Friday, February 14, 2014

Slow Cooker Lasagna

  My favorite lasagna recipe of all time comes from a stain-splattered copy of Canadian Living's "Country Cooking" cookbook, and it is a masterpiece.  It's loaded with spicy Italian sausage and red peppers in the sauce and oodles of spinach in the unctuous bechamel.  Obscene quantities of cheese are a given.  It is delicious beyond words, and a guaranteed crowd pleaser. creates a mountain of dishes that would daunt the most enthusiastic of dishwashers (of which I am not one).  A pot for the noodles.  A pot for the tomato sauce.  Another for the bechamel.  And on and on.  Sadly, this is often a disincentive, and I opt to make something else rather than be forced to participate in my own ad for dish soap.

  Cue angelic chorus, friends, because an easier way has been discovered!  One large pot is all that's needed, and your Crock Pot.  Yes, you can (and should!) make lasagna in your Crock Pot.  I was as dubious as the next person, but have been converted.  And like most new converts, I will not rest until you, too, have experienced the same joy.

  I used a few recipes initially as jumping off points, and after a few attempts, have settled on a combination that exactly replicates the flavors of my favorite labor intensive dish.  This is a very adaptable recipe, and feel free to play around.  I used spinach, lasagna and red peppers, because that's what I love best.  If you're vegetarian, maybe a mushroom version would be up your alley, or eggplant (saute both prior to popping them in).  Ground beef, turkey or pork would all work well, too.  More veggies, different ones, whatever blows your skirt up!

  You can do this either on HIGH for 3 hours, or LOW for 6.  Either way works well (I've tried both), just factor into your planning that whichever you choose, you'll need to let the lasagna sit in the Crock Pot, covered, for an hour after it's done cooking.  This gives the sauce a chance to settle in, and prevents you from having a tasty, if sloppy, bowl of lasagna soup.

  It is a great thing to make when you wake up to see this...

 ...and realize that nope, you are NOT going to work, or anywhere else for that matter, for some time.

  • (2) 24 ounce jars or cans of Italian tomato sauce
  • 9 thick lasagna noodles with wavy edges (NOT "oven ready")
  • 24 ounces part-skim ricotta cheese OR cottage cheese
  • 1 lb hot Italian sausage
  • 2 boxes of frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
  • 1 large red pepper, seeded and diced
  • 2 cups shredded Mozzarella or Provolone cheese
  • Parmesan cheese for topping
  • Spray your Crock Pot with non-stick spray.
  • In a large saute pan, cook the sausage until it begins to brown and break up, then add your diced red pepper.  Continue cooking until the sausage is fully cooked, and the peppers are tender.  Add your jars of tomato sauce, and stir until combined and warmed through.
  • In the Crock Pot, put a thin layer of tomato sauce on the bottom of the pot (to keep things from sticking).  
  • Now start layering!  Break your lasagna noodles into halves (ball park, it's not at all necessary to be fussy) and place them in the Crock Pot in a single layer.  Cover the space the best you can, but don't sweat any gaps.  Dollop large spoonfuls of ricotta (1/3 of your container) over the noodles, and gently spread it evenly over the noodles.  On top of this, evenly distribute 1/3 of your spinach.  Next, pour or ladle 1/3 of your sauce on top of the spinach.  Sprinkle 1/3 of your shredded Mozzarella over the sauce.  Add another layer of noodles, and repeat for two more layers.  In the end, you will have three complete layers, ending with noodles.  Pour a thin layer of sauce over the top layer of noodles, and sprinkle on a handful of Parmesan.
  • Cover and cook on HIGH for 3 hours, or LOW for 5-6 hours.  At the end of the cooking time, turn the Crock Pot off, and let it sit for one hour prior to serving.  It will be a bit loose, but not soupy, and by the next day, will be completely firm.  
Note: This will result in a cheesy, gooey, lasagna, which is my preference.  If you covet the crunchy edges, however, popping the whole thing under the broiler (please make sure your Crock Pot can withstand this, first!) for a few minutes would brown and crisp the top up nicely.
Serves 6+, generously.