Crock pot pasta is the ultimate one pot meal. Cheesy and full of flavor. It is easily prepared in your slow cooker. I am all about baked pasta dishes this week! This adapted version of Italian classic baked penne is more healthy and less fatty, but still with that adorable cheesy taste!
- 2teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 16ounces sliced cremini baby bella mushrooms
- 1small red onion — or yellow onion, diced
- 1red bell pepper — cored and diced
- 5cups lightly packed fresh baby spinach — about 4 ounces
- 2cloves garlic — minced
- 15ounces part-skim ricotta cheese — (1 container)
- 1large egg
- 1/2teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2teaspoon black pepper
- 1 1/2cups shredded part-skim shredded mozzarella cheese — divided
- 1/2cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese — about 1 1/4 ounces
- 2jars good-quality red pasta sauce — (24-ounce jars) divided
- 16ounces 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.
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