Archive for August, 2007

I know I described the way I usually fix Johnny Marzetti in the last post. Today I used a different recipe and it is extremely good. A few years ago, I was really interested in Italian cookbooks and read many from the library and bought quite a few, too many, probably. I began to notice recipes for a pasta sauce or casserole that called for blue cheese, or gorgonzola. I thought that sounded rather strange (remember, this was two decades ago, and I was really just getting involved in cooking at a level more than basic). After I had seen a number of them, I decided to give it a try.

Man, oh man! What a revelation! If I don’t convince you to try anything else in this blog, I will be happy if I get you to try adding crumbled blue cheese to a more or less standard pasta casserole recipe. Let me tell you how I did it today.

I started with leftover spaghetti sauce from a few days ago. It was just regular spaghetti sauce, ground beef, tomato sauce, some onions, garlic, herbs. Nothing out of the ordinary. I had about 2 cups leftover and decided to make Johnny Marzetti.  I began by sauteeing a chopped carrot, celery stalk, small onion, and half of a zucchini, chopped. When those were tender, I added the leftover sauce and heated it. Then, while I was boiling about a half pound of campanelle pasta (shaped like little horns or bells – but I could have used penne, or anything), I poured into the sauce about a half cup of heavy cream. Then I put in about a half cup of crumbled blue cheese and stirred all that to combine the cream and incorporate the melting cheese.

After draining the pasta, I put both the pasta and the sauce in a casserole and mixed them. I sprinkled some parmesan over the top and put it in a 325 oven for about 15 minutes to melt the cheese on top. During that time I tossed a salad and sliced some fresh bread.

The blue cheese adds a tangy taste that makes the dish rather different from most pasta casseroles. I have made it before with Italian sausage instead of ground beef. It is actually quite a bit better with sausage. The two tastes are complementary somehow. Give it a try, even if you don’t like blue cheese.

Here’s the recipe, as best as I can quantify the ingredients. Remember – I used leftover homemade spaghetti sauce. You can use whatever kind you like, with meat or without.



2  to 2 1/2 c. spaghetti sauce

1 T. olive oil

1 carrot, peeled and chopped

1 celery stalk, halved lengthwise and chopped

1/2 c. onion, chopped

1 small zucchini, halved lengthwise and chopped

1/2 lb. pasta (penne, macaroni, campanelle, whatever), prepared according to directions on package

1/2 c. heavy cream, or whipping cream

1/2 c. crumbled blue cheese

1/4 c. parmesan cheese, grated or shredded

1. Preheat oven to 325. In a medium saucepan, heat the olive oil until shimmering. Add the chopped vegetables and saute until tender.

2. Add the leftover spaghetti sauce and heat medium heat. Add the cream, lower heat to medium low and stir to combine.

3. Add the blue cheese and stir to incorporate the melting cheese.

4. Put the cooked pasta and the warm sauce into a casserole and mix together. Sprinkle some parmesan on top and bake in the oven until bubbly, about 20 minutes.

5. Serve with more parmesan if desired. 

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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).

*Arturo Sauce
Source: Unknown
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

Johnny Marzetti
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.

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Perhaps each one of you has your own favorite barbecue sauce, either one you make from scratch or one you buy off the grocer’s shelf. I can’t say that I have a favorite. It may be the one that I am eating at any particular moment. I have tried scores of bottled BBQ sauce, and have made many recipes at home. There are many of both kinds that I like, but no “stand-out favorite” comes to mind.

I try to tailor the sauce for the type of meat, and the rest of the meal, as well as for the preferences of the diners, if I am aware of them. I use a spicy dry rub on ribs and hate to mask that with a heavy sauce. I’m not fond of overly smoky sauces, so I usually pass those by at the market.

I did, however, find a recipe last week for a sauce for pork chops that uses liquid smoke. It looked interesting and I tried it. It is from the September-October, 2007, issue of Cook’s Illustrated, the second recipe from that issue that I have written about. It has a teaspoon of liquid smoke in it but it wasn’t too much for my taste. These chops also had a spice rub, applied after a brining session for the chops. This is one place I part company with Cook’s Illustrated and other cooking sources. I do not brine meat or poultry. I don’t need the extra salt and even after rinsing the brined meat I still taste too much salt. I usually fix the recipes skipping the brining steps or ignore the entire recipe.

