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.

This Easy Crock Pot Pasta is the perfect dinner a busy night! Healthy, no cooking, and the slow cooker does the work. Vegetarian version made with mushrooms, spinach, and whole wheat penne noodles. Recipe at wellplated.com | @wellplated

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.

Crock Pot Pasta — all the cheesy comfort of traditional baked pasta recipes, but the slow cooker makes it EASY! Healthy vegetarian version made with whole wheat penne noodles. Recipe at wellplated.com | @wellplated

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.

Crock Pot Pasta — a slow cooker baked ziti that your whole family will love! EASY, minimal prep, and healthy! We kept it vegetarian, but you could add chicken if you like. Recipe at wellplated.com | @wellplated

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).

Crock Pot Pasta with Spinach, Mushrooms, and Ricotta. A slow cooker penne that tastes just like traditional baked pasta recipes, but is easy to make and healthy too! Everything cooks right in the crockpot, even the noodles! Recipe at wellplated.com | @wellplated

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!

Crock Pot Pasta — the perfect dinner for a busy night! Easy, healthy, and the slow cooker does the work. Taste just like traditional baked penne, but is so much easier. Healthy, vegetarian recipe that our whole family loved. Recipe at wellplated.com | @wellplated

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.

This easy Crock Pot Pasta tastes just like regular baked pasta dishes like baked penne and baked ziti, but is so easy! Healthy vegetarian version of everyone’s favorite comfort food. The slow cooker does the work! Recipe at wellplated.com | @wellplated

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!

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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)

Ingredients:

  • 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

Directions:

  1. 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.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine the ricotta, egg, salt, and pepper, until combined. Stir in 1/2 cup mozzarella and Parmesan.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
All images and text ©/Well Plated.

Nutrition Information

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

Did you try this recipe? I want to see! Follow Well Plated on Instagram, snap a photo, and tag it #wellplated. I love to know what you are making!

About Erin Clarke

I’m fearlessly dedicated to making healthy food taste incredible. Wearer of plaid, travel enthusiast, and firmly convinced that sweets and veggies both deserve a place at the table. MORE ABOUT ERIN…

21 comments

  1. Thanks so much for this recipe! It’s just my husband and I so I will print out for when we have guests! A crockpot of this and a crockpot of my meatballs will make everyone happy.

  2. hey girl- this looks amazing! Yummy!

  3. Made this for a work party. Huge hit. Perfect dish to bring in that is ready by mid-day for the office. Vegetarian dish that even the meat-lovers enjoyed! Only complaint……no leftovers to bring home tonight for the hubby!!

    Rating: 5
    • Woohoo! Thanks so much for trying out the recipe, Peg! You’ll have to make another batch for leftovers… ;)

  4. I’m sorry but unfortunately this was not one of my favorite recipes out of the wonderful ones I have made of yours. I’ve never cooked pasta in a crock pot before and the texture wasn’t  the “al dente” texture that I love with pasta. I used Bionature whole wheat pasta that Americas Test Kitchen rates the best and have used for years but it never got the texture that I desire. The whole thing ended up being more mushy because the pasts was hard then gummy right before it got too soft. Maybe a different whole wheat pasta would be better but I wouldn’t chance it again with the pasta texture. I  ended up throwing the whole thing in the garbage but I guess one in all the great successful ones I’ve made isn’t too bad.

    Rating: 0.5
    • Hi Marie, I’m so sorry to hear the recipe didn’t turn out for you. It sounds like the pasta was overcooked if it was mushy. Everyone’s slow cooker is different, and the recipe can also cook faster or slower depending on the size of your slow cooker, so it’s hard to know what might have happened. I know it’s disappointing to try a new recipe and not have it turn out, so I truly wish you would have loved this one.

  5. Took a chance on this tonight after reading mixed reviews and it got two thumbs up from our entire family, including my picky husband! We’ve been trying to eat more meatless meals, and this one is going to be a regular. I love how easy it is to throw everything in the crock pot. Next time, I’m even giong to prep the veggies the night before so it’s even faster. Thank you for a great recipe!

    Rating: 5
    • Donna, I’m so happy to hear this recipe was a winner for your family! Prepping the veggies ahead is an excellent idea. Thank you for taking the time to share your feedback on the recipe!

  6. I made this the other night with the whole wheat penne as suggested and it turned out great. It did take around 2 hours on high for my crock pot but understand that can vary between models. This recipe was easy and I would make it again. Thank you.

    Rating: 5
    • Renee, thanks so much for giving the recipe a try and taking the time to leave your feedback and this great review! I’m so glad you enjoyed the recipe!

  7.  This recipe was absolutely amazing! All the flavors came together so perfectly. I watched the crockpot during the last hour, and stopped the process as soon as the pasta reached and almost Al dente state. I cannot praise recipe enough.   Healthy  ! And it feeds an army.  I am going to freeze half of it next time as you suggested. Will make great quick lunches for work. Thank you, Erin. 

    Rating: 5
    • YAY Toni! I’m excited to hear that the recipe was a hit! Thank you so much for trying it out and sharing your feedback!

  8. Hi there! I’d like to try this, though I’m curious to know if you’ve experimented with not sauteeing the veggies first and just throwing in the slow cooker raw, tossed with EVOO? Thanks!

    • Hi Janine, I wouldn’t recommend putting the veggies in raw, because when they’re sautéed they release some liquid, which helps keep the pasta from getting too soggy in the slow cooker. I know that’s probably not the answer you were hoping for, but I want the recipe to turn out for you! I hope you enjoy it!

  9. What about using gluten free penne noodles?

    • Hi K.D., I have only tested this recipe with whole wheat pasta noodles, so if you want to experiment with using GF noodles, know that the time and texture could be different. I would suggest checking the pasta early, as GF noodles may cook more quickly than whole wheat ones. I’d love to know how it comes out if you decide to experiment!

  10. Would it be possible to cook the veggies the night before?

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