Tender-Crispy Artichoke Hearts


Here’s a favorite recipe that appears on our table year after year (sometimes week after week). I love it so much it’s included in my recently released cookbook, The Easy Italian Cookbook. But here it is for you!

I prefer Trader Joe brand frozen artichoke hearts, thawed, and patted dry. And a lot of supermarkets carry frozen artichoke hearts. Frozen plain hearts are better for this recipe than canned. Canned has a lot of acidity and that affects the flavor.


Season about a half-cup of AP flour with salt and pepper (tip: sometimes I use self-rising flour for this — it’s my mom’s choice — and I think it somehow seals the little package more).



Beat 2 eggs in a bowl with some salt. Dredge arties in flour, dip in egg, sauté till golden on each side in some olive oil. Drain on paper towels, salt again. Yum!

Crispy-Tender Artichoke Hearts

12 ounces frozen artichoke hearts, thawed and patted dry

1/2 cup flour, seasoned with salt and pepper

2 eggs, lightly beaten

3-4 tablespoons olive oil

Salt to taste

Heat the oil in a medium skillet. Toss artichoke hearts in the seasoned flour. Remove one by one shaking off excess, dip in the egg to coat, then fry in oil. Cook until golden on each side, about 2-3 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels. Lightly salt.



What I Buy at Trader Joe’s – Part 2

Oh, this list can go on forever, but I’ll try to fill in the blanks little by little, each time with a new list of goodies. I have fun at Trader Joe’s. I have fun at supermarkets period. At farmer’s markets. At Costco. At foreign supermarkets, outdoor markets, little food stores. Seeing food on display, deciding what you want, imagining recipes, discovering new products, sampling, happy to see the season’s new crops…I love all of that. It’s my idea of a good time.

New List of My Trader Joe’s Favs:

Fresh Artichokes – 4 medium artichokes to a pack – cheap money

Fresh Artichokes at Trader Joe's

Fresh Artichokes at Trader Joe’s

I am an artichoke junkie. I love the Italian word for artichokes: carciofi. Finding fresh ones, consistently, that aren’t the size of tractor trailers, that are human-sized, that you can cook up in the many ways I love to cook them (here’s one recipe), is sometimes the equivalent of obtaining the Holy Grail (yes, I exaggerate). But these are gold-like to me. And TJ’s is the only place where the packages are stacked high and easy to buy. I grew up eating them “Italian-style” then shared an apartment on LI with a California friend (hello, Castroville, CA, American capital of artichoke growing) and learned her way of eating them and then we came up with a recipe we both adored: boil or steam them till the heart is tender. Make a dip of mayo, lemon juice and soy sauce. Umami-central.

Olives (Picholine)

Trader Joe's Picholine Olives

Trader Joe’s Picholine Olives

Trader Joe’s has 3 different olives that I love. Picholine is one of them. Perfect acidity, soft but al dente, goes with ANYTHING. My other favs are their pitted Kalamata and the green Jaques Lucques olives–oh, yum.

Red Argentinian Shrimp

Trader Joe's Argentine Shrimp

Trader Joe’s Argentinian Shrimp

These are in the freezer section. Raw, shelled. And are not always available. They SELL OUT. Something unusual about this shrimp. They are pink while raw, and they are soft when cooked. It’s an odd, pleasant, and luxurious sensation to bite into one, like you’ve been invited to the high gourmand table.

Trader Joe’s Italian Shelled Fava Beans

Trader Joe's Frozen Fava Beans

Trader Joe’s Frozen Fava Beans

This product is a boon to mankind. How often do you run across fresh fava beans? I do, sometimes. Sometimes in the regular supermarket. More often in the Asian market. But not always. THESE are out of their pods, but still in their individual shells. I just discovered them in TJ’s freezer section last month. LOVE. I give them a quick blanche, then peel each shell away to reveal that startling green lovely, so lovely, fava bean. My fav recipe: Sauté some sliced onion and diced pancetta in some olive oil. Add beans, add a bit of wine. Cook for just 5 minutes or so (TJ’s are young beans, so don’t need to cook too long). Add some salt. LOVE this.

