Baked Ziti is a hearty, stick to your ribs, child-friendly comfort food dinner that is easily made in the slow cooker. For years, I par-boiled the ziti, layered it in a baking dish with sauce, ricotta, and a vegetarian ground meat or sausage layer, and then baked it in the oven. I recently woke up and realized that I was doing a lot of extra work and using much more energy than needed. The slow-cooker simplifies the preparation since I’m now using uncooked ziti, right out of the box.
It’s also a flexible dish – if I’m going to be away all day, I’ll cook it on low. But, if it’s mid-afternoon when I get the urge to make it, I can set it to high and it will be done in about 3 hours.
This time, I made it with my homemade sauce because I had gotten a great deal on “sauce tomatoes” (in other words, blemished tomatoes not pretty enough to eat raw) from my friend Tony, the Garlic Man, at the Charlotte Regional Farmers Market. (How could I resist a bargain like 22 pounds for $4?) But, if you don’t have time to make your own sauce, both Muir Glen and Newman’s Own, make a very good organic marinara.
My new favorite slow cooker is the Cuisinart Cook Central Multi-Cooker. It allows me to sauté my onion, garlic, and Quorn Grounds right in the slow cooker, which eliminates washing an extra skillet. If you are looking to replace (or upgrade) your slow cooker, please check out this great product by Cuisinart. I buy most of my kitchen equipment from Chefs Catalog, which has an unbeatable satisfaction guaranty. (Believe it or not, Chefs recently replaced my almost three year old Cuisinart Cook Central Multi-Cooker which had inexplicably stopped working one day. Chefs sent me a prepaid mailing label and shipped a brand new one back to me – no questions asked. That’s what I call outstanding customer service!)
If your kids love oven baked ziti with ground meat, you really owe it to yourself to see if you can fool your little carnivores with my Slow Cooker Baked Ziti.
- 2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 large onion, minced
- 3 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
- 1 bag Quorn Grounds
- 6-8 cups homemade or prepared tomato sauce
- 1 lb. box ziti
- 1 15 ounce container of ricotta cheese
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 2-3 tablespoons minced parsley
- 7-8 basil leaves, torn into small pieces
- ¾ cup grated Parmesan, divided
- Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
- 8 ounces fresh mozzarella (preferably UAV mozzarella)
- Heat the olive oil in a large skillet (or if you're using the Cuisnart multifunction slow cooker, press the sauté button and lower the temperature to 275 degrees). Sauté the onion for about 5-6 minutes, lower the heat to 250 degrees, add the garlic and sauté another minute. Add the Frozen Quorn Grounds and sauté 6-8 minutes until lightly browned. Remove the cooked onion, garlic and Grounds to a bowl.
- Put all of the uncooked ziti in a bowl, mix in 3 cups of sauce, and stir well. Put half of the mixture in the bottom of the slow cooker.
- Mix the ricotta, beaten egg, ½ cup of the Parmesan, minced parsley, torn basil, salt, and pepper in a bowl. Spread the ricotta mixture over the sauced ziti, and then put the onion, garlic, and grounds mixture as the next layer. Top with a cup or so of the tomato sauce and then top with half the shredded mozzarella.
- Put the remaining sauced ziti as your next layer, and then cover with the rest of the tomato sauce.
- Cover the slow cooker. Turn to high for 3-4 hours or low for 7-8 hours.
- In the last 20-30 minutes of cooking, check to make sure that the ziti is tender and fully cooked. Top with the remaining mozzarella and the remaining ¼ cup of grated Parmesan, and let it look for the last 20-30 minutes until the top layer of cheese is melted but not crusty.
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