You’ll love this slow cooker baked ziti recipe is super easy to make since it cooks the ziti pasta for you.
The best part is that this crock-pot baked ziti recipe so delicious that you won’t realize it’s gluten-free.
Ziti is the ultimate comfort food. With a little work, it makes a terrific family meal.
Why should you make slow cooker baked ziti?
When I think of a baked ziti recipe, I always think of my husband’s best friend who’s from Long Island. Like many New Yorkers, he loves Italian food.
When we’re over at his house for dinner, his wife makes traditional baked ziti. I just have a taste since it's not gluten-free.
So I thought, why not come up with a crock-pot baked ziti recipe? Not only is it a delicious dinner, but it’s also easy to make during the week.
What equipment do you need to make crock-pot baked ziti?
I always hated that most people make baked ziti in large disposable aluminum pans. It seems so wasteful.
That’s why I came up with this crock-pot baked ziti recipe. Here’s what you need to make it:
Crock-pot: You’ll need a six-quart crockpot for crock-pot baked ziti. I especially like Crock-Pot’s 6-Quart Programmable Cook and Carry.
Having a Cook and Carry makes bringing a slowed cooked dish to a potluck party so much more convenient.
Liners: For easy cleanup, I recommend slow cooker liners for all crock pot recipes.
In this recipe, the pasta tends to stick to the pot. Using liners saves you from having to soak the crockpot overnight and scrub it with a scouring pad.
Carrying case: If you’re thinking of bringing this ziti dish to a party, make sure to get a Crock-Pot carrying case.
I have one and use it all the time since they keep your food insulated and easy to carry.
How to make slow cooker baked ziti
1. Coat a six-quart slow cooker with cooking spray or line with a slow cooker liner. Set aside.
2. Remove the sausage from its casings.
In a large skillet over medium-high heat, cook sausage, chopped onions, and garlic for 6 to 8 minutes, or until browned. Break up sausage with the back of your spoon as it cooks. Drain and set aside.
(If sausage seems very greasy, blot with a clean, dry paper towel.)
3. In a medium bowl, combine ricotta cheese, egg whites, basil, oregano, and 1 cup shredded Italian blend cheese. Mix until thoroughly combined.
4. In the crock-pot, layer:
- 1 jar of the pasta sauce
- half of the meat mixture
- 1/2 cup of the shredded cheese mixture
- one package of uncooked penne pasta
- half of the ricotta mixture
Evenly distribute each layer.
6. Then top with the remaining jar of sauce and evenly sprinkle 1 cup shredded cheese over top.
7. Cover and cook the uncooked ziti on low for 5 hours or until the penne pasta is tender.
8. Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
Don’t overcook or the edges of the ziti pasta will get scorched and dried out.
What type of sausage?
You can make this with two kinds of Italian sausage, spicy and mild. I use both in this recipe.
However, if you like spicy, go ahead and use only spicy Italian sausage. If you don’t like spicy, just use mild Italian sausage.
You can also make your own homemade Italian sausage. This allows you to control the spiciness or the type of meat (ground beef, ground pork, or ground turkey).
One of my readers asked if you can use chorizo. If you like super spicy Mexican sausage, go for it!
You can also make homemade chorizo sausage, which helps cut back on the greasiness and control the spiciness, too.
However, chorizo is very greasy, so make sure to blot it well with a paper towel after cooking it.
What type of sauce?
To make this slow cooker ziti recipe even easier, I used three jars of pasta sauce from the grocery store.
I usually make my own spaghetti sauce from canned tomato sauce, garlic, and Italian seasoning.
However, since this is an easy, baked ziti recipe, why not use jars of pasta sauce?
What kind of gluten-free pasta?
Then I went over to the pasta section and got the store brand gluten-free penne pasta, which is just like ziti.
I love my grocery store’s gluten-free pasta since it tastes just as good as regular pasta.
This way I don’t have to prepare a gluten-free ziti for me and one for the rest of my family.
While I chose gluten free-store brand penne, Barilla Gluten Free Penne works just as well. I usually choose whichever is cheaper the week when I’m making this gluten-free ziti recipe.
What kind of cheese?
Ricotta cheese is a must-have to get the feel of traditional ziti. I used low-fat ricotta.
Shredded cheese: to save time, buy a bag of finely shredded Italian cheese blend.
Italian cheese blends use a combination of Parmesan cheese, Romano cheese, and shredded mozzarella cheese.
