Every once in a while, we non-cooking New Yorkers have the urge to make a home-cooked meal. For those rare moments, the Trader Joe’s frozen-food department is our Eataly. Aficionados know their way around it, plucking out the gyoza from the Asian section; chicken burritos from the Mexican; chana masala from the Indian bins next to it; Pizza Parlano from the stand-alone pizza freezer; Brussels sprouts from veggie row; and anything from my favorite cluster, Italian. Yes, of all the things to buy premade at Trader Joe’s, pasta in some ways makes the least sense (it’s a lot easier to boil some penne than make Thai shrimp fried rice from scratch). But there are some treasures to be defrosted here, namely, the fettuccine with mushroom sauce. (It’s not terribly surprising that Trader Joe’s Italian goods are so yummy: In a 2009 New York blind taste test, its 99-cent spaghetti beat out every competitor from Barilla to Martelli.) This dish, made with porcini mushrooms and cream, is essentially umami in a bag. But what elevates it from Lean Cuisine territory is its subtle flavor profile—parsley, chile, black pepper, garlic—and the super-fresh-tasting noodles. I have a little routine where I say, after finishing a bowl, “I could serve this at a dinner party, I really could,” to whoever’s listening. Now that the cat’s out of the bag, I won’t … but you can.
*This article appears in the November 10, 2014 issue of New York Magazine.