Slow Cooker Lasagna

You know you’ve been hanging around here a long time if the phrase “seven weeks in a hotel” starts a’ringin’ a bell. A few years ago after moving from Wisconsin to Minnesota, my sweet family of seven ended up living in a hotel for many weeks (with a few happy sob-inducing breaks thrown in there thanks to trips visiting family a couple states away and a kind coworker who let us stay in their unoccupied house for a few days).

Due to trying to stick to a budget with a largish family, limited dining out options in the very tiny community, and craving homecooked food, I got really, really creative with my slow cooker, griddle and rice cooker in that home sweet home of a hotel room. In hindsight, I’m not sure it was entirely legal for me to be plugging in and running these devices, but I guess in subconscious desperation, I never asked and no one ever noticed and/or said anything about the out of place aromas wafting down the hallways. High five to super, super small town living.

Slow Cooker Lasagna

While many of the meals from that phase of life are not noteworthy (and quite honestly, some have just been blocked out of my memory due to the trauma of the disgustingness which resulted in emergency burgers and blizzards from DQ), this slow cooker lasagna is the hidden gem that almost makes me thankful for those weeks on end. I have made it countless times over the years and what started out as a pretty decent hotel dinner has progressed and evolved and been perfected to be one of our family’s favorite meals.

The majority of ingredients in that list down yonder are whisked together (without precooking) and the doctored up sauce goes a long way to a flavorful, delicious lasagna, helped along by the fact that the rich sauce slow cooks for four or five hours with all the creamy cheesy goodness and hearty noodles. I’ve even assembled the lasagna in my slow cooker insert the night before and popped it in the cooker part (<–for lack of a better term) the next day. As if it really needs to be any easier. But there you go.

I know it seems like there are a lot of notes added to the recipe below. It isn’t because this is a difficult or labor-intensive meal. It’s just that when you’ve made something this many times, you want to share all the advice you have. And if I have one talent, it’s giving advice. Just ask my kids.

What To ServeRoasted asparagus or broccoli (throw a little bit of freshly grated Parmesan on either after roasting – yum!)
Divine breadsticks
Green salad

One Year Ago: Stuffed Chicken Marsala {Olive Garden Copycat}
Two Years Ago: Pumpkin Cream Sandwiches
Three Years Ago: Classic Tomato Soup (and Tuna Melts!)

Slow Cooker Lasagna

Yield: Serves 6

Slow Cooker Lasagna

Slow cookers vary in size and shape. The only slow cooker I've ever made this in is 4.5-quarts and about 8 3/4-inches in diameter and 5 inches deep (the lasagna doesn't fill it up all the way; there's probably a couple inches left after layering). You could easily 1 1/2 or double the recipe for larger slow cookers (or decrease for smaller).

I've made this with several brands of no-boil lasagna noodles. I've found the Barilla brand needs hardly any water around the edges before cooking whereas the Target whole wheat lasagna noodles and Trader Joe's lasagna noodles need 1/4-1/3 cup water. It will vary based on brand.

It's a little counterintuitive to stack lasagna noodles on top of each other but in the case of slow cooker lasagna, it's ok and actually helps give a nice, hearty layer of noodles after cooking. A single layer of noodles cooked this long in the slow cooker would be unnoticeable (and dare I say a little mushy) after cooking. Speaking of noodles, I've only ever used no-boil noodles here so feel free to experiment with regular noodles (I'd suggest cooking them for a couple minutes but leaving them quite al dente).

The recipe as written is for a meatless lasagna but we've added meat now and agin. Simply brown whatever meat (ground turkey, beef, sausage, pork, etc) with a bit of salt and pepper and maybe some diced onion and minced garlic, drain any excess grease and stir the meat into the red sauce mixture before assembling.

And finally (phew!), I've tried this with ricotta and we much prefer it with cottage cheese. If you aren't a fan of the texture of cottage cheese, get over it. Ha! Just kidding. You can try blending the cottage cheese a bit to smooth out the texture. I found that ricotta (no matter how much water I added around the edges) dried out the lasagna, probably due to the long cooking time, plus I'm steadfast in the cottage cheese loving camp so I prefer it here.

