Many people think that chefs like to cook at home (it's their passion, right?), but the truth is they're usually completely wiped out after a night over the stoves. So they know their way around packaged foods. One item that comes up again and again when you ask chefs about home cooking is the Four-Cheese Jumbo Ravioli from Trader Joe's. So we've compiled how-tos — they're not exactly recipes, just guidelines — for turning this plain pasta into something that will impress your snootiest guests. And those who just like good food. (The recipes all assume some cooking knowledge: you might have to Google a term or two. It'll be worth it.)
Vartan Abgaryan, 71Above: Seasonal roasted squash lasagna
“I’ve actually made this in the past with my sister. You take two boxes of Four-Cheese Jumbo Ravioli, and make a layer in the bottom of an oven-proof dish. Add a layer of sage-seasoned béchamel sauce, some grated Parmesan, and a layer of seasonal squash slices roasted with a drizzle of maple syrup and another layer of béchamel. Repeat until the dish is full, and finish off with a topping of béchamel and Parmesan. Put it into the oven at 350 for about 30 minutes, covered; then 15 minutes uncovered until the top is bubbly and browned. Serve with a nice fresh salad of bright or bitter greens, and you’ve got a dinner party star!”
Alison Trent, Ysabel Restaurant + Lounge: Ravioli in brodo, puffed wild rice Parmesan crisp, bird's-eye chili oil, garden herbs
“This dish looks much more complicated to make than it actually is, so it’s a good one for entertaining, with serious ‘wow’ factor from the Parmesan crisp and the herb garnishes.
Burnt Onion Broth
To prepare the broth I fortified blond chicken stock with roasted chicken bones, carrots, burnt onions, garlic, leeks and lots of aromatics. If using store-bought stock, use the best quality, low-sodium option as it will be reduced and could become salty. Simmer the stock slowly until happy with the flavor, skimming any fat from the surface. Strain the liquid through fine mesh and season appropriately. If you want more of a hearty dish, you could add vegetables to the broth. It is best to cook the ravioli in the broth.
Wild Rice Parmesan Crisp
Bring a small pot of peanut oil, filled halfway, to 400F. Carefully drop a tablespoon of raw wild rice into the oil. It should puff up right away. Remove onto paper towel with a slotted spoon. Other puffed grains or seeds would also work here. On a Silpat, grate Parmesan cheese with a microplane and sprinkle with puffed rice, bake at 350F for 10 minutes, and let cool.
Bird's-Eye Chili Oil
Take 10 fresh bird's-eye chilies and 1½ cups of canola oil. Blend on high for five minutes. Strain through fine mesh or cheesecloth. You'll splash this into the individual serving of the broth to taste. Start small.
Stephen Kalt, Spartina: Ravioli with bacon, radichio, cream and Parmigiano
“Every now and then, even I can be in a hurry to make something delicious and interesting for my wife and 14-year-old son when I have a night off from the restaurant. Trader Joe’s has a few staples that I’ll run in for, such as almond milk, tahini spread and dried apricots, but to my great surprise, they make a fresh packaged four-cheese ravioli that, if handled properly, can be the foundation of a great meal. At Spartina, I make six different kinds of fresh pasta every day, but sometimes we do need a hand at home. The beauty of Trader Joe’s ravioli is that it makes a great canvas on which to paint, or in this case, to build a delicious dinner. Just take a note and be careful when you remove the precooked ravioli from the package before you plunge it into salted boiling water. The ravioli have a tendency to stick to one another and can tear if not handled with care. It will take literally one minute in the boiling water to be ready to serve. Gently strain and place on a plate. Here, I’ve used bacon, radicchio and cream, with a touch of good Parmesan cheese and chopped chives. Cut a head of radicchio in half, then slice it lengthwise thinly (a julienne). Cut the bacon into ¼-inch strips and sauté in a skillet until it's just browned, not overly crisp and certainly not burnt. Keep the flame low and add 2 ounces of heavy cream and 2 tablespoons of pasta water. Add a small handful of the shredded radicchio and toss until just wilted. Add salt and pepper to taste and spoon the mixture over the cooked ravioli. Add some of the brightest part of the julienne radicchio as a garnish, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and some chives. And dinner is served.”
Margarita Kallas-Lee, Scratch Restaurants: Mac ’n’ cheese
“My husband makes the best mac 'n' cheese for Thanksgiving, so this recipe is definitely inspired by him. While the ravioli was defrosting, I made a basic béchamel sauce, but I added a bunch of ground black pepper, a few pinches of smoked paprika and a small pinch of cayenne. Right before the béchamel was done, I added grated sharp cheddar just until the sauce thickened up. As the béchamel was cooling, I took some cherry tomatoes and sliced them down the middle, set them to the side; I took grated Gruyère and grated sharp cheddar and mixed those together. Now that the ravioli are completely defrosted, I cut them in thirds so you kind of get a noodle out of the ravioli pieces. Then I began to layer everything in my baking dish (you can use any baking dish for this). Pour on the cooled béchamel, followed by the grated cheeses, then the ravioli pieces — and so on and so forth, however many layers you want. I like it super cheesy so I added a lot of grated cheese in the layers. The final layer should be béchamel and lots of cheese on top. Cover with tinfoil and bake until everything is super melted. Take it out of the oven to let it rest for about five minutes, then add more grated cheese and the sliced cherry tomatoes. Put it back in the oven without tinfoil and bake until the cheese is crispy and the tomatoes are roasty. I like some acid and freshness to balance out the cheesy goodness so I added a little salad on top — you can pretty much use any greens you want with a little olive oil, sea salt and lemon juice. I also added a few potato chips, because honestly who doesn’t want potato chips — it almost turns it into a dip.”