Do you remember Budget Gourmet dinners? The ones in the blue box without any fancy packaging, containers or doodads?
When I was ‘younger,’ I lived on those things. My freezer was packed tight with dark blue boxes. Those were the days when I had a couch, a table and a bed in my little place; not much more. Since the apartment in which I lived was close to where I worked, a grocery store and my parents, I didn’t even own a car in those early days. I walked everywhere or borrowed a means of transportation from my folks.
And I ate food from the blue boxes. It was cheaper than buying ingredients and meant I didn’t have to wash dishes (no, the apartment didn’t come with a dishwasher other than me).
When I saw this recipe, I didn’t think of Budget Gourmet dinners though. Instead, I thought of a Lean Cuisine meal that came out some time later, during the boom days of ‘healthy’ frozen dinners. It was one of my favorites; Baked Rigatoni.
You see, thinking of Baked Rigatoni made me think of Lean Cuisine which made me think of frozen dinner in general, which led me to thinking about Budget Gourmet. You do that too, right?
After weaving my way through that line of thought process, it hit me that I haven’t seen a little blue box in the frozen dinner section in a long, long time. Apparently, they disappeared in 1994 when Kraft sold that part of the business to Weight Watchers.
1994. That shows how long it’s been since I’ve purchased a frozen dinner.
I don’t think a recipe can get much easier than this. All you have to do is dump. Well, there is the little step of mixing the cheeses together, but that’s nothing. It’s seriously as simple as dumping.
Because this takes five minutes to make and only three hours in the crock pot, it’s the perfect dinner for when you hit mid-afternoon and realize the rest of your day is going to be crazy. Dump it in, get on with life, eat dinner. That’s exactly what I did.
Also, for some reason the dish in the magazine’s photo has penne pasta (with ridges) instead of ziti, which is a smooth tube. I went ahead and used the ziti as called for in the recipe.
I was hoping that that this would be reminiscent of that Baked Rigatoni dish, but better and I wasn’t disappointed. I enjoyed it very much, even with the ricotta texture that I’m not fond of. It’s the non-melting of the cheese that bothers me. It remains curdish and mealy. I like melty. Hubby felt the same way, but he wasn’t able to get past the texture and didn’t enjoy the meal much at all.
Dudette. Dudette loved this. I mean raved about it love. She thought it was absolutely the bomb. That all by itself makes this a huge score. If she had some way to heat her lunch at school, it would be in her Scooby Doo lunchbox right now and she’d be a happy camper.
What I’d Do Different Next Time
I will make this again, but I will change things up for Hubby. I’ll try it with 8 ounces of cream cheese instead of the ricotta and I’ll cook up some bulk Italian sausage and mix that in with the pasta before pouring on the marinara.
Slow Cooker Baked Ziti - print this recipe
from All You Magazine, Back To School Special Issue 2012
1 15-oz. container part-skim ricotta
1 cup shredded mozzarella
1 cup grated Parmesan
1 teaspoon salt
1 pound ziti
2 25-oz. jars marinara sauce
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil leaves
Combine all three cheeses and salt in a medium bowl. Rinse ziti under cold water in a colander, allowing some water to cling to pasta.
Mist inside of slow cooker with cooking spray. Place half of pasta in an even layer over bottom of cooker. Spoon half of sauce over pasta. Dot with half of cheese mixture and half of basil. Repeat with remaining pasta, sauce, cheese and basil. Pour in 2/3 cup water.
Cover and cook on high until pasta is tender, 2 to 3 hours.
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