The Key To Slow Cooked Lasagna With No Overcooked Noodles

Making lasagna the traditional way may result in a visually striking dish with stratified layers, but it is undoubtedly a pain in the rear to spend all the time necessary to put it together. Shortcut recipes are always a handy trick to have stashed in your chef's toque, however (all that height's got to be good for something), so we asked Mashed recipe developer Jason Goldstein to give it his best shot. His time-saving trick is to make use of an appliance he refers to as "your personal chef": the crockpot, aka slow cooker.

You might expect that any pasta dish that's been simmered for hours at a time rather than baked would have super-mushy noodles, but that isn't the case with this slow-cooker lasagna. The reason for this is that Goldstein doesn't pre-boil them, but rather, adds them in their uncooked state. This may mean that you'll have to break them into pieces in order to get them to fit, but that's okay. The lasagna will still taste great even if it might come out a bit less symmetrical than one that's been cooked in a pan. 

The lasagna does require a bit of prep work before you set and forget, though

Some crockpot casseroles are just one step: Toss everything in and press go. Not so for this dish, since Goldstein adheres to the lasagna layering concept. He also doctors up store-bought marinara to turn it into meat sauce, a step that involves de-casing and browning sausage links (use bulk sausage to save yourself some work), then heating up the sauce with the meat. You could always make your own sauce, though, if you're not a fan of the pre-made kind. What's more, if you're looking to save money and calories, Goldstein advises: "Leave out the meat and add 2 teaspoons red pepper flakes and fennel seeds for extra flavor." (Or not, if you don't care for the former's heat or the latter's licorice notes.)

Once the sauce is prepped, a layer of this stuff is the first thing to go into the slow cooker because the dry noodles need some separation from the heating element. As they cook, they'll absorb just enough moisture from the sauce to soften up without falling apart. You'll top those naked noodles with the typical three-cheese combo of ricotta, mozzarella, and parmesan, along with any desired herbs and spices (Goldstein goes with basil, another herb that may taste like licorice.) Repeat the layers a few more times, finishing with sauce and cheese. Let the slow cooker do its thing for about three hours, then dig into your easy, cheesy dinner.