Slow Cooker Baked Ziti

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No one can resist the melty cheese and sauce of this Slow-Cooker Baked Ziti recipe, writes recipe creator Aubrey K. in the book Stock the Crock: 100 Must-Have Slow-Cooker Recipes, 200 Variations for Every Appetite. She likes to make it for friends who need a little pick me up.
1 (60-ounce) jar of your favorite spaghetti sauce, Divided
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, cubed
1⁄2 teaspoon dried basil
1⁄2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1⁄4 to 1⁄2 teaspoon black pepper
1 pound uncooked ziti, divided
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
3 tablespoons grated
Parmesan cheese
Fresh topper: fresh basil or 1⁄4 cup fresh basil ribbons

Step 1

Grease the interior of the slow cooker crock with butter or nonstick cooking spray.

Step 2

Place 2 cups of the spaghetti sauce in a microwave-safe deep bowl. Heat on High 1 to 2 minutes, or until it’s steaming.

Step 3

Stir in the cubed cream cheese. Heat on High 1 to 1-1 ⁄ 2 minutes, until the cream cheese is melting.

Step 4

Stir, mixing the melting cheese throughout the sauce. Stir in the remaining spaghetti sauce. Add the basil, oregano, garlic powder, and black pepper and stir until thoroughly mixed.

Step 5

Put 1⁄3 of the creamy spaghetti sauce into the crock.

Step 6

Layer in half of the uncooked ziti. (You do NOT need to cook the ziti first!)

Step 7

Layer in half of the remaining creamy sauce. Top with the remaining uncooked ziti. Scatter the remaining mozzarella over the top.

Step 8

Spoon the remaining sauce over all ingredients in the crock. Scatter the Parmesan cheese over the top.

Step 9

Cover. Cook on Low 4 hours, or until the ziti is al dente throughout. (Dig gently into the middle of the crock and pull out a few ziti to check for doneness.)

Step 10

Remove the lid. Let the ziti stand for 15 minutes to firm up.

Step 11

Just before serving, scatter fresh basil over the top.

Step 12

Make It Ahead
Prepare the recipe through Step 9. Cover the crock with plastic wrap, and then with foil. Refrigerate the filled crock for up to 24 hours, or freeze it for up to 2 months. Thaw the frozen version in the refrigerator overnight. Remove the plastic wrap and foil. Cook, beginning with Step 10. If the dish is cold when you start cooking it, you may need to add about 30 minutes to the cooking time.
Make It Gluten-free Use gluten-free pasta. Also, check that the spaghetti sauce you choose is gluten-free.
Make It Vegetarian/Vegan Make sure to use a meat-free spaghetti sauce. To make it vegan, substitute soy cheese or a vegan cheese in place of cream cheese, mozzarella, and Parmesan.

Step 13

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