I was having a chat with a fellow foodie one day, and she mentioned she was thinking about making Johnny Marzetti for dinner. I had no idea what she was talking about, but because I didn't care enough at the time to inquire, I just nodded and pretended to be familiar with Johnny Marzetti. I suspected it was made with ground beef because we had just finished talking about meatloaf. These are the conversations I have.
Later, I decided I was interested in knowing about this Johnny Marzetti, so I looked it up. Turns out, it's another one of those regional dishes like city chicken. In the late 1800s, a woman named Teresa Marzetti moved to Columbus, Ohio from Florence, Italy, and she open a restaurant. Marzetti's was a local favorite for Ohio State students and eventually became a four-star restaurant, which will surprise you when you see the recipe. Anyway, at some point in the 20s, Teresa came up with this dish that she supposedly named after her little brother, although some say she never had a brother. Marzetti's Restaurant closed in 1972 when Teresa died, but her name is now attached to a line of salad dressings sold throughout Ohio.
Oddly, Johnny Marzetti was a favorite casserole in the Panama Canal Zone during WW2 where residents made slight modifications to the recipe, like adding green olives and celery. New England has a dish known as American Chop Suey that seems similar, and I'm sure every other part of the country has a name for this dish that empties the pantry.
So, now I know what Johnny Marzetti is. Some recipes call for cheese. Others don't but use canned soup instead of tomatoes. Some recipes call for baking, but others just let you mix it all up in a big, gloppy pot. Here is a combination of some of them:
1 16-oz package rigatoni or your favorite pasta
1 1/2 lbs. ground beef
1 large onion, chopped
1/2 cup green pepper, chopped
1/2 cup celery, diced
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon basil
1 29-oz. can diced tomatoes
6 oz. tomato paste
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
2 cups grated mozzarella (or use your favorite cheese)
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
• Preheat oven to 375˚.
• Cook pasta according to package directions.
• Brown meat, onions, green peppers, and celery. Stir in seasonings. Mix with pasta, tomatoes, tomato paste, parsley, 1 cup of grated cheese, and the Parmesan. Spread in 9x13 baking dish and top with remaining cheese.
• Bake for 35 to 40 minutes.