Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Johnny Marzetti

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:

Johnny Marzetti

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.


david mcmahon said...

Must have been Johnny come lately.

And (shock horror) I canNOT believe you missed Harper Lee's birthday!!!

dive said...

That sounds very familiar.
When I cook it over here it is called "One Pot Mess".

Dear Prudence said...

We call it American Chop Suey.

Rich said...

This is some good eatin's Robyn. I love food like this.

what time shall I come over for some Johnny?

Shan said...

That does sound better than calling it goulash which is what I tend to make when I have these types of things laying around. Pasta always goes well around my house. I like recipe help anytime I can get it Robyn! I am not terribly fond of cooking. It turns out food makes me fat?!?! Go figure. ;)

MmeBenaut said...

Add some fruit chutney (1 tablespoon) and worcestershire sauce (tablespoon) to the sauce Robyn and see if you like that.
I make something similar (my own recipe) and M.B loves it!
I grow my own oregano and dry it and use heaps of it in my cooking.

Anonymous said...

I can verify the story. Except there was a brother, who actually started the restarted the restaurant. I'm originally from Columbus and Mama Marzetti used to make it for me at the restaurant when I was very little. Every Wednesday night my dad took me to the restaurant. Great memories!

Scout said...

IGIIGI (or are those Ls instead of Is). Thanks for filling in here. I had found conflicting stories. It's amazing—this post has attracted so many people who search for Johnny Marzetti online.

Eric said...

Count me as another hit just for the Johnny Marzetti recipe. Just for the record, in Vermont we called it goulash when my mother made it. Always liked it though I have never thought to make it and am looking forward to adding it to my repertoire.

Scout said...

Eric, I think we goulash as a kid, but I remember it as having a sour cream base. Or was that some other kind of goop?

Thomas said...

I stumbled onto your blog while looking for a Johnny Marzetti recipe. This looks like one of the most authentic ones yet.

I grew up with his dish in Columbus and it was routinely served for lunches at my Catholic grade school.

Next week I'm hosting a re-release party for a documentary I wrote 30 years ago and I'll be serving this to my friends here in CA so they can have the entire Ohio experience. : )


Scout said...

Thomas, of all the blog posts I've done over the years, this one has attracted the most attention.

I'm glad it will suit your party, and make sure to serve Trail bologna and Swiss cheese from Amishland to really give that Ohio experience.