Whip Smart Kitchen

Recipes, methods & musings for the whip-smart home cook

Summer slow-cooker veggie lasagna

Slowcooker, Vegetarian, Italian, recipeLeannda CavalierComment

This post was originally published on my old blog. This version may contain minor edits and updates. The original is preserved at Recipe Repository

Making pasta the right way is an art.

Getting the perfect al dente bite. Building the flavors in your sauce for hours on the stove. It’s a process that’s been perfected, taught and argued over for years and years.

But you know what? Sometimes you just need to eat some freaking pasta right now.

Or perhaps you need it right when you get home from work/school/marathon/sockhop.

Two practical truths: 

  1. Compromising on traditional perfection is actually progress if it gets you fed in time to finish out your day and get some sleep. “Imperfect” homemade lasagna is much more healthful than making some “perfect” ramen.
  2. Sometimes pasta done the “wrong” way can be just as good as pasta done the “right” way.

I know. Burn.

I like authenticity as much as the next food-obsessed person, but there are days when you really just need a win. This is quick and easy victory that takes care of itself while you focus on everything else.

Considering the above, this lasagna is basically American Pharoah. 

It delivers on what I consider to be the true markers of a great lasagna: smooth, creamy ricotta layers; aromatic sauce with simple ingredients and complex flavors; plenty of gooey  mozarella; and above all a beautiful balance of acidity and richness. The vegetables make this summer dish surprisingly fresh and bright for both a lasagna and a slow-cooker meal. 

Another win: I consider this to be a pretty healthful meal. Lots of veggies, a good amount of protein and no added sugar. Pasta isn’t even so bad as long as you have it in moderation, as this meal encourages.

You know what else is pretty healthful? Using full-fat cheese. It tastes better, has a better texture AND guess what: eating fat isn’t what causes weight gain. 

Generally if something says fat-free or reduced-fat it actually means sugar and carbs have been added and THOSE are what make you gain weight. Backwards, right?

I’m gonna step down off that soap box and refer you both to Emily Schromm (so smart!) and the documentary “Fed Up” (on Netflix). I did Emily’s 21 Day Superhero Challenge in February. I’ve always been fascinated with food and nutrition and I learned a lot from her.

I also gained the ability to do push ups. It was a big deal.  Look her up after you read this!

Emily probably tell you not to eat the pasta though, so… I mean you could try sauteed eggplant slices instead?

Or eat the pasta. I triple-dog dare you.

Summer Slow-Cooker Veggie Lasagna

Serves 8-10

Special equipment:

  • 6-quart (or larger) slow-cooker
  • Apron or old t-shirt

Cheese Filling

Ingredients:

  • 16-oz container full-fat ricotta cheese
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 cup finely shredded parmesan cheese
  • 1 tsp Italian spices
  • ¼ cup minced shallots
  • 2 cups spinach or other baby greens, cut into thin ribbons
  • 1 small zucchini, quartered lengthwise and sliced thin
  • 2 cups finely chopped baby bella mushrooms or portabello mushrooms

Instructions:

  1. Combine ricotta, egg, shredded parmesan, Italian spices and shallots in a large mixing bowl.
  2. Stir in spinach, and mix until evenly distributed.
  3. Stir in zucchini and mushrooms until mixture is even.

Tomato Sauce

Ingredients:

  • 2 28-oz cans whole tomatoes, in juice, no salt added*
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed and minced
  • ¼ cup fresh basil, cut into thin ribbons
  • ½ tsp fresh rosemary, minced (or ¼ dried rosemary, crushed)
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions:

  1. Drain tomato juice into a large mixing bowl.
  2. Crush the tomatoes by hand using the following method:
    1. Wearing an apron** or other cover, hold tomato in the palm of your hand over the same mixing bowl, fingernails facing down.
    2. Carefully pierce the stem end of the tomato with your thumb and gently squeeze out as much juice as possible.
    3. Keeping your thumb in the center of the tomato, close your fingers around it and squeeze as hard as possible to crush the tomato’s flesh. It doesn’t matter whether the fibers fully separate.
  3. Repeat with all remaining tomatoes.
  4. Add garlic, basil and red pepper flakes, then stir to combine.
  5. Salt and pepper to taste (start with a pinch of each).

Lasagna Assembly

Ingredients:

  • Tomato sauce mixture
  • Cheese filling
  • 1 TBSP good quality extra virgin olive oil
  • 15 lasagna noodles (about 12 oz)
  • 4 ½ cups full-fat shredded Italian cheese blend or mozzarella, divided

Instructions:

  1. Pour olive oil in slow-cooker and use a brush or paper towel to coat the bottom and sides
  2. Pour 1 ½ cups tomato sauce mixture in and spread to cover the bottom evenly.
  3. Lay five noodles over the sauce mixture, breaking as needed to cover as much sauce as possible. I find laying them lengthwise and breaking to cover the corners works best.
  4. Carefully spoon half of the cheese filling over the noodles and spread to cover, packing it down firmly and cover with 1 ½ cups of the tomato sauce mixture.
  5. Sprinkle 1 ½ cup of the Italian cheese blend over the sauce evenly.
  6. Add another layer of noodles, cheese filling, sauce and Italian cheese blend.
  7. Add the last five noodles, and remaining sauce. Reserve last cup of Italian cheese blend in the refrigerator for serving.

The layer breakdown should look like this, going in order from the bottom to the top:

  • 1 ½ cups tomato sauce
  • 5 noodles
  • Half of the cheese filling
  • 1 ½ cups tomato sauce
  • 1 ½ cup shredded Italian cheese blend
  • 5 noodles
  • Half of the cheese filling
  • 1 ½ cups tomato sauce
  • 1 ½ cup shredded Italian cheese blend
  • 5 noodles
  • remaining sauce
  • (after finished cooking) 1 ½ cup shredded Italian cheese blend

9. Place lid on and cook on low for 4-6 hours OR on high for 2-3 hours.

10. Take the lid off and spread remaining shredded Italian cheese blend on top. Turn off heat, replace lid, and let sit for 45 minutes to allow the noodles to absorb the juices.***

11. Serve warm!

Notes:

*You can always use pre-crushed or diced canned tomatoes and skip the tomato-crushing step. I personally prefer the rustic and varied texture of hand-crushed tomatoes.

**Hand-crushing tomatoes is messy no matter how careful you are! Move anything you don’t want tomato splattered on at least four feet away.

***In the picture above you can see a small amount of cooking liquid around the edges of the lasagna. That’s from all the veggies, and it’s the result of not letting it rest for 45 minutes. It’s not pretty, but it’s delicious—plus, it means the noodles are more firm because they haven’t soaked all the liquid up. If you let it sit, the noodles absorb all that extra liquid, meaning less sits on the plate, and the layers are easier to keep together, more like a traditional lasagna. To me it’s a toss-up in terms of taste, but letting it rest is definitely more aesthetically pleasing in the end. 

This recipe is loosely adapted from an “Eating Well” slow-cooker vegetarian lasagna recipe, which you can find here