SERIOUS COMFORT FOOD
I guess this isn't technically lasagna, since it is cooked in the crock pot and uses rigatoni noodles, but it qualifies as serious comfort food and has all of the rich, familiar lasagna flavors.
1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef (browned and drained well)
4 cups of beef broth (not bullion)
(1) 15 ounce can of tomato sauce
(1) 12 ounce can of tomato paste
1 tablespoon dehydrated onion flakes
1 teaspoon dry oregano
2 teaspoons dry basil
1/2 teaspoon fennel seed (don't leave out)
1 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoons sugar (don't leave out)
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
small pinch of red chili flakes (optional)
3/4 pound of rigatoni noodles
1/2 pound of mushrooms (thick sliced)
2 to 3 cups Colby jack cheese shredded
1 cup of ricotta cheese
Brown the ground beef and drain it very well. In a large crock pot (see note below), Mix the beef broth, tomato sauce, tomato paste, onion and spices. Use a whisk to mix the sauce together well, then stir in the meat and mushrooms. Cook on high for 4 hours (see note). Stir once in a while during the 4 hours if possible (but not absolutely necessary.
After 4 hours, Stir in the DRY unboiled rigatoni, make sure you push them under the sauce (add a little extra hot water if necessary). Add the ricotta to the crock pot by spooning tablespoons of it in random spots and gently push down on the ricotta to submerge it as well (don't stir).
Continue to cook on low for 30 more minutes. Sprinkle the surface with shredded Colby jack cheese and put the lid back on for about 5 minutes or until cheese is nicely melted. Serve.
NOTE: My crock pot is a large oval and wide slow cooker, which works well for this recipe, as opposed to a small/tall one. The main cooking time is 4 hours on high, but if you are going to be away from the house all day, just turn it down to LOW and cook for 8 hours before you add the noodles. If you are using one of those smaller/taller slow cookers, you may have to adjust the cooking time a little.
NOTE: My crock pot has a "low" setting, a "high" setting and a "warm" setting. Once this recipe is completely done (and ready to eat) you can leave it on "warm" for quite a while. Warning, "low" is not the same as "warm".
NOTE: Noodles tends to fall apart if you leave them in the crock pot for much more than 30 minutes, so don't be tempted to add them early. Thirty minutes is perfect.
NOTE: This recipe uses rigatoni noodles, which are large diameter tubular noodles that have ridges on them. However, any kind of thick walled (sturdy) noodle will work for this recipe. Just make sure you do NOT BOIL THEM before you add them to the sauce. They cook in the sauce and soak up all of that extra liquid. Regular elbow noodles work well if you are serving this to a crowd of kids.
NOTE: I like dehydrated onion in this recipe, but if you don't have that, just saute a small chopped onion along with the ground beef.
NOTE: You can use your favorite cheese. We happen to like Colby jack cheese, but mozzarella works well too.
NOTE: This reheats very well.