Enter Alton Brown and his “Good Eats” cookbooks. In the third volume of said cookbook, Alton has a recipe for slow cooker lasagna that fit the bill perfectly. While my dish tonight isn’t a duplicate of his recipe, it is heavily inspired by his ingenuity. So, hat tip to Mr. Brown and his ingenious method of taking a time intensive dish and making it weeknight friendly. Let’s get cooking!
The Recipe: Slow Cooker Lasagna
Original Recipe Found In: Good Eats 3
What You’ll Need
1 LB No Boil Lasagna Noodles*
1 LB Ground Hamburger (lean – 93/7 or 90/10)
1 LB Ground Pork
2 Cups Low Fat Mozzarella Cheese (Shredded)
1 Large Zucchini, Sliced Thin
14 Ounces, Canned Diced Tomatoes
*We profiled no boil pasta a while ago HERE – give it a look if you’re wondering how exactly this incredible little ingredient works. For our purposes, no boil noodles are perfect as we can cut out all the prep time of preparing the pasta and move right on to building the dish.
Begin by filling a rimmed backing sheet ¾ full of hot water. Lay around 4 or 5 lasagna noodles on the tray in the warm water for about 10 minutes to allow them to soften. We need to surround the edges of the slow cooker with a pasta shell, and since dried pasta isn’t exactly known for its flexibility – we have to soften it up first.
While the pasta is soaking, give your slow cooker a light spray of cooking oil (alternatively, you can rub it with a olive oil covered paper towel) – this just ensures that the pasta wont stick to the sides of the slow cooker while cooking.
After about 10 minutes, your pasta should be nice and pliable. Set the pieces horizontally in the bottom of the slow cooker and line the walls (essentially creating a well of noodles) – see the picture below for reference.
Now you can begin building your lasagna. Just like a standard lasagna recipe, we’re going to be working in layers. Begin by spreading a thin layer of the diced tomatoes on the bottom of the slow cooker. Cover this layer with a layer of lasagna noodles. (You can cross them in an ‘X’ pattern or lay them lengthwise across – just try to cover the entire layer below. If you have gaps, break one noodle into smaller pieces and use the pieces to cover any smaller cracks.)
Add another light layer of diced tomatoes on top of the noodles, then scoop in healthy portion of the ground pork and ground beef. I found it was easier to brown the pork and beef the night before and store them both in the same bowl. This way you can simply scoop from one dish and the meat will already be lightly mixed.
Top the meat layer with a few generous pinches of Italian seasoning. Next, add a layer of the sliced zucchini.
Zucchini may seem like an odd companion to lasagna, but our past cooking experiences with pasta have found that this little green veggie coexists quite well with meat/cheese/tomato sauce dishes. The fresh flavor and bright color of the zucchini also helps balance out the otherwise heavy flavors of traditional lasagna.
Top the zucchini layer with a layer of cheese and then repeat the process from the beginning. A layer of lasagna noodles, tomatoes, meat, seasoning, zucchini, cheese, noodles – etc. until you’ve either reached the top of your noodle wall (the noodles you lined the slow cooker with in the first step) or until you’ve run out of ingredients (just be sure to reserve enough noodles and cheese to make a top layer). You can everything a light push from time to time to compact ingredients if you’re slow cooker is filling up fast.
Once you’ve filled the slow cooker to where you’d like it, top everything with one last layer of noodles and top the noodles with another sprinkling of cheese and a pinch of Italian seasoning.
Place the lid on your slow cooker and set it to low. Allow the lasagna to cook for 3 to 5 hours before serving.
You may be wondering – “How will the noodles cook without any extra liquid added to the pot?” the answer lies in two places – the natural fat of the meat and the moisture in the tomatoes. As the meat cooks, the fat is going to liquefy, adding moisture to the pot. Likewise, the natural juices of the tomatoes will cook out as they heat up. This moisture will vaporize, rise to the top of the pot and then hit the lid, condense and fall back into the slow cooker, this process – extended over the period of 5 hours or so, will be enough moisture to effectively “boil” the lasagna.
One last tip: If you’re finding a lot of fat and grease at the top of your lasagna (this is likely as the fat from the meat and oils from the cheese will likely have made their way to the top by the end of cooking) you can use a pot lid to make things better.
Grab a lid with a lip and press it down on the lasagna. The lasagna will crush / condense, and the liquid on top will fall into the pan lid – but be contained by the lip. This achieves two great things – it compacts the lasagna for easier serving and it removes all that extra fat and oil that you didn’t need anyway.
NOTE: It's a little hard to dish this up in a 'presentable' way - serving in a bowl is probably your best bet as the lasagna sort of...falls apart, one you scoop it out. Just because it doesn't look pretty doesn't mean it won't still taste great!
|I tried to get a nice shot of the layers since it didn't hold up upon exiting the slow cooker|
This dish packs all the flavor of homemade, oven roasted lasagna without all of the fuss of the standard recipe. The meat mixture, seasoned and surrounded by gooey cheese and a light layer of tomatoes simply shines with great flavor. It should be noted – I like a drier style of lasagna and I’m not a big fan of tomato flavors, so I went really light on the tomato aspect of this recipe. If you’re a fan of sloppy “loose” lasagna or if you just like tomato flavors, I’d add a can of tomato sauce or an additional can of diced tomatoes to the mix.
That’s all we have for you this week, we’re back next week with more new recipes and culinary adventures. Until then,