This time, I started with Step 2 and once again ignoring the brining instructions. The pork chops turned out great and the sauce was good and easy to prepare. Here’s the recipe:

Skillet-Barbecue Pork Chops

Pork Chops (brining)
1/2 c. table salt
4 bone-in pork rib chops, 3/4 to 1 inch thick (8 to 10 ounces each), trimmed of excess fat, and sides slit at 2 inch intervals
4 t. vegetable oil

Spice Rub
1 T. paprika
1 T. brown sugar
2 t. ground coriander
1 t. ground cumin
1 t. ground black pepper
(1/2 t. salt if not bringing chops)

1/2 c. ketchup
3 T. light or mild molasses
2 T. grated onion (I just minced the onion)
2 T. Worcestershire sauce
2 T. Dijon mustard
1 T. cider vinegar
1 T. brown sugar
1 t. liquid smoke

1. FOR THE PORK CHOPS: dissolve salt in 2 quarts of water in a large bowl or container. Submerge chops in the brine, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

2. FOR THE SPICE RUB: Combine ingredients in a small bowl. Measure 2 teaspoons mixture into medium bowl and set aside for sauce. Transfer remaining spice rub to pie plate or large plate.

3. FOR THE SAUCE: Whisk ingredients in bowl with reserved spice mixture; set aside.

4. TO COOK THE CHOPS: Remove chops from brine and pat dry with paper towels. Coat both sides of chops with spice rub, pressing gently so rub adheres. Pat chops to remove excess rub; discard excess rub.

5. Heat 1 T. oil in 12 inch nonstick skillet over medium heat until just smoking. Place chops in skillet in pinwheel formation (nesting chops with tips of ribs pointing toward the edge of the pan. Cook until charred in spots, 5-8 minutes. Flip chops and continue to cook until second side is browned and charred and center of chop registers 130 degrees on instant-read thermometer, 4-8 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and transfer chops to clean plate or baking sheet. Lightly brush top side of each chop with 2 teaspoons sauce.

6. Wipe out pan with paper towels and return to medium heat. Add remaining teaspoon oil and heat until just smoking. Add chops to pan, sauce-side down, and cook without moving until sauce has caramelized and charred in spots, about 1 minute. While cooking, lightly brush top side of each chop with 2 teaspoons sauce. Turn chops and cook until second side is charred and caramelized and center of chops registers 140 dgrees. Meanwhile, add remaining sauce to pan and cook, scraping pan bottom, until thickened to ketchup-like consistency and reduced to 2/3 cup, about 3 minutes. Brush each chop with 1 T. reduced sauce and serve immediately, passing remaining sauce at table.


I hope you try this and, if you do, I hope you enjoy it.


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I awoke this morning ready to bake the loaf of bread dough that I had prepared yesterday morning, the one that had been sitting on the counter all day. All it needed was to be formed into a rough ball, and left alone to rise another two hours. Houston, we had a problem. It was a “no go”. It had never risen, not even an inch. It was still a gloppy mess, nowhere near the size of bubbly dough that I was used to seeing after an 18-20 hour no-knead rising. I was buffaloed at first. I figured finally that I must have left out the yeast. Duh. So we had no bread today.What a disappointment. I offered to go buy a loaf of the dreaded grocery bread and my husband said “Yuck. Never mind.”I have another batch of dough, complete with yeast this time, ready to go into the oven tomorrow morning. So help me God, I will never be breadless again.This was the first batch that didn’t work at all. I have made some that we liked more than others. I use a selection of different flours, different additives, etc. Some loaves were slightly under or over-cooked, but each of the “bad” ones was infinitely better than the best grocery store bread. Cheaper, too. Like my daughter said, “It’s not like it’s grocery bread at all. It’s another food group entirely.”You must find a recipe for no-knead bread and try it. (Enter the term “no knead bread” in the search window on the upper right. I have a couple posts about it and one or two contain the recipe. You can also Google it and find way more than you ever needed, or should I say “kneaded”, to know about it.)Believe me, I was a bread baking novice just a few months ago. I have made probably 50-60 loaves since May (that’s about 12 weeks ago). My sister didn’t believe that it was that good but she had plenty of it last week during her visit and loved it. I sent a loaf home with her for her husband to try. He liked it also. It’s easy, very forgiving, unless you forget the yeast, and delicious. I know I keep harping on how good it is, but that’s only to encourage one and all to give it a try. 50 cent. That’s all it costs – that and the cost to heat up your oven to “blazing hot” for over an hour. Just do it (my apologies to Nike).

