Go Johnny go go
Go Johnny go go
Go Johnny go go
Go Johnny go go
Johnny Be Good…..!!
Yeah, I know I know. I changed the lyrics of my toddler’s favorite song a little and changed the dude. This ain’t Johnny B Goode… It’s Johnny Marzetti!! And sure, this good ol’ Johnny has gone far in distance and time. Loved and adored almost coast to coast, though under different names. It’s the quintessential classic vintage casserole of pasta with beefy tomato sauce and melted cheese.
Some call it American Goulash… some American Chop suey… some spice it up and add beans and call it chili mac. Whatever name you call it, I bet if you are American you have been fed this by your mom or grandma. Johnny Marzetti, this one is going to take you down memory lane…
So who and what is Johnny Marzetti??
I first met Johnny in a cookbook of American casseroles. It is a vintage recipe that dates back to the 1920’s and endured to the middle of the 20th century and beyond. Born in Columbus, Ohio, it is believed to have been created by Italian immigrant Teresa Marzetti, who named it after her brother-in-law.
It’s mostly either egg noodles or elbow macaroni with beef and veggies in a tomato sauce with lots of cheese. Teresa served it at the restaurant bearing the family name for just 45 cents. It was one of their signature dishes until the eatery closed its doors for good in 1972. But, long before that, it spread all over the state and beyond, as it was a hefty, fulfilling and tasty dish, which was also very economical and easy to make.
Johnny was a big hit at school cafeterias and church functions. And moms everywhere thought that they were cooking up one hell of a gourmet supper, with their new found love for casseroles. The entry of the electric stove and oven into the house suddenly changed life for the typical housewife. From slaving all day to make three meals a day, to throwing everything (your meat + carb + veggies) in one dish and popping it in the oven.
Voila, dinner served in an hour with leftovers for lunch tomorrow. Just like that, the American housewife’s world changed. 🙂
No wonder then that Johnny was embraced and cooked so often. Oh sure, Johnny changed a bit as families moved far and beyond. He is quite a traveller, a vagabond. It was popular with the U.S. Army, who took it with them to the Panama Canal Zone. The locals there still eat it and claim it as their own, though they have dropped the “r” and call it “Johnny Mazetti”.
However Johnny changed and evolved, he still remained down to earth. Simple, humble, goodness which was always universally loved, cherished and remembered. Here is my attempt to keep the classics alive in 2020…
- Ground beef
- Ground Italian sausage
- Elbow macaroni
- Green and Red bell peppers
- Tomato sauce and diced tomatoes
- Italian herbs – Oregano, thyme and basil.
- Cheddar & Mozzarella cheese
- Olive oil
Making Johnny Marzetti happen is an easy affair
It’s as easy as making meat sauce with tomatoes mixed in mac and cheese and popping it in the oven. But a few tips and tricks are needed to make the tasty meat sauce in the first place. I always believe you need to add plenty of flavors to create plenty of flavors. You will never find “one clove of garlic” or “1 tsp herbs” on GypsyPlate. Try it my way, you will be amazed how much flavor you were missing out on all this time. Saying that, here you go…
Select a large cast iron skillet that can accommodate Johnny. He gets kinda big with everything in a pot that can feed an army. See, perfect contender for those potlucks and get-togethers. For the amounts listed in the recipe card, my 12” skillet was perfect.
One you’ve found the right skillet, it’s time to start cooking. Slightly grease it and sauté chopped onions for a few minutes. Once the onions get a little soft, stir in chopped bell peppers, mushrooms and garlic and cook for a few minutes, till all the veggies get a little soft.
Add in the meat and start crumbling it into bits and pieces as it cooks. I like to add in a little salt at this point, so it gets into the meat while it cooks. Once the meat is brown in color, throw in the tomato sauce and crushed tomatoes along with all Italian herbs and combine everything well.
I like to let this simmer over medium heat for at least 20-30 minutes, so that creates yum sauce. Taste and adjust the seasonings to your liking. Stir in sugar to cut the acidity of the tomatoes, if needed.
