I don’t own many fancy kitchen gadgets or appliances. I love my Vitamix and Kitchenaid Mixer and use one or both daily. But then there’s my slow cooker; it rarely gets any love. I’m not sure why. On occasion I will allow a corned beef brisket the time slowly cook all day or whip up a beef stew for the crock pot. Otherwise, the slow cooker sits in my closet, way back on a shelf, out of sight and out of mind.
This week I dusted off my crock pot lid (literally, there was dust on it) and decided to make a recipe that we all love: lasagna.
A homemade lasagna is a thing of beauty and a dish that involves a whole lot of love and work. When I was first married and began hosting holiday meals, my mother would always contribute to the days’ food by bringing over a lasagna. It was a show stopper. Mom always took the time to make her lasagna special. She would make her signature meatballs in miniature to fill each layer. The cheese layer would be filled with fresh herbs, garlic, and onions. And, although she didn’t make her own sauce, she had a way of making a jar of sauce taste authentic and homemade. Lasagna was a labor of love and one that literally took hours.
I remember Mom’s lasagna requiring some serious muscle power to remove from the oven. I don’t know how many pounds of mozzarella, ricotta, and parmesan cheese were used, but I do know that it was enough to put some serious weight into that pan. As the smell of lasagna filled the house, more and more people would come into the kitchen waiting for their piece. They would ceremoniously watch as I transferred their piece of ooey, gooey goodness to a plate. They would “ooh” and “ahh”! Once we were all at the table, things got very quiet. We savored each bite and appreciated the love that went into making this lasagna so special.
I sigh now because it has been several years since we’ve enjoyed mom’s lasagna. It’s just too much work for her these days. I’ll never be able to make lasagna like mom. I tried once and although it was good, good just doesn’t cut it once you’ve had extraordinary. So, I will not try to recreate or compete with her classic.
Having said that, there is a lasagna that I do make. It’s a slow cooker version. I love it because of its ease. You literally layer sauce, meat, cheese, and noodles into the crock pot and hit start. Within a few hours you have a delicious, hearty, and cheesy meal. It’s perfect. This is a great meal for one of those busy days. I mean how great is it to come home and know that dinner is done and waiting for you…all in one pot?
Gluten Free Beef and Vegetable Slow Cooker Lasagna
1 pound ground beef (85%), cooked, crumbled, drained
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cups diced onions
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups chopped kale leaves, packed tightly
1/4 teaspoon garlic salt
16 oz. container cottage cheese, liquid from top drained
2 tablespoons dried Italian seasoning
1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
6 cups jarred tomato sauce (I use a roasted onion & garlic variety – pick something flavorful)
16 oz. skim milk mozzarella, shredded, separated into three relatively equal piles
10 oz. box gluten free lasagna noodles (You can use regular lasagna noodles as well)
Cook the ground beef in a skillet. Break apart the beef into small crumbles as it cooks. When cooked through, drain well. Set the beef aside.
Place the oil and onions into the skillet and saute over medium heat for 6-8 minutes or until the onions have cooked down by half and are translucent and fragrant. Stir in the minced garlic and chopped kale leaves. Cook for an additional 4 minutes. Stir in the garlic salt and the cooked ground beef. Turn off the heat and set aside.
Place the cottage cheese, Italian seasoning, parmesan cheese, and black pepper into a food processor. Pulse until smooth. Set aside.
Spread 2 cups of tomato sauce onto the bottom of a slow cooker. Using 3-4 lasagna noodles, line the bottom of the crock pot. You will need to break apart some of the noodles in order to line the entire bottom.
Top with half of the cottage cheese mixture, half of the beef & vegetables mixture, and 1/3 of the shredded mozzarella.
Create another layer of lasagna noodles. Top with 2 cups of tomato sauce, the remaining cottage cheese mixture, the remaining beef & vegetable mixture, and 1/3 of the shredded mozzarella.
Make one last layer of lasagna noodles. Spread the remaining 2 cups of tomato sauce over top. Sprinkle the top with the remaining shredded mozzarella.
Cover and cook on Low for 6 hours or on HIGH for 2-3 hours.