Ever since I was a little girl I have eaten a casserole known as “Johnny Marzetti”. If you are from the Midwest, you know what I mean. It is a casserole made with three main ingredients – ground beef, pasta, and tomatoes of some kind. From here it can go anywhere with each cook adding his or her favorite ingredients. When I was a child, my mother made it with ground beef, onions, noodles, and tomato soup. That was it – no herbs, no exotic vegetables, no mushrooms – and we loved it.
When I started cooking for my own family, I was always (and still am) looking for new recipes, new ways to make old favorites. I found a recipe somewhere for Johnny Marzetti that called for mushrooms mixed in with the beef and noodles and it was topped with cheddar cheese. That was the first time I strayed from my family’s “original” Johnny M. It wasn’t the last.
From there, I started experimenting, adding herbs, sausage, different vegetables with the onion. Some of the variations were great, others, not so great. I finally came up with a “go-to” Johnny M. recipe that is probably the one I make most often, although there are no specific amounts and every ingredient is just eyeballed. It is a great recipe for feeding a crowd as well as a good one for preparing ahead of time. If I have made spaghetti, I use the leftover sauce to make Johnny M. although most of the time I need to add more tomato sauce. If I have made a good spaghetti sauce with carrots, celery, onions, mushrooms and green pepper, the only vegetable that I add would be a couple of big handsful of chopped fresh spinach, or about a cup of cooked, drained and squeezed frozen spinach. Sometimes if I am making creamed spinach, I will make extra and use that in the Marzetti.
For the pasta, I use penne, or rigatoni, or even macaroni, if that’s all I have on hand. I cook that, mix the drained pasta with the sauce ingredients and mix in a little cheese, cheddar to make it authentic, or mozzarella and parmesan if that’s what I’m in the mood for. More cheese goes on top, then it’s into the oven for a half hour at 350, covered, and uncovered for 5-10 minutes to brown the cheese.
A quick Google search gave me the following info from Wikipedia about the origins of Johnny Marzetti. I had forgotten the Marzetti restaurant in Columbus, Ohio, whose owner conceived the Johnny Marzetti idea and named it after her little brother. Marzetti’s is also known for it’s salad dressings which are available in groceries. I never knew the casserole migrated to Panama where it became a great hit among the American emigres living there during the canal management era. There are several recipes available online for the Panamanian versions. One calls for “arturo sauce” of which I was ignorant. Another google search gave me a recipe* for it and it is available online for purchase in jars or cans.
“Johnny Marzetti is a baked pasta dish, or casserole, consisting of noodles, tomato sauce, ground beef, and cheese. Other ingredients and seasonings may be added to adjust the taste. The dish originated in Columbus, Ohio at the Marzetti restaurant, and spread to other parts of the United States as variations of the recipe were published in magazines and cookbooks during the mid-20th century. The dish is still served in Ohio, especially at social gatherings and in school lunchrooms.
Johnny Marzetti also gained a great deal of popularity in the Panama Canal Zone, where it was served at social occasions and on holidays since at least the early WWII era. The Canal Zone version of the dish typically includes celery and green olives, and is almost always spelled “Johnny Mazetti” by Zonians. The importance of Johnny Mazetti to the culture of the Canal Zone was such that most Zonians are unaware of the origin of the dish and are surprised to learn that it did not originate there.”
Here is a recipe from Wikipedia for the Panamanian Johnny Mazetti (no “r”). I am definitely going to try this. Note the suggestion on which wine to use on which day.
1 lb ground beef
1 green pepper, cut fine
1 onion chopped
1 stalk celery chopped
1 large can mushrooms
1 clove garlic
salt & pepper
2 cans tomato soup
1 can tomato sauce
Dash of hot sauce
1 tsp chopped capers
1 can Arturo sauce (recipe below*)
1 bottle chopped stuffed olives
1 pkgs. boiled noodles
1/2 lb grated american cheese
1/4 lb grated swiss cheese
1/4 lb grated mozarella
3 strips bacon fried and crumbled fine
1/4 cup red or white wine (use white wine on odd days red on even)
Cook ground beef; add remaining ingredients except cheese. Simmer slowly until green pepper, onion, celery are tender. Place all ingredients with 1/2 of cheese in casserole or baking dish; sprinkle the top with remaining cheese and crumbled bacon. Bake in 350 oven for 1 hour. Yields 6 – 8 servings. (Johnny Mazetti is better when cooked and then frozen and then reheated so always put some away for rainy day).
Yield: approximately 1 cup
1/4 cups finely chopped mushrooms
1/4 cups water
1/4 cups tomato sauce
1/4 cups soy sauce
1/4 cups cider vinegar
1 tbs. brown sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 large clove garlic
1/4 tsp. black pepper
Pinch of ginger, nutmeg
Mix all ingredients together.
Compare that with this one from The Chicago Sun-Times.August 19, 1998
Makes 10 servings
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups chopped celery
1 cup chopped onion
2 green bell peppers, cored, seeded and chopped
1 pound ground beef
1 pound mild or hot Italian sausage
1 (10-ounce) can condensed tomato soup, undiluted
1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 (7-ounce) can mushrooms, drained
1/2 pound macaroni, cooked and drained
2 cups grated sharp Cheddar cheese
Heat oil in a dutch oven over medium heat. Add celery, onion and green peppers, saute until vegetables are tender and onion is translucent, about 10 minutes.
Remove vegetables from pan. Cook beef and sausage in pan until browned, about 10 minutes, stirring and breaking them up with the back of a spoon. Pour off fat and discard.
Return vegetables to pan. Pour soup, tomato paste, tomato sauce and 1 cup of water over meat-mixture. Add salt, pepper and simmer, uncovered, over medium-low heat for 30 minutes.
Add mushrooms and macaroni, mix well. Spoon mixture into a 9-by-13-inch casserole dish. Cover with cheese. Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 20 minutes.