Healthier Slow Cooker Baked Ziti
See my guide on how to use an Instant Pot.
This Slow Cooker Baked Ziti is made with ground turkey and whole wheat pasta. The pasta cooks right in the slow cooker so it soaks up the delicious flavor of the sauce!
If you’ve been following me for a while, you know that I use my slow cooker all the time to help me get dinner on the table. With five kids, our evenings are a nonstop blur of activity. If you can relate, prepping dinner ahead in the slow cooker is one way to make sure that you have a nutritious dinner ready for your family.
This Healthier Slow Cooker Baked Ziti is one of my favorite slow cooker recipes. It’s a variation of the classic Baked Ziti that I like to make in the summer when it’s too hot to turn on the oven. You can get your cheesy, baked pasta fix without heating up your kitchen! This recipe is also perfect winter comfort food. You’ll also want to make my favorite Slow Cooker Orange Chicken year-round!
How to cook pasta in your slow cooker, and why you should:
Making pasta dishes in your slow cooker is really convenient because you don’t have to dirty another pot to boil the pasta. Cooking the pasta right in the sauce means that it absorbs the flavor of the sauce for an extra flavorful finished dish. See this chicken and mushrooms recipe for another delicious example, using orzo pasta.
To make this “baked” ziti recipe, you start by browning some ground turkey on the stove. You’ll also add a chopped onion and a few cloves of minced garlic to the pan. While this step means that you need to use a second pot for this meal, it is essential for the best flavor.
Once the meat is browned and the onions are soft, you will transfer the mixture to your slow cooker. Then add the rest of the ingredients, except for the pasta. We are using a mix of crushed tomatoes and diced tomatoes so that the sauce will both coat the pasta and have a some small pieces of tomato throughout.
Cook the sauce and meat in your slow cooker, either on high for 3 hours or low for 6 hours. Then, add the pasta. Watch it closely to make sure that it does not overcook. We don’t want mushy, falling apart pasta!
You may have heard that you shouldn’t open your slow cooker to check on your dinner in the middle of the cook time. This is true, because it lets the heat escape. Every time you open your crock pot, you add about 30 minutes to the total cook time needed. There is an exception to this rule. In the last hour or so of cooking, it is okay to open your slow cooker to check if your meal is done or almost done.
Once you’ve added the pasta to the sauce in this recipe, you will want to start checking on it (and give it a stir) starting at 12 minutes. The pasta may be done after 12 minutes or it may need a little bit longer to cook.
Read more tips for How to use a Crock Pot.
Tips for making this Healthier Slow Cooker Baked Ziti:
- You can cook this Slow Cooker Baked Ziti on low for 6 hours or on high for 3 hours.
- You can use any short pasta shape that you like in this recipe. I used whole wheat penne because my store doesn’t carry whole wheat ziti. Different types of pasta may vary in their cook times.
- You will add the pasta at the end of the cook time. Since slow cookers may vary in the amount of heat they put out, the pasta can take anywhere from 12-25 minutes to cook. I have tested this recipe in my 5 quart slow cooker.
- When you add the pasta, you will want your slow cooker to be on the high setting. If you’ve had your slow cooker on the low setting while cooking the rest of the dish it will take a few minutes to heat up to high heat. This means that your pasta may take longer to cook.
- The leftovers of this Slow Cooker Baked Ziti reheat well after being stored in the refrigerator. I have not tried freezing this recipe, but these Slow Cooker Italian Meatballs are one of my favorite freezer crock pot meals!
- If you have an Instant Pot, you’ll love my easy Instant Pot Pasta recipe!
Healthier Slow Cooker Baked Ziti
- 1 pound lean ground turkey, or ground beef
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
- 15 ounce can diced tomatoes
- 1 ½ teaspoons Italian seasoning
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- ½ teaspoon dried basil
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon pepper
- 2 ½ cups water
- 12 ounces whole wheat penne or ziti pasta
- 1 ½ cups shredded mozzarella cheese
- Lightly spray a large skillet with cooking spray and heat over medium high heat. Add the turkey and cook, stirring, for 3-4 minutes. Add the onion and garlic and continue cooking until turkey is cooked through.
- Transfer turkey mixture to slow cooker. Add the crushed tomatoes, diced tomatoes, oregano, Italian seasoning, basil, salt, pepper and water. Stir.
- Cover and cook on high setting for about 3 hours or low setting for about 6 hours.
- Stir in pasta. Continue cooking on high setting for 12-25 minutes. Pasta cook time will vary by slow cooker, so begin checking it at 12 minutes to see if pasta is done, stirring it once to make sure pasta cooks evenly. If you’ve had your slow cooker on the low setting, it will take longer to cook the pasta when you switch to the high setting.
- Turn off slow cooker.
- Stir 1 cup of the shredded mozzarella into the slow cooker and sprinkle the remaining ½ cup on top. Cover and let stand for 5 minutes until cheese on top is melted.