While the sauce is left to simmer, cook the elbow macaroni according to package instructions. We want them cooked al dente, as they keep on cooking while in the oven, and you don’t want to turn them mushy. 6 minutes was perfect for us.
Once the meat sauce is ready, mix in half of the shredded cheese mixture (cheddar + mozzarella) into the sauce, then mix in the cooked macaroni. Sprinkle the rest of the cheese on top, cover with a foil and he is ready to go in your preheated oven for 45 minutes.
Once he comes out of the oven, you will be greeted by the amazing sight of golden molten cheeses covering the most delicious mac nestled in rich meat sauce. Be a little patient and let it set for a few minutes, then dig into that pot of macaroni medley.
What to serve Johnny Marzetti with
It’s such a complete, full and satisfying meal by itself. I personally like a fresh salad on the side. Saying that, I can see some Italian garlic bread would be smashing with Johnny. Jason would probably say some red wine, as a pasta supper is incomplete without a glass or two of your favorite red… 🙂
The ingredients in this one can vary wildly. You can use egg noodles or different shapes of pastas. I myself plan to try it with rigatoni, ziti or penne. Instead of mixing beef and sausage, you can try it with just beef or ground veal or pork. Try different veggies too.
Another interesting variation is making Johnny Marzetti with canned tomato soup. In the 1950’s and 60’s Campbell’s canned soups were very popular with housewives and made their way in almost anything and everything. So there you go… I think.
And remember I said it was popular in Panama? There they add olives and Arturo sauce, which is kind of a sweet canned tomato sauce with mushrooms.
Feel free to experiment, everybody else does! 🙂
I know I have made some of you nostalgic with this one. With new food trends and styles coming every few years, let’s not forget the true classics that are worth carrying forward to the next generation. Keep those traditions alive.
So how about some belly full of Johnny Marzetti tonight??
Hmm that silly song again, while I dig into mine…
Go Johnny go go
Go Johnny go go
Johnny Be Good!!
Johnny Marzetti, on my Gypsy Plate… enjoy!
- 1 lb ground beef
- 1 lb ground Italian sausage
- 4 cups cooked elbow macaroni (we used large elbows)
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1/2 green bell pepper, chopped
- 1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
- 6 oz mushrooms, chopped
- 1 14 oz can diced tomatoes
- 2 14 oz cans tomato sauce
- 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 2 tsp dried oregano
- 2 tsp dried thyme
- 2 tsp dried basil
- 1.5 Tbsp sugar
- 2 cups shredded cheddar, divided
- 2 cups shredded mozzarella, divided
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- Salt to taste
- Grease the skillet with olive oil and sauté chopped onions on medium high heat till they get soft, about 2-3 minutes.
- Stir in chopped bell peppers, mushrooms and garlic and combine well. Cook till the veggies get a little soft, about 3-4 minutes.
- Add in beef and sausage. Crumble with a spatula and add a little salt as it cooks. Cook till the meat is brown in color with no more pink, about 5 minutes.
- Add in diced tomatoes along with tomato sauce and Italian herbs and combine well. Simmer on medium heat for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Cook macaroni according to the package instructions. You want it cooked al dente, as it continues cooking in the oven.
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Mix half of mixed grated cheese into the meat sauce. Stir in cooked macaroni and mix well.
- Sprinkle remaining grated cheese on top of the assembled casserole. Loosely cover with aluminum foil. Bake for 40-45 minutes in preheated oven.
- Remove from oven and rest for 5-8 minutes before serving it up.
- Try different pastas, like egg noodles, rotini or penne.
- The meats can easily be customized. Use all beef or try ground pork or veal.
Nutrition InformationYield 10 Serving Size 1
Amount Per Serving Calories 562Total Fat 34gSaturated Fat 14gTrans Fat 1gUnsaturated Fat 18gCholesterol 100mgSodium 1155mgCarbohydrates 30gFiber 4gSugar 9gProtein 35g
Nutrition information calculated by Nutritionix.
Never miss a recipe!
Join the GypsyPlate mailing list and get easy dinner recipes right in your mailbox. From homestyle comfort food to exotic dishes from around the world.