Walnuts, Halves & Pieces

Trader Joe's Walnuts Halves & Pieces

Trader Joe’s Walnuts Halves & Pieces

So when I usually buy walnuts they are whole. Supposedly, that’s preferred. If you’re snacking on them I’m sure that whole is more satisfying. But if you’re cooking, I end up breaking them between my fingers (since on a board with a knife they tend to have a flight life all their own). Trader Joe’s sells them broken. TJ’s nut department– no, not the employees — nor the shoppers — but the nuts as in walnuts, pecans, pine nuts, cashews, peanuts, almonds is EXTENSIVE. It’s a pleasure just to peruse the shelves and marvel at the variety. Yes, you can get whole walnuts, but I like these broken ones…ready to go. Same with pecans, whole or broken, candied or salted, raw or roasted. And the list goes on…leaving an irresistible trail for you to follow …nibbling all the way.

Unsweetened Cocoa Powder

Trader Joe's Cocoa Powder

Trader Joe’s Cocoa Powder

I love this package. And I love this cocoa. What more could you want?

Blood Oranges (when they have them)

Trader Joe's Blood Oranges

Trader Joe’s Blood Oranges

I almost fainted when I saw this bag of blood oranges at Trader Joe’s this past January. They’re a rare commodity. They aren’t there now. But you never know. And that’s the thing about Trader Joe’s. They come up with seasonal stuff. (Like a 2-foot branch of Brussels sprouts. And their burnt-around-the edges-but yummy matzoh crackers only in around Passover.) And then it’s gone. Grab it when you can. These blood oranges are so delicious, not as sweet as “orange” oranges, but the tartness elevates the flavor. They’re so pretty and remind me of my student days in Rome. My other fav TJ’s orange is the Cara Cara.

That’s it for now. Stay tuned for Part 3. Because there’s always something cool to get at TJ’s. Don’t be shy about trying stuff. You will likely not go wrong. (They ain’t paying me for this.) (Maybe they should!) 🙂

TJ's Blood Oranges

TJ’s Blood Oranges

What I Buy at Trader Joe’s – Part 1

You knew there would have to be parts to this story. No way you can list all that you get at Trader Joe’s in one sitting. Not only is the list long, but you’re bound to forget something.

Trader Joe’s is not my only go-to shopping food store. Publix is, really. But there are things at Trader Joe’s that you can’t get anywhere else. Well, you can (say, olive oil), but it’s not the same (olive oil).

When I picture myself shopping there I see a fast-moving bee-like dance bouncing from this shelf and that aisle like a fast-moving pinball game. If you see me there you might hear the pings and bells in my wake (watch out– full tilt is possible).

I anticipate my entrance. I know what I’m gonna see first. Bouquets and bouquets of flowers. From $3.99 or $5.99 or somewhere in that price vicinity you can go home with an armful of flowers and beam every time you pass the dining table or the kitchen counter or the bedroom dresser for the rest of the week.

My gotta-go-to areas: produce, cheese, frozen foods, aisle of olives-spices-beans-pasta-rice-oil, nuts & dried fruit (including popcorn, but more on that next time…I’m in a spell of not eating popcorn because so many people I know are breaking teeth on crunchy things and having high dental bills. I’ll wait till the scare passes to buy again Trader Joe’s (popped in) Olive Oil Popcorn…picture to follow eventually).

But here’s a typical $3.99 Trader Joe’s bouquet.

Trader Joe Flowers

Trader Joe Flowers

Why these flowers are in a boot is a long story. Maybe another time…

Here’s a fav frozen food section item: artichoke hearts:

Trader Joe Artichoke Hearts

Trader Joe Artichoke Hearts

These FAR surpass anything you’ll get in a jar or a can. (Except the whole, chargrilled kind you find at counters in Italian supermarkets (in Italy) or sometimes here, too, but usually imported.) These are unflavored (not even that weird acidic taste that canned ones have). So you can do what you will with them. I usually…

RECIPE: Defrost and dry them with paper towels. Dredge them in seasoned flour. Shake off excess. Dip in beaten eggs and fry in a little oil until golden on each side. Try that. You will be FLOORED.

Also in the frozen food aisle: Shrimp Gyoza (Pot Stickers)

Shrimp Pot Stickers

Shrimp Pot Stickers

For the longest time I refused to use the name “pot stickers”…I mean who made that up? Somebody having trouble making dumplings and they stuck to the pot? No reason for these to stick to a pot. Dumplings is a much friendlier (and appetizing) word. (Likewise, if I may mention one of my HUGE pet peeves when it comes to talking about food: “wash it down with____soda, wine, beer” WASH it down? I cannot hear that phrase without imaging the taste of soap. WHO “washes down” their food with a beverage? Extremely ICK.)

If you follow the directions on this package of Trader Joe’s Thai Shrimp Gyoza you will get perfect dumplings and no sticking. I make a dipping sauce of soy sauce and sweet chili sauce mixed together (maybe with a squirt of sriracha). It’s meal in a minute with transport-you-far-away exotic flavor.

