Slow and steady pace eventually produces a delicious dinner

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Slow Cooker Lasagna

Although a slow cooker is not meant to be a seasonal small appliance, I tend to treat it so, hauling it out in fall and winter to cook the warm, filling comfort foods like soups and stews I’m not as inclined to eat in spring and summer. A silly habit, really, considering the slow cooker is also ideally suited to warm weather cooking as it can cook a delicious meal without increasing the temperature in the kitchen.

That said, as I perused cookbooks last fall ready to bring my slow cooker out of hibernation for the cool months ahead, a recipe for a lasagna-style dish caught my attention. It helped that I had all the necessary ingredients at the ready without needing to make a trip to the grocery store. Made with oven-ready (translation: no precooking required) lasagna noodles, the recipe went together quickly and the results were well worth the effort, limited as it was.

Since then I’ve also made my traditional lasagna recipe (ground beef in a tomato-based sauce layered with noodles and a mixture of ricotta or cottage cheese, eggs and parmesan cheese) in the slow cooker – also with great success.

Because of the moist heat of the slow cooker, there is very little drying out of the lasagna noodles compared to when the dish is cooked in the oven (translation: slow cooked lasagna is less chewy and minus the dried edges you usually get when cooked in the oven). If you prefer some crusted bits on your lasagna, you can get some of this in a slow cooker, but to a lesser degree. And, by the time this happens, the pasta may be too tender. But even if that’s your preferred style of lasagna, don’t not try slow cooking it. You may be pleasantly surprised at the result.

I have a round 5 qt (L) slow cooker; I find it needs less lasagna noodles than are required if using an oval cooker. I use about 7 or 8 noodles, simply breaking them up to fit the shape of the cooker. Sometimes I divide up the ingredients so I can make an additional layer of pasta, sauce and cheese.

Since discovering this quick and easy way to cook lasagna, I have no doubt my slow cooker will prove to be a well-used appliance year round.

If you are looking for great-tasting and dependable slow cooker recipes, I recommend slow cooker cookbooks written by Judith Finlayson or Donna Marie Pye. Both authors are published by Robert Rose Inc.

Tomato Mushroom Lasagna

(Makes 6 to 8 servings)

1 tablespoon (15 mL) vegetable oil
4 large portobello mushrooms, cut in half and thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon (5 mL) salt
1/2 teaspoon (2 mL) cracked black peppercorns
1 tablespoon (15 mL) fresh lemon juice
3 cups (750 mL) tomato sauce
12 oven-ready lasagna noodles
2 cups (500 mL) ricotta cheese
1/2 cup (125 mL) freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 cups (500 mL) shredded Mozzarella cheese

In a skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add mushrooms and cook, stirring, until they begin to release their liquid. Add garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Remove from heat and stir in salt, peppercorns and lemon juice. Set aside.

Lightly grease or spray a large (minimum 5 qt or 5 L capacity) with cooking oil. Spread one-quarter of tomato sauce over bottom of slow cooker. Cover with 4 noodles, breaking to fit where necessary. Spread with half of the ricotta, half of the mushroom mixture, one-third each of the Parmesan and mozzarella cheese. Repeat. Arrange final layer of noodles over cheeses. Pour remaining sauce over top and sprinkle with remaining Parmesan and mozzarella cheeses.

Cover and cook on High for 4 hours or on Low for 8 hours, until hot and bubbling.

Recipe Source: Delicious and Dependable Slow Cooker Recipes by Judith Finlayson, Robert Rose Inc., 2002

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