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Mac and I love scalloped or au gratin potatoes – almost any potato casserole, actually. I have several different recipes that I make now and then, some with ham and other vegetables, and most with just potatoes, onions and cheese. I found a new one not long ago and decided to prepare it the day before yesterday. It called for celery root (celeriac) and parsnips, not ingredients that I usually have on hand. After a trip to a large grocery that I was sure would carry them, we came home ready to experiment.


i-parsnips.jpgThe two other root vegetables add a subtle taste to the more bland potatoes. While parsnips, especially old ones, can be bitter, they add a slightly nutty taste to the casserole.
Celery root has a slight celery taste, but it is hard to describe adequately. It can be eaten raw, or cooked.

Celery Root
Celery Root

This recipe is from Cook’s Illustrated magazine’s website and, I believe, is a variation of a recipe for scalloped potatoes printed in an earlier issue. While the authors recommend using a food processor to quickly and evenly slice the vegetables to 1/8″, I had no difficulty using a santoku knife for all the slicing. It would have taken more time to get my processor, set it up, and then clean it. I rarely use it for slicing ingredients for ordinary recipes. If I were to make enough for a large group, I would probably use the processor.


2 T. unsalted butter
1 medium onion, minced (about 1 cup)
2 medium cloves garlic, minced or pressed (about 2 teaspoons)
1 T. chopped fresh thyme leaves
1 1/4 t. table salt
1/4 t. ground black pepper
8 ounces celery root (about 1/2 medium), peeled and sliced 1/8 inch thick
8 ounces parsnips (about 2 medium), peeled and sliced 1/8 inch thick
1 c. low-sodium chicken broth
1 c. heavy cream
2 bay leaves
1 1/2 pounds russet potatoes (about 2 large), peeled and sliced 1/8 inch thick
4 ounces grated cheddar cheese, shredded (about 1 cup)

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position; heat oven to 425 degrees.

2. Melt butter in large Dutch oven over medium-heat until foaming subsides. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionaly, until soft and lightly browned, about 4 minutes. Add garlic, thyme, salt and pepper; cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add celery root, parsnips, chicken broth, cream, and bay leaves and bring to simmer. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer for 5 minutes. Add potatoes, bring mixture back to simmer, cover, and cook until potatoes are almost tender (paring knife can be slipped into and out of potato slice with some resistance), about 10 minutes. Discard bay leaves.

3. Transfer mixture to 8-inch square baking dish (or other 1 1/2-quart gratin dish) and press into an even layer; sprinkle evenly with cheese. Bake until cream is bubbling around edges and top is golden brown, about 15 minutes. Cool 10 minutes before serving.

4. To make ahead: Once the scalloped vegetables have been transferred to the baking dish and pressed into an even layer in step 3, they can be wrapped in plastic wrap and refrigerated for up to 24 hours. When ready to bake, add the cheese, cover with foil, and bake in a 400-degree oven until the mixture is hot and bubbling, about 45 minutes. Remove the foil and cook until the cheddar begins to brown, about 30 minutes longer. Let cool for 10 minutes before serving.

(Parmesan cheese can be used instead of cheddar. As a matter of fact, other cheeses, gruyere for example, are also possibilities.)

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images.jpgThe current (September, 2007) issus of Food & Wine magazine features Italian cuisine. I have dog-eared more pages than I will be able to fix in the next year, but I will give it a try.

I had guests for lunch today and, although we only had carry-in sandwiches for lunch, I wanted to fix something new for dessert. I remembered seeing a rather simple “mousse” recipe in Food & Wine and I decided, two hours before my guests were to arrive, to see if I had the necessary ingredients. I did, with one exception – creme fraiche.

My small local grocery doesn’t carry such things, and I didn’t have time to drive to a larger store. I remembered reading somewhere, sometime that one could make a reasonable substitute for creme fraiche. Google came to the rescue, as it often does. A quick substitute is 1 part sour cream and 1 part heavy cream, both of which I had. Problem solved. It took about 5 minutes to put the mousse together and it was in the frig for nearly two hours.

