It never ceases to amaze me what you can do with a slow cooker. Years ago it was just a tool you used to put in some meat, vegetables, some liquid (mainly canned soup) and let it cook for 8 hours or more. And generally that resulted in bland, dried out food. Well not anymore.
The slow cooker has not become a versatile tool for making a wide variety of things. Years ago I would never have thought about cooking pasta in a slow cooker and would never have thought to use the cooker for only three hours. My, how times have changed!
This recipe is insanely delicious. The combination of ricotta, cottage cheese and pesto makes a delightful creamy filling for the shells. And it also is fabulous as leftovers – so minimally you can get more than one dinner out of this recipe.
So let’s talk slow cooker stuffed shells…
Lesson Learned 1 – Cook the shells for one minute less than it says on the box directions: You boil the shells to get them somewhat softer and easier to stuff. There is no need to cook them through because they will still cook for another 3 hours in the slow cooker. So don’t boil them on the stove top for the recommended amount of time. If you do, by the time you’re ready to serve you shells will be mushy.
Lesson Learned 2 – You can add some additional veggies to the cheese mixture: I had some sweet red pepper in my refrigerator and so I decided to dot the top the cheese mixture with some sweet pepper morsels. But you could easily just mix the peppers in with the cheese – just make sure to dice the peppers small. Chopped mushrooms would also work well in the cheese mixture. Or you could slice the mushrooms and mix it with the tomato sauce and just let them cook that way. You could also add frozen spinach to the cheese mixture. Just make sure it is completely thawed and squeeze out all the water from the spinach so the cheese mixture doesn’t get soggy.
Lesson Learned 3 – Don’t precook the sausage all the way through: I suggest you cook the sausage in a skillet and when there still is some pink left in the meat, take the sausage out of the skillet and drain it on paper towels. The sausage will be cooking another 3 hours in the slow cooker so no need to cook it through on the stove top.
Lesson Learned 4 – Make sure you spray your slow cooker crock with cooking spray and line the bottom with a little tomato sauce: That way the shells won’t stick to the crock and clean up will be a breeze.
And that’s it – it’s basically soften the shells, stuff them, place them in the slow cooker and let the slow cooker do all of the work. What more could you ask? Enjoy!
Slow Cooker Stuffed Shells...
15 large pasta shells, cooked 1 minute less than package directions
1 large jar of tomato sauce
2 links of Italian sausage, skin removed, partially cooked, crumbled, divided
12 ounces whole milk ricotta cheese
6 ounces cottage cheese
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup pesto
1/4 cup sweet pepper, diced small
2 tsp. of Italian seasoning, divided
1 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
salt and pepper to taste
olive oil cooking spray
Chopped or sliced mushrooms, optional
Frozen spinach, optional
Cook the pasta shells one minute less than the package instructions. Drain and set aside to cool.
In a skillet, cook the Italian sausage, breaking it up while you cook it, leaving some pink color in the sausage. Do not cook the sausage completely through. Drain the sausage on paper towels and set aside.
In a medium size bowl mix together cheeses, pesto, sweet pepper and 1 tsp of Italian seasoning. Generously stuff each shell with the cheese mixture and set aside. Dot the top of each with pieces of sweet red pepper or combine the red pepper into the cheese mixture before stuffing the shells.
Spray the slow cooker crock with cooking spray. Lightly cover the bottom of the crock with a layer of tomato sauce. Sprinkle half the sausage on top of the sauce. Place the stuffed shells on top of the sausage and sauce. Pour the remaining sauce over the shells and sprinkle the remaining sausage on top of the sauce.
Sprinkle the mozzarella all over the top of the shells meat and sauce. Sprinkle the remaining teaspoon of Italian seasoning over the mozzarella.
Cover and cook for no longer than 3 hours.
NOTE: You can chop mushrooms small and add them to the cheese mixture or you can take mushroom slices and place them in the sauce lining the bottom of the slow cooker and then place the shells on top of them. A small box of frozen spinach can be added to the cheese mixture as well. Make sure it is thawed and all the liquid is squeezed out of it.