Ingredients

  • 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • 6-ounce can tomato paste
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1-2 teaspoons brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder,
  • 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
  • 2 cups (16 ounces) cottage cheese (drain off excess liquid if there's a lot)
  • 1/2 cup (2 ounces) freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 teaspoon dried parsley (or a couple tablespoons fresh)
  • Pinch of salt and pepper
  • 9-12 no-boil lasagna noodles (about 10 or so ounces)
  • 10 ounces mozzarella cheese shredded (2-3 cups)

Directions

  1. Lightly coat the inside of a round 4- or 5-quart slow cooker with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, salt, pepper, sugar, oregano, basil, thyme, garlic powder, and balsamic vinegar.
  3. In another bowl, stir together the cottage cheese, Parmesan cheese, parsley and pinches of salt and pepper.
  4. In the slow cooker, spread about 1/2 cup of sauce across the bottom. Add a double layer of noodles, breaking to fit. Spread 1/3 of the cottage cheese mixture (it's ok if the layer is spotty and not overly thick), followed by 1/3 of the remaining sauce and 1/3 of the mozzarella cheese.
  5. Repeat the layers (noodles, cottage cheese mixture, sauce and mozzarella) twice more.
  6. Drizzle 1/3 cup (more or less) of water around the edges (see note above).
  7. Cover and cook on low for 4-5 hours. Turn off, remove the insert (if it's removable) to a heatproof spot or trivet and let sit for 20 minutes before serving (you can dig in before that but it might be just a tad soupy and lava hot).
http://www.melskitchencafe.com/slow-cooker-lasagna-perfected/

Recipe Source: from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe

57 Responses to Slow Cooker Lasagna {Perfected}

  1. LauraT says:

    Thank you for these marvelous slow cooked meals! We were just placed with an infant for adoption with less then 16 hour notice. Having easy, tasty meals is huge when I can’t remember if I brushed my teeth or not from lack of sleep. Thanks for coming to this tired new momma’s rescue!

  2. Ellen says:

    ah! this is just what I need/don’t need in my life! lasagna is my weakness, but my kids don’t like it, so I would end up eating the entire pot myself…. In one sitting.

  3. Lisa says:

    Do you double up on the noodles for every layer or just the first?

  4. Dana says:

    Perfect timing! I was just about to head to the grocery store to pick up something to make for dinner on Halloween. This is exactly what I needed. With it being crock pot, I won’t have to worry about cooking while trying to get the kids all dressed up and ready to go out trick or treating.

  5. Rebekah says:

    This is a great easy meal! I usually make it with jar spaghetti sauce for ease, but your sauce would be very simple even though made from scratch. I have always used regular lasagna noodles in a single layer without boiling them at all beforehand (I do add about 1/3 cup water to the crockpot) and they always turn out fine. I am sure yours does not come out sloppy like mine always did since you have perfected it, 🙂 but when I added one egg to the cheese mixture it solved that problem. Thanks for reminding me of this so simple meal and for the homemade sauce recipe!

  6. Janet says:

    When taking out insert to cool 20 minutes, do you take the lid off?

    • Mel says:

      Hi Janet – it doesn’t really matter. It will cool off a bit faster (not a bad thing) if you take the lid off. And if you don’t have a removable insert, I’d recommend taking the lid off for those 20 minutes.

  7. Helen says:

    thank you for perfecting and posting this recipe- I’ve been looking forward to it since you mentioned it a while back. I do remember your hotel days too!! Thanks for sharing all the great things you are learning on your journey to help the rest of us along on ours!!

  8. Leslie says:

    Good morning Mel, Your slow-cooker lasagna is one of my favorite recipes to make. Thanks for the updates — and I do remember the “7-weeks in a hotel” season for you and your family, though I have to say you did not give many details in your blog at that time and I hadn’t realized how difficult it really was. You are quite the trooper

    I love this recipe and make it for last minute out-of-town guests. The best part is being able to assemble and leave it alone while I’m getting the house ready for guests. And you are so right about doubling up the noodles. It was hard to do the first time, but I trusted your directions and the lasagna had a perfect texture for serving.

    Thank you, again, for all you do . . . you are my go-to gal for great meals (bacon, cheese quinoa bites being our all-time favorite). Have a blessed holiday season.

  9. Shar says:

    I think the “cooker part” is called the insert. :)a

  10. Jessica says:

    I have also been making slow cooker lasagna for a lot of years, but have always just used regular noodles. Add a little more to your sauce either water or tomato sauce and you don’t hsve to pre cook them either!

  11. NinaN says:

    This sounds perfect! We’re in the midst of a kitchen reno so crock pot meals are handy right now! I think I’ll try adding some spinach to it.

  12. Leese says:

    Can we use ricotta cheese instead of the cottage cheese? Not sure if my kiddos would go for it. Or will they not know the difference? Is there a difference in taste prepared this way? Thanks for sharing going to make this SOON! Hugs!!