These little guys hang on posts here and there throughout the store: sun-dried tomatoes:

Trader Joe's Sun-Dried Tomatoes

Trader Joe’s Sun-Dried Tomatoes

I like these because they are NOT sott’olio which gives them a nice clean taste ready for anything you WANT to add. (You never know what a manufacturer’s oil is gonna taste like, and then they add other flavors you may not want plus some ingredients you can’t pronounce because they have to preserve what they put in the jar.) Ever have sun-dried tomato pesto?

RECIPE: In the bowl of a food processor add a package of sun-dried tomatoes, a garlic clove (peeled & coarsely chopped), a handful of favorite fresh herbs like basil, mint, oregano, and/or sage. Pulse till minced. Add some olive oil (1/4 cup?), salt & pepper. Pulse to smooth. Boil your pasta (capellini, spaghetti, or fettuccine might be nice). Place your pesto in the serving bowl and add a couple of spoonfuls of the pasta water (has pasta starch and salt and is a great “ingredient”) to loosen the pesto and make it more “sauce-y” then add your cooked pasta. Toss to coat. Sprinkle with grated parmigiano. Oh. So. Good.

And when I say olive oil, I mean this: I’ve used Trader Joe’s President’s Reserve Extra Virgin Olive oil for years. I use it for everything: frying, sautéing, salads, even a little deep frying (a little…an inch or two in a small pot to just fry up small things like little arancini, small chocolate mini-pies, sage leaves, impromptu tiny zeppoles…nothing large or long-frying with olive oil). I love this oil. I’ve tried others and come back. And for $6.99 a liter it’s a great buy (plus it’s a product of Italy).

Trader Joe's President's Reserve Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Trader Joe’s President’s Reserve Extra Virgin Olive Oil

That’s just the beginning. There’s oh-so-much more. Stay tuned to future notices about my Trader Joe’s favs.

And in the meantime — let me know YOURS!


Amaretti Almond Cake w Lemon Glaze Recipe

Amaretti Almond Cake

Amaretti Almond Cake

This cake is a spinoff from another cake that I love. I was inspired by the spiced sliced almonds that my mom gave me. She got a bag of them in Trader Joe’s and split them with me. I stared at the ziplock bag with slivered spiced almonds for a week or more. They tasted great on their own but they begged to be included in something bigger. Something more elaborate. Something to make the SHINE. So I came up with this cake, tweaking and altering that other cake that used pinoli nuts and oranges.

Italians love almonds. This cake has almond paste, too. And amaretti cookies, which have almond in them, too. AND I’ve added some almond extract to the recipe. It’s a very fragrant and moist cake. The lemon glaze gives it a fun lift.

3 cups amaretti cookies

13 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided (plus a  little more to butter pan)

1 can almond paste (8 oz)

1 cup sugar

3 large eggs

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

1 cup flour

1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

pinch salt

blanched slivered almonds, toasted w a little spice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Amaretti Cookies

Amaretti Cookies

Put the amaretti cookies in the food processor and pulse until they are as fine as bread crumb. Melt 5 tablespoons of the butter. Mix melted butter and cookie crumbs together.

Butter & Amaretti Crumbs

Butter & Amaretti Crumbs

Lightly butter a 9-inch spring form pan. Spread the cookie-butter mixture evenly on the bottom and bake for about 10 minutes until poofy. Take out of oven.

In a stand mixer with paddle attachment, combine remaining 8 tablespoons of butter, sugar, and almond paste. Mix until smooth. Add the eggs one at a time until well incorporated. Add the extracts. In another bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Pour all into batter and mix until just combined.

Pour batter into pan on top of baked cookie bottom and smooth level. Sprinkle with slivered almonds. If you don’t have spiced almonds, plain sliced almonds works as well.

Almond Cake in Oven

Almond Cake Going into Oven

Bake for about 40 minutes until golden and a toothpick stuck in the middle comes out clean. Let cool a bit in the pan. When it’s cool enough (but still a little warm), run a knife along the sides to make sure the cake isn’t sticking, then remove the sides of the spring-form pan. Make the glaze.

For the Glaze:

Zest and juice of 3 small lemons

1/2 cup powdered sugar

In a small saucepan, heat & mix the zest, juice and sugar until the sugar melts. Spoon glaze on top of cake (spoon some along the edge so that it drips off to the sides, too). Let cool. Cut and serve.

Mmmm. That's good.

Mmmm. That’s good.