Slow cooked comfort food that's packed with nutrients!
For me growing up, Sunday night was known as Ziti night! The recipe my mom used to make was baked– and boy was it delicious. But it was always perfect for Sunday evenings at home because she could keep an eye on it while it was in the oven. Fast forward to today, and life seems to have sped up quite a bit (no pun intended). Easy-going Sundays that used to provide the whole day for cooking leisurely meals have turned into days to Get. Stuff. Done. Trust me, we understand and we have a solution! Our Slow Cooker Zucchini Ziti is just as delicious as my mom’s baked ziti was, but because it’s made in the slow cooker, you can just set it and forget it! This healthy low-maintenance recipe is perfect for our busy lives!
Cleaning Up the Classic Version
Once we decided to create an easy slow cooker ziti recipe, we thought, while we were at it, that we would try to make it a little healthier than the classic version! Simple swaps like marinara sauce with no sugar added, whole grain ziti, and fat-free cottage cheese increase nutrients while cutting some calories. Note that we used jarred marinara to save some time, but if you’ve got some time to spare, you might want to try making your own marinara sauce!
The addition of zucchini also increases the nutritional value of this dish. Zucchini is rich in vitamin C, potassium, and fiber. Vitamin C promotes eye and immune health, while potassium is vital for a number of body processes. These include regulating your heart beat, lowering your blood pressure, maintaining normal nerve and muscle function, and more! The water and fiber content makes zucchini an excellent ingredient for weight loss because it will keep you feeling fuller for longer, thus controlling your appetite. And, for those of us with small kids, who frequently HATE anything green, cloaking the healthy veggies in a tomato-y, cheesy pasta dish will get even the pickiest eater to ask for seconds!
Want to Make Our Slow Cooker Zucchini Ziti?
This recipe begins with cheese (as every recipe should.) Combine the fat-free cottage cheese, mozzarella, and salt and pepper in a medium bowl, We used full fat mozzarella in this recipe for its ooey-gooey texture, but if you’d like to slash a bit more fat from your slow cooker ziti, you can go with part-skim or fat-free mozzarella. Just keep in mind that it won’t get as melty.
Next, pull out your slow cooker and add one cup of marinara to the bottom of the pot. In a large bowl, add the uncooked ziti shells, (or penne, if you prefer) and then pour the rest of the marinara on top of them. Stir the pasta and sauce together to coat the shells
Now you can begin assembling your ziti in the slow cooker. Add a layer of sauce-covered pasta, followed by a layer of zucchini, and then a layer of the cheese mixture. Continue this process until all of the ingredients have been used, making sure to finish with a cheese layer. Once everything is in the slow cooker, place the lid on the pot and cook it on low for about 2 hours. Dish it up on the plate and sprinkle the pasta with parmesan cheese before serving!
Make this Recipe Your Own
This tasty slow cooker zucchini ziti is a vegetarian-friendly meal that’s loaded with healthy ingredients and delicious flavor. It currently offers 15 grams of protein in a less than 300 calorie serving. That said, we always want you to feel free to make our recipes your own!
If your family is made up of meat eaters, you might want to add some seasoned ground beef or Italian sausage to this ziti. If you decide to add meat, be sure to cook it separately and drain it before adding it to the crock pot. You can stir the cooked meat into the large bowl with the uncooked pasta and sauce, before creating the layers, or use it as part of the individual layers, as you like.
And while we’re on the subject of adding extra ingredients, you can add in any extra veggies or cheese that you’d like. Some people add mushrooms, while others enjoy roasted veggies like tomatoes or red peppers, or even sautéed spinach. It’s totally up to you! If using fresh mushrooms, you’ll want to sauté those before adding to the mixture to keep your pasta from getting watery as the mushrooms release their liquid during cooking.
Basically, anything that you can think of as an Italian or pizza ingredient can be added to customize your new go-to slow cooker ziti dish, so feel free to get creative!
Slow Cooker Zucchini Ziti
- 25 ounces jarred marinara sauce no-sugar added
- 3 cups whole grain ziti shells uncooked, or penne
- 2 cups fat-free cottage cheese
- 2 cups mozzarella cheese shredded
- 1 large zucchini cut into 1/4 inch half moons
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 cup parmesan cheese finely grated
- In a medium bowl combine the cottage cheese, mozzarella, and spices. Add one cup marinara to the bottom of the slow cooker. Combine (uncooked) pasta shells with remaining marinara. Layer pasta coated marinara, zucchini, and cheese mixture until all ingredients have been used. Cheese should be the last ingredient added.
- Cover and cook on low for two hours, or until pasta is al dente.
- Sprinkle some parmesan cheese over the top of each plate before serving.
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If you enjoyed this slow cooker zucchini ziti, we think you might also like to try these simple, Italian-inspired meals: