Crock Pot Pasta
You know your friendship with someone has reached the next level when you invite her over for leftover Crock Pot Pasta and she shows up 20 minutes later with a bottle of Prosecco and an appetite.
How do you feel about leftovers? For the most part, I am a super fan. You cook once, you eat more than once. What’s not to love? That said, I willingly acknowledge that, in any setting outside of a college dorm room, eating and enjoying someone else’s leftovers is a different story. That’s a special relationship and one that I am incredibly happy to have found the week that I made this Slow Cooker Baked Ziti.
A twist on baked ziti that’s made in the slow cooker, this recipe is easy, cheesy, and yields a large enough batch to feed a small household of Italian food–loving wolves. As delicious as the Crock Pot Pasta tasted, we needed all the help eating it we could find.
As it turns out, convincing friends to help you eat your way through a steaming crock pot of comforting, saucy pasta is not especially difficult, whether or not that pasta is leftover.
This Crock Pot Pasta was inspired by classic Italian baked pasta dishes such as baked penne and baked ziti. They’re generally served casserole-style and best known for their copious quantities of Bolognese sauce, cheese, more sauce, and more cheese. It’s the sort of dish you eat fully aware that it’s going to land you on the couch with a food coma, on a night when that is exactly the sort of comfort you are seeking.
This Crock Pot Pasta recipe is my lighter interpretation of that old-school baked pasta comfort. It keeps all of the cheesy satisfaction, but a few simple swaps make it healthier for you.
Instead of the red meat usually chosen for baked pastas, I used a vegetarian base of sautéed mushrooms, bell peppers, and spinach. They add extra servings of veggies, yummy flavor and texture, and make the pasta plenty satisfying, sans meat.
For those of you gearing up for Lent today, this vegetarian crock pot pasta is a great one to keep on file. For those of you who can’t imagine your baked pasta without meat, you can certainly still add it (I’d recommend cooked ground chicken or turkey).
Instead of white pasta, I used the more fiber-rich whole wheat, and I opted for lower-fat ricotta and mozzarella cheese in place of whole. After trying this recipe with the lower-fat dairy and seeing just how creamy and rich it still tasted, I honestly feel like full-fat would be too rich. Try both swaps (the whole wheat pasta and the low-fat dairy) and see if you agree!
The prep for this Crock Pot Pasta could not be easier. Simply layer the different ingredients one after the other in the slow cooker, cover, and let cook. The dollops of ricotta melt and coat every noodle, making the pasta irresistibly creamy, and the pasta itself cooks right in the sauce. I used penne noodles, but you can use ziti, rigatoni, or really any shape you like.
We do still have one last container of Crock Pot Pasta waiting quietly in the freezer drawer, and I think tonight is the night to take it out and indulge in a little leftover love. After waking up painfully early to catch a flight home from Sacramento over the weekend (memo to self: never book a flight that causes you to leave your hotel at 4 a.m.), then staying up imprudently late working the past two nights, my fumes are burning lower than usual today. A cozy serving of healthy comfort food like this slow cooker pasta will do my spirit (and my stomach) some real good, and I know it will yours too!
Tools I used to make this recipe:
Crock Pot Pasta
This crock pot pasta tastes like traditional baked pasta but is made entirely in the slow cooker, even the noodles. So much easier and just as delicious!
Yield: 6 servings
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour, 20 minutes (on high); 3 hours, 20 minutes (on low)
Total Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes (on high); 3 hours, 30 minutes (on low)
- 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 16 ounces sliced cremini (baby bella) mushrooms
- 1 small red or yellow onion, diced
- 1 red bell pepper, cored and diced
- 5 cups lightly packed fresh baby spinach (about 4 ounces)
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 (15-ounce) container part-skim ricotta cheese
- 1 large egg
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 1/2 cups shredded part-skim shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (about 1 1/4 ounces)
- 2 (24-ounce) jars good-quality red pasta sauce, divided
- 16 ounces uncooked whole wheat ziti or penne noodles (or swap a similar short, hollow noodle—see notes if not using whole wheat)
- Chopped fresh basil or parsley, optional for serving
- Heat the olive oil in large nonstick skillet over medium high. Once hot, add the mushrooms and onions and sauté until they’re beginning to brown and soften, about 6 minutes. Add the bell pepper and cook for 3 minutes, then add the garlic. Add the spinach a few handfuls at a time, stirring and cooking until spinach wilts and the garlic smells fragrant, 1 to 2 additional minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.
- In a medium bowl, combine the ricotta, egg, salt, and pepper, until combined. Stir in 1/2 cup mozzarella and Parmesan.
- Generously coat the inside of a 4-quart or larger slow cooker with cooking spray. Spread a thin layer of sauce on the bottom, then top with half of the pasta noodles. Pour 2 cups sauce over the top and spread it into an even layer with the back of a spoon or spatula. Dollop half of the ricotta mixture on top, then sprinkle with half of the sautéed vegetables.
- Repeat the layers: remaining noodles, 2 cups of sauce, remaining ricotta, and remaining vegetables. Pour the remaining sauce on top and spread evenly. Cover and cook on low for 3 to 4 hours or on high for 1 to 2 hours. Check at the 3 (on low) or 1 (on high) hour mark to ensure the pasta does not over cook. To check for doneness, use a fork to pull a “test” noodle from the center of the slow cooker. Once it is tender, the pasta is done.
- Sprinkle the top with the remaining 1 cup mozzarella cheese. Cover, turn the heat to high, and cook until the cheese is melted, 5 to 10 minutes. Serve warm, topped with chopped fresh basil or parsley.
- I have only tested this recipe with whole wheat pasta noodles. If you use white, please note that the cooking time may vary. I would suggest checking the pasta early, as white noodles can cook more quickly than whole wheat ones.
- Store leftovers in the refrigerator for up to 5 days or freeze for up to 3 months. Let thaw overnight in the refrigerator. Reheat servings gently in the microwave, splashed with a bit of chicken or vegetable broth, water, or extra sauce to keep it from drying out. You could also try reheating it in a casserole dish, covered, in a 350 degree F oven.
Serving Size: 1 (of 6)
- Amount Per Serving:
- Calories: 577 Calories
- Total Fat: 19g
- Saturated Fat: 9g
- Cholesterol: 79mg
- Sodium: 1249mg
- Carbohydrates: 76g
- Fiber: 12g
- Sugar: 18g
- Protein: 36g