It was a big hit. In fact, my two guests copied the recipe at the table in order to be able to make it at home. It is one of those rich, satisfying desserts that belies its simplicity.

So, here is your gift for the day, compliments of Food & Wine. Be warned, however. The recipe makes a pitifully small amount, supposedly for four servings. We had three servings. I suppose four would have been possible and would have made a sufficient dessert after a large meal. We only had sandwiches, so it seemed rather scimpy. I would double the recipe to make adequate servings for 6. I served small cookies for the crunch factor that is missing in mousses.

Gianduja Mousse

1/2 cup chocolate-hazelnut paste, (Nutella)
1/4 cup creme fraiche (1/8 cup sour cream mixed with 1/8 cup heavy, whipping cream)
1 1/2 t. brandy or hazelnut liqueur
1/2 c. heavy cream
Cookies (optional)

In a medium bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the chocolate-hazelnut paste with the creme fraiche and brandy at low speed until smooth. In another bowl (smaller) beat the heavy cream until firm peaks form (about one minute). Using a rubber spatula, fold the whipped cream into the chocolate-hazelnut mixture until no streaks remain. Spoon the mousse into small bowls and refrigerate for 20 minutes. Serve with cookies if desired.

(The author, Grace Parisi, suggests spooning the mousse between chocolate wafers and freezing overnight to make ice cream sandwiches.)

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After a busy weekend, a day trip on Saturday and errands on Sunday, a simple supper for Sunday night seemed just right. In the afternoon, on the way home from the grocery, I read a newsletter from Dorothy Lane Market (DLM) outlining upcoming cooking classes. One is to feature Italian recipes. The instructor, Loretta Paganini, is a professional chef, having studied at a number of cooking schools, including Le Cordon bleu in Paris. She also founded and directs the Paganini School of Cooking. Among her other culinary activities, she has found time to author a cookbook and articles for magazines and newpapsers. She furnished a recipe in the DLM newsletter for a frittata with herbs. That sounded like it would be perfect for dinner. I had a loaf of no-knead bread ready to bake, some cherry tomatoes, and lots of herbs in the garden. Houston, we have a plan.

The recipe is straightforward, with some chopping of vegetables, but they are just rough chopped, nothing fancy or too tiny. It calls for a dozen eggs, which is a lot for supper for the two of us, but I know I can warm up the leftovers for breakfast or lunch. We should have about half of it leftover. A dozen eggs is a lot to whisk up. It would have been easier to use the mixer, but I didn’t want to dig it out of storage. I rarely use it.

I sauteed the tomatoes in olive oil with some sliced garlic chips, salt and pepper – simple and good. With thick slices of fresh bread, lightly buttered, and our frittata, we were in hog heaven.

Here is the recipe, thanks to Dorothy Lane Market and Loretta Paganini.

Frittata di Erbette

2-4 T. olive oil
1 medium onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 clove garic, peeled and minced
2 medium zucchini, coarsely chopped
2 sweet red peppers, coarsely chopped
12 large organic eggs*
1/2 c. freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese*
1 T. organic whole milk*
1/2 t. fresh thyme
1 t. fresh basil chiffonade
1 t. minced fresh Italian parsley
1 t. sea salt
1 t. freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Heat the oil in a heavy 10-12 inch ovenproof nonstick skillet. Add the onion, garlic, zucchini, and peppers. Cook until the onion becomes golden in color over medium heat.

In a bowl, whisk the eggs with half the cheese (1/4 cup) and the milk, herbs, salt and pepper.

Add the egg mixture to the sauteed vegetables and cook over low heat until the bottom is set and very tiny bubbles form on the top, about 5-7 minutes. Remove the skillet from the cooktop.

Place the skillet in the oven to finish baking, about 10 minutes or until the top is set. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese and allow to cool before serving. Makes 6-8 servings.

*I used regular large eggs, not organic, I used some already-grated parmesan, and I used 2% milk, not organic. We let the eggs sit for about 10 minutes because we couldn’t wait any longer to try it. It can be served at room temperature or warm.

Be careful handling the full skillet when moving it to the oven. The top of the eggs will still be very liquid and the skillet heavy.

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