Recipe: Slow-Cooker Sausage and Spinach Lasagna

Recipe: Slow-Cooker Sausage and Spinach Lasagna

(Image credit: Kimberley Hasselbrink)

In the nineties, I went to college in Canada, a long way from my home in South Carolina. One snowy weekend, my mother came for a visit. Because I was in class when she arrived — and you can't skip class the day your mother arrives — I left her a key. When I walked in the door at the end of the day, knocking the snow from my boots and shaking it from my scarf and coat, I inhaled a smell I had forgotten; my mother had a pot of what we called "spaghetti sauce" on the stove. Our spaghetti sauce, I now understand, was a cross between bolognese and puttanesca, and it was delicious.

Making lasagna in the slow cooker lets me pretend my mom is home.

(Image credit: Kimberley Hasselbrink)

There's nothing like walking in the door after work and thinking "someone" has been cooking. This lasagna usually elicits, "Whoa, what's for dinner? It smells awesome," from everyone in my family. Why? Because it's lasagna. Gooey, cheesy, sausage-y delicious lasagna.

The tomatoes and spinach in lasagna also allow me to sneak a serving of vegetables into my occasionally unwilling children (and, if we're honest, my husband, too). I add a side salad to round out the meal, with raw carrots and celery for people (okay, kids) who aren't big salad fans.

Lasagna can be labor intensive, and this one is no exception. Chopping the sausage is messy. (Try using kitchen scissors. It's still messy, but a little easier.)

Smashing the fresh spinach into the ricotta and mozzarella also takes some time, but I think it's worth it. The alternative — using frozen spinach, thawing it, and pressing out the water — just doesn't taste as good. On occasion, I've also substituted baby kale, chard, or a blend for the spinach.

Also, I recommend pre-cooking the noodles for this dish as a little extra insurance to make sure they cook through (especially the top layer). Cook the noodles just enough so that they're softened, but still a little crunchy in the middle.

This is not a one-pot meal, but you'll forget about the work when you smell it cooking hours later. Welcome home. How was school?

(Image credit: Kimberley Hasselbrink)

Testing Notes

Although this recipe calls for sausage links, bulk Italian sausage would work just fine — just brown and crumble it like you would ground beef before adding the onion.

- Christine, February 2015

Slow-Cooker Sausage and Spinach Lasagna

Serves 6 to 8

6 ounces dry lasagna noodles
Olive oil
1 pound uncooked Italian sausage links
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
2 14.5-ounce cans diced tomatoes, or 3 1/2 cups chopped fresh tomatoes
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
Salt and pepper to taste
15 ounces ricotta cheese
11 ounces fresh baby spinach (one large clamshell case or bag)
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Boil lasagna noodles until softened but still quite al dente and a little crunchy in the middle. Drain and lay the noodles out on a clean kitchen towel.

Slice the sausage into bite-sized pieces and sauté in a heated pan with a little oil, if necessary. After a minute or two, add the onion. Continue to cook until the onion has softened and the sausage is slightly browned on all sides.

Add the tomatoes to the pan, and scrape any sticky glaze from the bottom of the pan as the juice bubbles. Add the chicken stock, Italian seasoning, and salt and pepper to taste.

While the tomato mixture simmers, mix the ricotta, 1 cup of the mozzarella, and all of the spinach in a bowl. Stir and smash until the spinach is fully incorporated into the cheese. (I also like to add a few shakes of Seasonello.)

Grease a 6-quart (or larger) slow cooker lightly with olive oil. Add a heaping cup of the sausage and tomato mixture to the bottom. Follow with one layer of noodles.

Add half of the remaining sausage and tomato mixture, followed by half of the cheese and spinach mixture, followed by another layer of noodles. Repeat.

Top with a final layer of noodles, pouring any juices remaining in the sausage pan over the top. Sprinkle the remaining 1 cup of mozzarella over top.

Cook on LOW for 3 to 4 hours. In the last 30 minutes, sprinkle the Parmesan over top.

Recipe Notes

  • If your top layer of noodles starts to curl, open the cooker and press the edges into the liquid with a wooden spoon.
  • My family prefers spicy Italian sausage. We have also used chicken sausage in this recipe and had great results.
  • Most packages of lasagna noodles are eight ounces. That's okay! After making this three times, you'll have enough leftover noodles to make it again without buying another package.
  • Try replacing the tomatoes with canned fire-roasted tomatoes for added flavor.
  • We are a full-fat kind of family, but I have accidentally bought part-skim mozzarella and low-fat ricotta, and the lasagna came out just fine.
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