Crock Pot Pasta
Crock Pot Pasta is one of those recipes that makes me feel like I’ve got it all together. It has the epic comfort factor one expects from a giant dish of hearty, cheesy pasta. It’s lightened up, so you can feel good eating it on the regular (excellent news, as the leftovers are generous). The slow cooker makes the recipe prep easy-breezy, and its traditional Italian flavors rival pasta dishes I’ve ordered at restaurants.
This recipe 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.
I love to take these classic Italian dishes and give them a wholesome makeover, as I did with this Crock Pot Chicken Marsala. This pasta is lightened-up and better for you, but it keeps all the cheesy satisfaction. (If you love classic recipes with healthy swaps, you’ll love this Eggplant Lasagna too.)
Instead of the red meat usually chosen for baked pastas, I used a vegetarian base of sautéed mushrooms, bell peppers, and spinach. They sneak in servings of veggies, provide layers of flavor and texture, and make this pasta plenty satisfying, sans meat.
Best of all, this crock pot pasta recipe is simple to make, and it yields a large enough batch to feed a small household of Italian food–loving wolves. So, if you want crock pot pasta for a crowd, this is the recipe for you!
How to Make Pasta in a Crockpot
- Whole Wheat Pasta. One of the easiest ways to instantly make a pasta recipe healthier is to use a whole grain option instead of white. Whole grains are higher in fiber, protein, and nutrients. You won’t notice the difference. I used penne for this recipe, but you could use any kind you like.
- If you need to make this crock pot pasta gluten free, you could experiment with gluten free noodles in place of the whole wheat option. I have not done this, but some readers have reported trying the recipe this way with satisfactory results. Please note that gluten free noodles usually cook much faster than regular noodles, so be sure to check early.
- Cheese. This recipe uses the trifecta of ricotta, mozzarella, and Parmesan cheese (I used part-skim ricotta and mozzarella to keep it light). While the pasta cooks, the cheeses turn into a tantalizing triumph of melty, gooey, and creamy.
- Veggies. The key to a nutrient-dense and flavorful pasta. This recipe uses a delightful combination of mushrooms, red onion, red pepper, and spinach. While I love this crock pot pasta with spinach, I know spinach can be a controversial subject in some households, so it can be omitted if needed.
- Pasta Sauce. I used store-bought tomato pasta sauce for an easy shortcut. Pick one with minimal added sugars and a stand-out flavor. Roasted garlic is one of my go-tos.
You may have noticed that this recipe does not include any meat. For those of you who can’t imagine your crock pot pasta without meat, you can certainly still add it (crock pot pasta with ground beef or ground turkey would be delicious). I recommend browning the meat with the veggies before adding to the slow cooker.
This crock pot pasta recipe is simple to make. Only a few minutes of chopping, sautéing, and layering, then you can set the timer on the slow cooker and go about your day.
- First, grab a large nonstick skillet and heat over medium-high heat. Toss in your mushrooms and onions. Once they’re lightly browned and soft, remove them (about 6 minutes).
- Next, add your bell pepper, and cook for about 3 minutes before adding the garlic. Then, incorporate your spinach a few handfuls at a time. Stir until the spinach is wilted, and the garlic is fragrant (about 1 to 2 minutes). Remove from the heat, and set aside.
- Grab a medium-sized mixing bowl and combine together your ricotta, egg, salt, and pepper. Then, stir in 1/2 cup mozzarella and Parmesan.
- Generously coat the inside of your slow cooker with cooking spray. Time to layer! Spread a thin layer of sauce first, then top with half of your pasta. Next, pour in 2 more cups of sauce, and spread it into an even layer. Top with half of the ricotta mixture, then add half the vegetables.
- Repeat these layers once more. Then pour the remaining sauce over the top, and spread. Cover your slow cooker, and cook on low for 3 to 4 hours or on high for 1 to 2 hours. Check about 1 hour early to ensure pasta does not overcook.
- Once the pasta is tender, sprinkle remaining mozzarella cheese over the top. Replace the cover on the slow cooker, and turn heat to high until cheese is melted (about 5 to 10 minutes). Serve warm with fresh herbs, and enjoy each deliciously cheesy bite!
How to Store and Reheat Crock Pot Pasta
I love making this recipe in advance, freezing it, and enjoying the leftovers as I need a quick, tasty lunch or dinner. It reheats like a dream!
- To Store. Store cooked leftovers in an airtight storage container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
- To Freeze. Place cooked crockpot pasta in an airtight freezer-safe container in the freezer for up to 3 months.
- To Reheat. 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 until warmed through.
What to Serve With Crock Pot Pasta
While this crock pot pasta makes a wonderful meal all on its own, here are a few ideas of what to serve with it.
- Salad. Add some more fresh, leafy greens to your table by serving this recipe with Anytime Arugula Salad or Caesar Shaved Brussels Salad.
- Bread. This deliciously cheesy recipe begs to be sopped up with some Rosemary Olive Oil Bread or Crock Pot Bread.
- Chicken. If you’d like protein on the side, try serving the pasta with simply grilled chicken.
- Roasted Vegetables. Toss a pan in the oven towards the end of the pasta’s cooking time. Classic Roasted Brussels Sprouts, Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Garlic, Roasted Zucchini, and Roasted Potatoes and Carrots are all lovely choices.
Recommended Tools to Make Crock Pot Pasta
- Programmable Slow Cooker. This slow cooker switches to “keep warm” once the cooking time ends, so food is less likely to overcook.
- Sturdy non-slip cutting board. The best cutting board I’ve ever owned.
- Cheese grater. I like either a box grater like this or a microplane grater like this.
I know you’re going to love the ease and cheesy flavors of this delicious crock pot pasta. If you try the recipe, please let me know how it goes in the comments below! I love hearing from you!
Crock Pot Pasta
- 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 16 ounces sliced cremini baby bella mushrooms
- 1 small red onion - 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
- 15 ounces part-skim ricotta cheese - (1 container)
- 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 jars good-quality red pasta sauce - (24-ounce jars) 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 heat. 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.
- TO STORE: Store cooked leftovers in an airtight storage container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
- TO FREEZE: Place cooked crockpot pasta in an airtight freezer-safe container in the freezer for up to 3 months.
- TO REHEAT: 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 until warmed through.
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