roy Choi style”) instant ramen with a slice of cheese and butter. Sounds crazy but it works, see video below). For this dish which was a dinner, I made a veggie stock instead of using the included packet of seasoning* and added some fresh mushrooms. I added the shrimp at the very end of cooking, and only cooked them about a minute or two. You can see they look juicy from not overcooking.

TIP: That little flavor packet included with instant ramen is loaded with Sodium (like 50% of daily recommended level)? Too much Sodium is bad for you, so better to use your own stock or low sodium stock and maybe just add a bit of the flavor packet. Worst case, use only half the packet and if it tastes too flat, add something to flavor it up without adding much sodium (a dash of low sodium soy sauce or a few drops of Nam Pla (fish sauce).

ROY CHOI’S INSTANT RAMEN WITH CHEESE

There are so many ways you might use shrimp, so here’s one more idea: How about Shrimp Rolls (like a lobster roll)? These shrimp are “lobster-y” so would be perfect in a a shrimp roll. Gently poach them then put some on some lightly toasted buttered Brioche bread or aloha buns, (cut up shrimp, a little mayo, some Old Bay seasoning or dried dill) You can pretend it’s a lobster roll; Well its the next best thing.

Another idea? Vietnamese style rice paper shrimp rolls (search Asian markets for the rice wrappers) https://justasdelish.com/vietnamese-shrimp-rolls-peanut-hoisin-sauce/

Want one more idea? Fried rice with shrimp is fantastic.

Vietnamese Shrimp Rolls with Peanut Hoisin Sauce (Gỏi Cuốn with Nước Lèo)

TRADER JOE’S PESTO ALLA GENOVESE


TRADER GIOTTO’S (TRADER JOE’S) PESTO ALLA GENOVESE

Mentioned in an earlier post, Trader Joe’s Pesto (basil pesto) in the glass jar makes an extremely convenient item to always have in your pantry. Whenever you get the mood for a Pasta and Pesto dish simply open a jar of this and add it to pasta (with a little pasta water) and bingo, you made dinner or a side dish to put on your table in under 15 minutes with almost no effort and for very little dough ($3-4)! Add some fresh grated Parmigiano and EVOO and improve it. If you have a little fresh basil to sprinkle on top, even better.

Now if you have ever made pesto yourself, you know it takes a bunch of expensive ingredients (like pine nuts) and some effort but it’s truly amazing as the smell when you open up your blender and that pungent aroma of basil, cheese and garlic permeates your kitchen. The smell is so heavenly it may knock you off your feet. So having said that I won’t tell you this jar of pesto is as good as if you made your own. Let’s be honest. Still, this jarred TJ’s Pesto is still quite tasty and the convenience of having it in your pantry makes up for a lot and you can (and should) Level Up this stuff with a few easy additions.

Value-wise this is a great TJ value at $2.49. Though you can tell by the fact that is says Sunflower Oil as the first ingredient and not extra virgin olive oil, they skimped on expensive ingredients. But even so this TJ jarred Pesto Genovese is decent and believe it or not, I prefer this glass jarred pesto to the “fresh” one TJ sells in the refrigerated section which costs more. In fact I was pretty surprised that I tried both and compared them and liked this one a bit more. You can, in fact should absolutely tweak this with good ingredients! Pour a nice glug of your favorite TJ EVOO plus a nice sprinkle of extra freshly grated Parmigiano and / or Pecorino cheese plus freshly ground black pepper on top of your finished dish. If you have a few sprigs of fresh basil you can tear over it, all the better. For $2.50, this is good value and really worth keeping a jar or two in your pantry as a go-to item to always have on hand. I certainly do, its made us a quick tasty pasta dish a few times when I “had nothing to eat” in the house.

TJ ORGANIC RED LENTIL PASTA



Trader Joe’s (Giotto’s) ORGANIC RED LENTIL PASTA

 

Normally we eat pasta in my house at least once if not two or more times a week. My wife and I adore pasta. I’m good at making it. Or I should say “we used to” eat it that often! Recently my wife decided to try going “Gluten Free” and that has changed things not just for her but for “Us”. To keep life simple as far as eating and cooking, whats happened is basically we stopped eating pasta, much to my chagrin as you could say I’m a bit of a pasta freak. As Italians usually do, I could eat pasta almost every day. Really, I could be happy as a clam eating pasta every day, in fact I’d be super happy eating Linguine with clams!

