Fire up the crock pot for the best baked ziti you will ever eat. You may confuse it with great lasagna. With no precooking of the pasta, you will love this recipe.Editor’s note: This is a re-edit and re-publish of an under-appreciated recipe from December 5, 2013. I have re-edited the photos, buffed up the writing.
This recipe was in my top 10 recipes of 2013. I have repeated it many times when I need a special casual family meal. You can not go wrong with this recipe. I guarantee it.
This one takes just a bit more work than my normal slow cooker recipe, but it is so worth it. You can have great Italian at home.
I rarely use the term “best” or anything similar. You will see me use easy, simple and other pronouns but I will use “best” here. I can not imagine any crock pot ziti being better than this.
As I read the crock pot recipes, I realized they were not that different than the oven recipes except may use uncooked pasta (probably a good idea or you might have mush) and usually had a bit more liquid to help cook the pasta.
So I modeled what I felt was the best, and that was a Pioneer Woman recipe for Baked Ziti. It was a bit more lasagna like with ricotta and parmesan cheese in addition to my normal mozzarella. I will never go back.
Pro Tips: Notes about Crock Pot Baked Ziti
What is Baked Ziti?
Baked Ziti is basically some kind of tomato sauce usually with meat in my house, but you could skip the meat if you must. Add in some kind of cheese and pasta, and you have a classic Italian dish. There are variations, but that is basically it.
The Crock Pot
This is a cut-down recipe. I used my 3.5 qt crock pot, and this is “Cooking For Two” after all.
This filled the pot about 75%, and that is really the most you should do so do not use do in a smaller pot.
This would be great to double and would fit in a 6.5 qt but would be marginal in a six qt.
Ziti vs. Penne Noodles
Close but not the same. Ziti is a bit bigger and has straight cut ends. Penne is a little smaller with angle cut ends.
I have been berated for using penne instead of ziti. Yep, I do it all the time, and it doesn’t matter. Ziti pasta is harder to find for me, and I like smaller pasta. So use what you like.
Should I Cook the Pasta First?
No. It is cooked in the crock pot with the fluid from the sauce. I suggest using standard box pasta here since I know how it will cook in this sort of usage.
If you use non-standard pasta, the results may or may not be good.
Use the pasta you want. I happened to use Penne this time.
Start by place 1 pound of ground beef over medium-high heat to brown. Then chop one small onion and crush two cloves of garlic and add while the meat is browning. Cook until no longer pink. About 9-10 minutes.
Combine 1 cup (8oz) ricotta cheese with one egg white, 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese, 1/2 t dry parsley, 1/2 t salt. Do not over mix.
Mix 1 – 28 oz can crushed tomatoes, 1 1/2 t basil, one t salt, 1/2 t pepper. Mix. Now drain the meat of extra fat and combine to make the meat sauce. You can add 1/8 tsp crushed red pepper if you wish. It will not add much heat.
Give a 3.5 qt. slow cooker a good spray of PAM. See Notes about crock pot sizes. Now you get to layer the dish. Put about 1 1/2 cups of meat sauce in first and spread to cover the bottom. Add 1 cup of uncooked ziti noodles or other pasta.
Now add half the ricotta mixture by placing spoonfuls on the pasta. Add 1/2 cup of shredded Mozzarella cheese on top of that.
Now time to repeat. Add 1 1/2 cup meat sauce. Add 1 cup ziti noodles. Add the rest of the ricotta and 1/2 cup mozzarella. Top with the rest of the sauce and 1 cup of mozzarella.
Cook on low for 4-5 hours.
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Originally Published December 5, 2013