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I have a sort of love-hate relationship with my crock pot. Like the rest of the first world, I love it's convenience and simplicity. But I'm also not much of a fan of most crock pot recipes - and neither is my family. Recently, though, I discovered a recipe that is inexpensive, hearty, and the whole family loves. Yay for me! So very yay, I gotta share the recipe with you.
A Few Recipe Notes
I found this recipe over at Becoming Betty, and I've discovered there are lots of ways to go about preparing it. The original recipe called for using a slow cooker or crock pot for almost the entire cooking process. I have a smallish crock pot, so this doesn't work for me. Therefore, I pour the contents of the sauce in the crock pot and let the flavors cook and meld together all day, then finish the dish on the stove top. But if you wanted to, you could do the whole thing on the stove top. It's your choice: All in the crock pot, partially in the crock pot, or entirely on the stove top.
So far, I've only used ground beef for this recipe, but you could easily switch that out for ground turkey, venison, or a mild sausage.
Crock Pot (Or Not) Cheesy Noodles, Beef, & Spinach Recipe
1 1/2 lbs. ground beef
1 onion, chopped fine
1 clove garlic, minced
15 oz. tomato sauce
about 15 oz. crushed tomatoes (I actually use a quart jar of home canned tomato halves, then use two knives to cut the tomatoes up into tiny pieces my children won't recognize in the finished dish.)
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning (scroll down for a recipe to make your own)
Freshly ground pepper
about 10 oz. fresh spinach
16 oz. spiral pasta (I use Tinkyada gluten free)
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1 cup + 1/2 cup shredded Mozzarella cheese
Make the Sauce:
1. Place a large frying pan over medium heat and add the ground beef. (If the meat is lean, add a tablespoon of olive oil to the pan first.) Crumble and cook until no longer pink.
2. Add the onion and garlic and stir and cook until onion is tender and almost translucent. Drain off the fat.
TIP: Cook the beef, onion, and garlic mixture ahead of time and freeze. When you're ready to cook this meal, toss the frozen ingredients directly in the crock pot. (No thawing needed!)
3. Pour the beef, onion, and garlic mixture into the crock pot, then add the tomato sauce, tomatoes, oregano, Italian seasoning, salt, and pepper. Cook in the crock pot for 6 hours on low, or 2 hours on high. (I turn the crock pot to "warm" after 2 hours on high and let the sauce sit for most of the day before proceeding with the rest of the recipe. This helps bring out the flavor of all the seasonings in the sauce.)
TIP: If desired, you can make the sauce on the stove top, simmering over low heat, and stirring occasionally.
Putting It Together:
4. 20- 30 minutes before you want to serve, cook the pasta according to the package directions, and drain. Add the pasta to the crock pot.
TIP: If your crock pot is small, return the pasta to the pot you boiled it in and pour the sauce over the pasta. Add the remaining ingredients to the pot on the stove, rather than the crock pot. Be sure to keep the heat on the stove very low, and stir occasionally.
5. Add the spinach. Add the Parmesan cheese and 1 cup of the Mozzarella cheese. Stir. Cook on low for another 10 - 20 minutes, or until spinach is wilted and cheese is melted.
6. Add the remaining 1/2 cup of Mozzarella cheese, stir, and serve.
Makes about 8 servings.
DIY Italian Seasoning
Why make your own? It's cheaper, for sure. But it also means you don't have to worry about any added, unwanted ingredients, like preservatives.
2 tablespoons dried basil
2 tablespoons dried oregano
2 tablespoons dried thyme
2 tablespoons dried marjoram
2 tablespoons dried rosemary
2 tablespoons dried sage
Mix ingredients together. For a finer texture (more like what you'd buy bottled), run through a food processor or clean coffee grinder for about a minute, or until desired texture is reached.