  13. Danielle says:

    Hi Mel, this is so timely for me. I’m prepping for a bit of a road trip and a hotel stay. I know you have a lot of experience in these areas. Do you have any suggestions on things that I should prepare before leaving? Also, do you have easy dinner suggestions?
    I will look at your slowcooker recipes for inspiration. Just seeing if you have any helpful tips. All suggestions are appreciated.

    Thank you for all you do. I sincerely appreciate the time you take to share all your awesome recipes with us!

    • Mel says:

      Hi Danielle – good luck on your road trip. I was kind of flying by the seat of my pants when we were hotel-living for a while so I didn’t prep or plan much of anything (especially since we thought it would be only a couple of days). I think if you have a few tried-and-true recipes and a slow cooker, you’re good to go, especially if there’s a decent grocery store nearby to get fresher ingredients.

    • zella says:

      I hope I’m not intruding/butting in when I suggest for Danielle above, that we have had a couple of budget vacations in hotels where we used a thermal cooker for meals, cooking several soup recipes straight from this terrific blog:) It’s pretty handy and didn’t release tempting food smells all day. Unfortunately, I don’t think this lasagna would work, but other great things Mel makes definitely do!!

  14. I’ve never made lasagna in the crock pot before, but I am definitely going to try now! What an awesome recipe, pinned! 🙂

  15. Nicole H says:

    My husband is doing homework next to me, and I kept giggling while reading your post. Hahaha! You are pretty witty and I love reading your recipe intros. I love when recipes have good stories behind them, because to me it makes them taste better. I’ve never made lasagna in the crock pot, but this I will definitely be making soon! Looks amazing!

  16. Sheila says:

    What a wonderful idea! Thank you for sharing. Totally agree with Nicole H above. Looking through the Thrive products on your sister’s site, I smiled at her picture with the boys. You two really resemble each other.

  17. Amy prange says:

    I drizzled some EVOO on top to prevent the drying out.

  18. Dianne says:

    Made today for Halloween it’s great. Reminds me of cowboy spaghetti which is a favorite at our house especially w/ my husband. Thanks

    • Pam says:

      Mel, I made something like this in the 1970s called skillet lasagna. It was before the days of no-boil noodles, so we just used the regular ones, a packet (!) of dried spaghetti sauce, and yes, cottage cheese. It was really good, and my father, Pickiest Eater in the Midwest, pronounced it delicious and ate seconds. He wasn’t being polite, because he never was about his food. Dear Pappy, rest his soul.
      I am looking forward to making this crockpot version, since it doesn’t call for fake food. Yes to cottage cheese!

  19. Jen says:

    Can you cook this on high?

    Thanks!

    • Mel says:

      The only time I cooked it on high, the edges got really overcooked while the inside wasn’t quite how I wanted it so I suggest sticking with the low recommendation.

  20. Chava says:

    Mel, I made this this morning and was a bit confused. You said 9-12 noodles, but if each layer of noodles calls for 6 (due to double layering), 12 noodles is only 2 layers. Looks like you had 3. I ended up using 18 noodles. Maybe it’s because of the size of my crockpot? I was using an oval 6 qt one.

    • Mel says:

      Hi Chava – sorry this confused you a bit. The total number of noodles depends on the size and shape of the slow cooker. I mention this in the notes below the recipe title, but I use a 4.5-quart crockpot for this recipe. I use about 3-4 noodles for each of the three levels (to get that double layer of noodles) for a total of about 12. Because your slow cooker is a bit bigger, I can see how you’d need more noodles to cover the layers. I bet it will still turn out yummy. 🙂

  21. Christy says:

    Made this last night and it was hit and incredibly easy! I added the meat to the red sauce…perfect. I can always depend on anything I make from your site to turn out great. Thank you for being a dependable and reliable source of recipes!

  22. Kelly Cadueux says:

    I just put it in the crock… The noodles weren’t no boil though…. Hope they cook…. I’ll post again with the outcome.. Thanks

  23. Ashlee says:

    This was delicious! But I did have a question. In your notes, you mention adding water for the noodles, but when do you add it and how do you know how much to add?

  24. Anna says:

    Thanks for this tasty recipe! I made half of the recipe in a round slow cooker. Due to what I had on hand, I made a few substitutions: Instead of cottage cheese, I mixed 1 C. ricotta and added an egg instead of parmesan cheese. I also used a little less than 1/3 C. of water. It tasted great to us!

