The Best Trader Joe’s Freezer Find You’ve Been Overlooking
We’ve all seen (and probably participated in) the debates about the very best thing to get from the frozen section of Trader Joe’s. Mini cheesecake cones? Sweet potato gnocchi? The Mandarin orange chicken?All good, sure, but I’d sacrifice any of them for my favorite under-the-radar TJ’s frozen darling: the artichoke hearts. I know, I know, you’re probably rolling your eyes at my pick. Please hear me out. They are manna from heaven, thistle edition (yup, artichokes are the giant buds of a thistle!) and the absolute best way to consume artichokes (aka, one of the most delicious and time-consuming vegetables to prep at home).
As a native Californian, I grew up on fresh artichokes, which my mom often steamed for a yummy side dish — one that brings with it an elaborate eating ritual of dissection. (My mom was the best I’ve ever seen at scraping a tender artichoke heart off the tough leaf.) I still enjoy a steamed whole artichoke these days, but one of my favorite food memories comes from my first trip to Rome, where I ordered fried artichokes. Browned and crispy, unsullied by any batter, they were the best vegetables I’d ever eaten.
I’ve long wanted to recreate their flavor at home, but the labor of trimming fresh artichokes is too much for me. I shudder thinking of dealing with artichokes in my days working in a test kitchen: the bitter black juices staining my hands, the pokes from thorns, the endless hours cutting through the tough leaves and dropping the trimmed bits in water to prevent browning, only to end up with a shockingly small amount to cook.
Marinated and canned artichokes are an option, sure, but to me they don’t taste much like the fresh vegetable. Pale yellow canned artichoke hearts mask the delicate flavor of this odd but savory thistle with citric acid, as do most frozen bags out there. The Trader Joe’s bags, however, miraculously taste of the real thing. They’re wonderful in a hearty braise with chicken, lemon, and green olives or a classic vegetarian chickpea and artichoke hearts stew, turned into a creamy soup, or in a classic spinach and artichoke dip. Try sautéing them until lightly browned before improvising a veggie-rich pasta sauce with, say, leeks and crispy breadcrumbs, or using them as a pizza topping.
These unassuming little grayish flavor bombs contain a lot of liquid, so I haven’t quite been brave enough to drop them in hot oil for fried artichokes alla Romana (the moisture content wouldn’t mix well with hot oil). I’ve found, though, that I can approximate that deeply browned flavor and crunch by thawing them, patting dry, and roasting in a very hot oven with olive oil and salt. In fact, I’ve been known to eat a whole bag of them this way for lunch. At just $3.29 for a 12-ounce bag, this Trader Joe’s find is only a few cents more than a single fresh artichoke and takes way less time to prep.
Have you tried the frozen artichokes at Trader Joe’s? What’d you think?