I’ve always been drawn to Italian food. Besides the magnificent flavors and the comfort-inspiring feelings brought on by delicious sauces, cheeses, bread, and pasta, I’m also enamored by the whole picture of an Italian meal: Mama encouraging everyone to gather around the table. Plates of antipasti, bowls of soups, platters of pasta and roasted meats make their way around while everyone is talking, gesturing, and eating with gusto. The atmosphere calms down as each person becomes more and more stuffed with delicious food. Then everyone gathers on a rustic patio with cups of espresso, discussing the meal, the day, and what tomorrow may bring.
Cooking Italian style isn’t particularly difficult. Thanks to chefs like Lidia Bastianich, Mary Ann Esposito, and Marcella Hazan, I know the basics. Though I’ve never made my own pasta—there are too many good ones available at my local stores—I can make my own marinara, alfredo, and carbonara. I love good Italian cheeses, wines, and seasonings.
I made all of my own sauces for many years. But then The Picky Eater passed away, and I needed to find a job to supplement my writing work. When I started working as a reading intervention paraprofessional at a local middle school two years ago, I found myself too tired after a full day at the school and a few hours writing to do much cooking. I grabbed take out, microwaved frozen dinners, or just had cheese, bread, and fresh veggies. My snobbishness about everything being homemade gave way to buying jarred sauces if I cooked pasta at all.
Now I try to find spins on favorite Italian dishes that are quick and don’t take a lot of time. Thus the creation of this Slow Cooker Alfredo Lasagna. This is how the idea came about:
1. An Olive Garden commercial about make your own lasagna, which caused me to think, “I wonder how an Alfredo lasagna would taste?”
2. An email from The Kitchn with a recipe for slow cooker ravioli lasagna made with a marinara sauce.
3. An internet search discovery on Epicurious about how to improve store-bought Alfredo sauce.
I kept it simple, but you could easily add cooked chicken or diced ham to the dish for added protein and flavor. You don’t have to add the spinach if that’s not your thing. Just be sure to use good Parmesan cheese—not the stuff in the green can. And I recommend grating your own Mozzarella instead of buying the grated stuff which has a coating on it to keep it from sticking. Trust me, it makes a difference.
You can grate the cheeses and drain the spinach the night before. Then all you have to do in the morning is assemble everything in the slow cooker and turn it on. Eight hours later, you’ll have deliciousness waiting for you.
Slow Cooker Alfredo Lasagna
Serves 6 to 8
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
1 box frozen chopped spinach, thawed, drained, and the liquid squeezed out
2 22-ounce packages of frozen cheese ravioli (DON’T thaw! Keep it frozen)
1 pound Mozzarella cheese, grated
Chopped fresh parsley and basil for garnish
In a bowl, whisk together the jarred sauce, Parmesan cheese, chicken broth, and Italian seasoning until combined.
Spray the inside of the slow cooker with non-stick cooking spray. Pour 1/4 of the sauce into the bottom. Add 1/3 of the frozen ravioli in a single layer evenly over the sauce. Top with 1/4 of the Mozzarella cheese and 1/3 of the chopped spinach. Repeat the layers two more times. Pour on the rest of the sauce mixture and top with the remaining cheese.
Put the lid on the slow cooker, set to low, and cook for 6 to 8 hours. The cheese will melt and get brown and bubbly. Top with chopped parsley and basil before serving.