  25. Lindsay says:

    Has anyone doubled this recipe for a 6 quart crock pot? I’m thinking about doubling it, but I don’t know if that would be too much or how much longer it would take to cook.

  26. StephanieT says:

    This was delicious! I’ve never made a good lasagna and was SO happy when this turned out! Thanks for the recipe!

  27. NancyV908 says:

    I made this last week and forgot to report. Success! I did not tell anyone it had cottage cheese instead of ricotta, and no one noticed. 🙂 I might try a different sauce next time, though. We did like the sauce in the recipe, but all felt it tasted a little too strongly of the tomato paste. Maybe I’ll just put in a little less next time, or just experiment with a different sauce. But that will just be tweaking–we really liked this recipe. And it was so easy!

  28. Kelli says:

    I’m about to try this an almost 7 qt slow cooker. Any suggestions about how long to cook it and the amount of sauce to use??

    I’m already drooling 😉

    Thanks!

    • Mel says:

      I think the quantities might be a bit small for a 7-quart cooker. I would probably double and then cook it about the same amount of time, maybe add a half hour or so.

      • Kelli says:

        I doubled the sauce but used jarred to save time and added ground beef, italian sausage, and onion to the mix. I think I ended up with 4 layers…? Cooked on low for 5 and 1/2 hours then it was on warm for another 3 hours. I also added about 1/3 cup of water around the edges. It came out AWESOME! I think I could have made it 5 layers. I also added some spinach to each layer, I was trying to clean out the fridge haha. Thanks so much!!!!

  29. Jackie Gonzales says:

    I knew I could find a slow cooker lasagna recipe on your site…and I definitely enjoyed reading your post again. Seriously, Mel, as someone who knows that small town, I don’t know how you did it for that many weeks!

    Merry Christmas!! I hope you and your family have a wonderful holiday season!
    Jackie

  30. Jill Vosberg says:

    Mel, how do you think this would work frozen in pieces for our freezer meal coop? So freeze the tomato sauce sep, then the cottage cheese mixture sep, the mozz cheese sep and give a box of noodles…it should be good, yes? Thank you!

  31. Melissa says:

    Can this be assembled ahead of time like the night before?? I work midnights as a 911 dispatcher would be great to have it ready to just put in crock pot and turn on when I get home of a morning. Thanks:)

  32. Melissa says:

    Can this be assembled ahead of time like the night before?? I work midnights as a 911 dispatcher would be great if I can make it where it’s ready to just turn on in the morning when I get home! Thanks:)

  33. Kat says:

    My family lived in a hotel for 3 months while we were in the process of moving from Kansas to Utah. I was only 14 though, so I didn’t have to be responsible for feeding my family 🙂 Fortunately (or unfortunately?) for us, the hotel made a hot dinner 4 nights a week along with their daily breakfast. So we only had to fend for ourselves a few nights a week. The food was … sub par. But we survived! Needless to say, the Fazoli’s next door got a lot of business from us! Ah the fun of moving 🙂

    As for this recipe, I’m making it for dinner tonight. My church gets out at 4, so by the time we get home, everyone is STARVING! Crock pot meals that can cook while we’re gone are going to be lifesavers. I can’t wait to taste this lasagna!

  34. Tiffany S says:

    I love this recipe and have made it quite a few times. I just bought an instantpot and sold my slow cooker so I would have space for the instantpot. Have you tried lasagna in the instantpot in slow cooker or pressure cooker mode?

    • Mel says:

      I haven’t tried it in pressure cooker mode but I have made it in my InstantPot on slow cooker mode (I made sure to dial down using the Adjust button so it didn’t cook too hot).

  35. Marcie says:

    Hi Mel! Do you think it would turn out okay if I use the slow cooker liners? Would you still spray the plastic liner with non-stick spray?

    • Mel says:

      I think others have commented that they’ve used the liners with great results. I would probably still spray with cooking spray.

  36. Kari Hansen says:

    I made this yesterday for a kids’ party so the adults would have some nice food too (the kids made their own mini pizzas). I wanted a slow cooker recipe as I needed to keep the oven free and make the dish in advance. This was perfect!

    I sauted ground turkey with chopped onion, diced red peppers, fresh minced garlic and frozen thawed spinach and added it to the layers before the red sauce. I increased the recipe yield to 1.5 and made it in my 6 quart slow cooker.

    I have made traditional oven lasagna many times, but this was my first slow cooker version. The lasagna came out delicious and several people wanted the recipe. Thanks, Mel, for offering the perfect slow cooker lasagna!

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