There are many different kinds of Crock-Pot® casseroles. These dishes typically allow cooks the freedom to combine as many flavors and ingredients as they like, meaning there are literally hundreds of recipes for this type of meal. Fortunately, Crock-Pot® casseroles can be broken down into three basic categories. The first is a pasta casserole that closely resembles a thick stew, while the second is a layered casserole that keeps its shape. The third kind of casserole has a distinctive crust and sometimes resembles a savory pie.
Pasta-based Crock-Pot® casseroles are generally the easiest to make. Those new to slow cooker cookery or to casseroles may want to start with these. The recipe usually starts with some kind of meat, vegetables, and sauce. For instance, a cook might combine shredded pork, roast beef, or chicken with a can of beans, some broccoli, and a spicy marinara sauce. The sauce is the only liquid, ensuring that the casserole will be thick and hold together well.
The next part of a pasta casserole is the pasta itself. A cook has two options, here. Option one includes boiling the noodles separately and stirring them into the casserole. The other option involves adding raw pasta to the casserole during the last hour of cooking. This pulls more liquid out of the dish, making it even thicker. Most cooks generally add cheese to the top during the last hour as well, which can ensure it melts without becoming gluey.
Layered Crock-Pot® casseroles closely resemble lasagna, even if they don’t include traditional lasagna flavors and ingredients. Wide pasta noodles usually provide the perfect bed for these casseroles, helping them keep their shape and enabling the cook to cut neat, square slices from the finished product. The noodles generally don't have to be cooked before they go into the Crock-Pot® because the low temperatures and long, slow cooking times will soften the noodles as the casserole simmers.
Cooks usually lay the first layer of noodles into a lightly-greased Crock-Pot® vessel. A light coating of cooking spray or butter often prevents the noodles from sticking. Next comes the layers of the casserole ingredients. These may include ricotta cheese, ground beef, and marinara for a simple lasagna, or something like refried beans, chicken, and a mixture of tomatoes and chili peppers for a Mexican twist. A vegetarian version might include alternating layers of chickpeas, tofu-based cheese, and vegetarian vodka sauce.
The last category of Crock-Pot® casseroles may be the most challenging. These dishes generally feature a crumb or pastry crust pressed into the bottom of a lightly greased slow cooker vessel. The cook may then add a desired filling, like a cream-based chicken stew, ground meat with vegetables and a sauce, or even a quiche-like mixture of butter, eggs, and milk on top of the pie shell. These Crock-Pot® casseroles must usually be cooked on low heat for most of the day, then bumped up to high heat for the last hour or two of cooking. This solidifies the casserole filling and ensures the crust is crisp.