If you have a preference, you can buy bags of each separately and make your own blend.
Is shredded cheese gluten-free? People who are gluten-free may have concerns about store bought shredded cheese.
According to this article at Very Well Fit, both Kraft and Sargento consider their shredded cheeses to be gluten-free.
Sargento notes that the powdered cellulose it uses in its shredded cheese is not derived from a gluten grain.
Also, if anti-clumping agents used by manufacturers include powdered cellulose, the manufacturer should list it on the product's label.
So, if you have concerns or if you react to very low levels of gluten, you may want to shred your own cheese.
Gluten-free? Double-check your labels!
Cooking crock pot baked ziti for someone who has celiacs or a gluten sensitivity? Make sure to read the labels of all the ingredients for any hidden sources of flour or gluten.
Don’t assume that because there wasn’t any last time you bought Italian sausage, there won’t this time. Always check the labels!
Step by step making baked ziti in your slow cooker
Here’s a picture of the step by step to make the layers in this recipe.
Goofed up? If you mixed up the layers, don’t worry.
You can stir up the uncooked pasta and the rest of the whole thing. Then top it off with 1/2 to 1 cup of the shredded cheese.
I’ve done this and it turned out fantastic! It’s more like a casserole than ziti, but it still tastes great. You’ll get it right the next time.
What can you add to the ziti?
Add more flavor: Dress up the jars of plain marinara sauce with red pepper flakes, Italian seasoning, garlic powder, or fresh herbs like fresh basil.
I do this when I'm cooking up “homemade” pasta sauce but don't want to start from scratch.
Vegetables: Sneak some veggies like diced zucchini or summer squash into one of the layers of crock pot ziti.
Different ziti pasta: Any uncooked ziti pasta works in this recipe. You can use regular or whole wheat pasta if you aren’t on a gluten-free diet.
Different cheese: you can also use 1 cup mozzarella cheese (shredded) with 2 cups shredded Italian blend cheese.
Or you can use cottage cheese instead of ricotta cheese, or do a combination.
The verdict on slow cooker ziti
My family was crazy about this baked ziti crock pot recipe.
My husband went back for thirds. My son ate leftovers for breakfast and took some to school for lunch the next day. My kids fought over the last plate.
Even the dog gave ziti two paws up when we accidentally dropped a few pieces on the floor!
More pasta recipes
If you love gluten-free pasta recipes, check these pasta dishes out:
- Gluten Free Mac & Cheese Casserole
- Crab Pasta Recipe with Pesto, Mushrooms & Tomatoes
- Easy Pasta Recipe with Cannellini Beans & Italian Veggies
- Instant Pot Lasagna
- Leftover Turkey Soup Recipe (with noodles)
- Cooking spray
- 1 pound mild Italian sausage
- 1 pound spicy Italian sausage
- 1 onion, chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 (15-ounce) container low fat ricotta cheese
- 1/2 cup liquid egg whites
- 3 cups finely shredded Italian blend cheese, divided
- 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- 3 (26-ounce) jars tomato and basil pasta sauce
- 2 (12-ounce) packages uncooked gluten free penne rigate pasta
- Coat a six-quart slow cooker with cooking spray. Set aside.
- Remove sausage from its casings. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, cook sausage, onion, and garlic 6 to 8 minutes, or until browned. Break up sausage with the back of your spoon as it cooks. Drain and set aside.
- In a medium bowl, combine ricotta cheese, egg whites, basil, oregano, and 1 cup shredded Italian blend cheese. Mix until thoroughly combined.
- In the slow cooker, layer 1 jar of pasta sauce. Then add half the sausage mixture, 1/2 cup Italian blend cheese, one package of the gluten free penne rigate pasta, and half the ricotta cheese mixture. Evenly distribute each layer.
- Repeat. Then top with the remaining jar of sauce. Then evenly sprinkle 1 cup of Italian blend cheese over top.
- Cover and cook on low for 5 hours or until pasta is tender.
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Amount Per Serving: Calories: 272Total Fat: 18gSaturated Fat: 10gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 6gCholesterol: 54mgSodium: 437mgCarbohydrates: 11gFiber: 1gSugar: 2gProtein: 16g
Nutritional information is automatically calculated per the ingredients list. Serving size may not be accurate. Please double-check with your preferred nutritional app for the most accurate information.
Originally published on October 8, 2015. Updated with new pictures and information.