Now, one of the things that you can do with the crock pot that I haven't done nearly enough is to make casseroles and pastas. I did make the mac and cheese that I posted about back in 2010, but I haven't done much else with pasta since. Of course, since I now have the Italian Slow Cooker cookbook, there are many more pasta dishes in there that I'll have to try. But almost every non-specialized crock pot cookbook that I have has a recipe for some sort of pasta casserole. At the beginning of last July, I tried one of these recipes from the Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Cookbook: Rigatoni and Sausage.
The best thing about this recipe is that there are only four ingredients so it's perfect for the grad student on a budget. It calls for Italian turkey sausage, a jar of pasta sauce, rigatoni, and "freshly grated or shredded" Parmesan cheese. And, for the latter, I normally have one of those store-brand shakers of Parmesan cheese in the fridge so I just used that. Would it have been nicer with freshly shredded cheese? Probably. But if you're on your graduate-student-stipend budget, you've got to cut some corners (in terms of both time and money) when necessary.
For this recipe, coat the crock pot with nonstick cooking spray first. Then, and this was possibly the step that took the longest, you have to take the sausage out of the casings and crumble it up. Now I couldn't find Italian-style turkey sausage at my local grocery store, so I used Italian-style pork sausage instead. The sausage gets browned on the stove and while that is going on, you pour the pasta sauce, plus one extra jar full of water into the crock pot. Add pasta and sausage, then stir. The image below shows what it looked like right before I turned it on to cook.
This recipe cooks only for three and a half to four hours on low, but you have to be around to stir it once half way through (to make sure that all the pasta gets cooked), so it's not the best recipe to make on a day when you have to be out of the house all day. It's definitely made for the weekend or a work-from-home day. This is especially true because this is one of the only recipes I've seen that comes with a "do not overcook" warning: "Do not cook more than 4 hours because the sides will dry out and burn."
The dish is served sprinkled with the Parmesan cheese. As you can see from the image below, it's not a casserole, just a way to cook pasta in the crock pot and to be completely honest, it might be just as easy to do this one on the stove. However, the description of the recipe reports that the chef that invented it said that "the pasta and sauce cook up slightly dry as a casserole in the cooker," so you do get a different texture, at least, in making it with the crock pot.
This dish was amazing and it's so easy to make so it's one that I'd definitely recommend to the busy grad student. The recipe says that it serves six and let me tell you, those six servings went really fast in our house. It was so good that I think both my husband and I went up for seconds and I made a point of packing it for my lunch the next day. As you can see in the picture below, garnishing the dish with fresh basil gives it a great added touch.
This recipe isn't too unhealthy for a pasta dish if you keep yourself to one serving unlike how we ate it. It's about 557 calories per serving (so, yikes, the two servings made it over 1000 calories!). You could be really strategic about this, actually, and make a giant salad for yourself and then serve yourself even smaller portions of pasta. This recipe takes a whole box of rigatoni and the box (at least according to Barilla) has eight servings in it. It you drag this recipe out into eight servings it's a not that different but slightly more manageable 424 calories per serving. Of course, if I had been able to find the turkey sausage, it would have been 500 calories per serving for six servings and only 381 calories per serving for eight servings -- much better. In terms of cost, this recipe is perfect for the grad student budget because if you normally have Parmesan cheese on hand, it only costs about $1.50 per serving! If you had to get the cheese too I'd calculate it at about $2.00 per serving, or a bit more if you get fresh Parmesan and shred it yourself.