So I really wanted to try something in the pasta department that we both could eat together, meaning I would give “Gluten Free Pasta” a try.

So I saw this Red Lentil Pasta at TJ. Unfortunately I was not impressed with this for cooking as a substitute for regular pasta. For me at least – that is someone who can eat gluten and wheat products – this lentil pasta would not be something I would willingly sub in for my “normal” pasta.

TJ Red Lentil Pasta is made from “red lentil flour”. Its even made in Italy! (I can imagine them rolling their eyes at making this stuff for all those crazy Americans) Uncooked, it looks quite nice, like a beet colored pasta. It has an interesting shape I was not familiar with, “sedanini”, a ridged, curved long ziti type shape.

When I cooked this, well this gluten free pasta just didn’t do it for me. This could never replace pasta for me, but again I don’t have to be Gluten Free. I had made a nice meat sauce sauce to go with this, a kind of Ragu for the lentil pasta, and cooked it up a bit with some some sauce just as I would normally prepare regular pasta. When we ate the finished pasted with the sauce we both kept commenting on that it was just not the same as eating pasta. Honestly we didn’t really enjoy it due to the somewhat odd texture we found. It didn’t have the chew of pasta. It seemed to get kind a bit grainy or granular when chewed, not smooth like real pasta.

To top things, the GF pasta’s at TJ are a bit expensive as well. A 12 oz package goes for $3. This is about 2 to 3 times the cost of TJ’s extremely good “regular” pastas made with semolina flour.

So I wanted to like this but didn’t, as I don’t have to eat this. it was a choice. On the other hand, my “gluten free diet” wife, found it to be not great but OK as in it was kind of “acceptable” if you can’t eat normal pasta but you want to eat something like pasta. If you HAVE to be on a gluten free diet, then you may find it OK too. I can’t think this will fool anyone as an excellent substitute for real pasta. For me, its kind of fake pasta frankly. A knock off.

Still I will try some of the other gluten free pasta products TJ sells, and see if they work better than this one made from lentils. TJ does have a few gluten free pastas: a black bean ziti, and a spaghetti made from brown rice and lentils. So if you must be gluten free, try all three and see which you like best out of what they have to offer. So just saying if you must be gluten free, then there are a few choices. Everyone raves about the Cauliflower Gnocchi (frozen). Again I tried it. I found it pretty good, but I still prefer TJ’s regular gnocchi. If you don’t need to be GF, like me, I find regular pasta and related products are superior to any GF ones.

If you are not gluten free and want an excellent pasta, get TJ’s Organic Spaghetti or Ziti. That is excellent high quality pasta, made in Italy, and is the equal to top Italian import brands sold in the US for 3-6 times what TJ’s sells it for, $1.29 for 1 lb, which is an excellent value.

If you are GF then this may be OK for you with a lot of sauce.

 

Black Squid Ink Spaghetti (For Halloween!)


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Black Spaghetti!?!

I just saw this new offering on the pasta shelf at Trader Joe’s, and thought, hey, Halloween is coming… This black spaghetti might be fun to have on Halloween, right?

I plan to make this black squid ink pasta then with some seafood: either squid (with lots of tentacles) if I can find it and some other seafood like grilled shrimp, which would look orange!

Casa Milo Black Squid Ink Spaghetti

(ingredients: durum, semolina, squid ink)

Imported from Apulia, Italy $2

Will review after I make it. My wife suggested an orange side dish with it (sweet potato? butternut squash?)

Meanwhile… want to get some more ideas about what you might make with this stuff yourself for Halloween? Check out some of the pictures and links from this Google Search I did which will show you lots of images + recipes for “Black Halloween Pasta”! Many look fabulous. Have fun!

GOOGLE SEARCH RESULTS: BLACK HALLOWEEN PASTA


HERES WHAT I MADE FOR HALLOWEEN DINNER (a seafood pasta with squid and shrimp, garlic, olive oil, yellow peppers, cherry tomato….)