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    Johnny Marzetti (A Midwest Classic)

    Go go
    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…

    Close up of this classic casserole i a cast iron skillet.

    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 Marzetti’s 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.

    Skillet full of Johnny Marzetti alongside a cookbook.

    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. 🙂

    Skillet of Johnny alongside a plate with a heaping serving.

    No wonder then that Johnny Marzetti was embraced and cooked so often. Oh sure, Johnny changed a bit as families moved far and beyond. He is quite a traveler, 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”.

    Close up of a serving of this cheesy, meaty casserole.

    However Johnny changed and evolved, he still remained down to earth. Simple, humble, good food which was always universally loved, cherished and remembered. Here is my attempt to keep the classics alive in 2020…

    Ingredients Needed

    Ingredients for this recipe on a white background.
    • Ground beef
    • Ground Italian sausage
    • Elbow macaroni
    • Onion
    • Green and Red bell peppers
    • Mushrooms
    • Tomato sauce and diced tomatoes
    • Garlic
    • Italian herbs – Oregano, thyme and basil.
    • Cheddar cheese & Mozzarella cheese
    • Olive oil
    • Sugar
    • Salt

    Johnny Marzetti Casserole Recipe

    It’s as easy as making meat sauce with tomatoes mixed in mac and cheese and popping it in the oven. But a few of my tips and tricks are needed to make the tasty meat pasta 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” large skillet was perfect.

    Once I’ve got the right skillet, it’s time to start cooking. I slightly grease it and sauté chopped onions over medium-high heat for a few minutes. Once the onions get a little soft, I stir in chopped bell peppers, mushrooms, and garlic, and cook for a few minutes until all the veggies get a little soft.

    Collage of four images depicting various steps, all in a cast iron skillet: raw veggies, cooked veggies, cooked meat and veggies, and finally tomatoes and herbs added in.

    Next, I add the meat to the skillet and start crumbling it into bits and pieces as it cooks. I like to sprinkle in a little salt at this point, so it gets into the meat while it cooks. Once the meat is brown in color, I throw in the tomato sauce and crushed tomatoes, along with all the Italian herbs, and combine everything well.

    I like to let this simmer over medium heat for at least 20-30 minutes, so it creates that delicious sauce. I make sure to taste and adjust the seasonings. If the sauce is too acidic, I stir in a bit of sugar to balance it out.

    While the sauce is left to simmer, I cook the elbow macaroni according to the package instructions. It’s important to cook them al dente since they’ll continue to cook in the oven, and I don’t want them to turn mushy. For me, 6 minutes of cooking time was perfect.

    Collage of four images depicting various steps, all in a cast iron skillet: the tomato meat sauce, cheese added in, noodles added in, and finally everything mixed together.

    Once the meat sauce is ready, I mix in half of the shredded cheese mixture (a combination of cheddar and mozzarella) into the sauce. Then, I mix in the cooked macaroni until everything is well combined.

    Next, I sprinkle the remaining cheese on top of the mixture, cover it with foil, and it’s ready to go into my preheated oven for 45 minutes.

    While it’s cooking, check out my favorite Ground Beef Recipes and top Casserole Recipes.

    Shredded cheese on top of the casserole. Now it's ready to go in the oven.

    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.

    Recipe Notes and Tips

    1. I prefer using a sturdy pasta shape, like elbow, ziti, rigatoni, or wide egg noodles. These hold up well to the hearty meat sauce and won’t get mushy during cooking.
    2. I always make sure to brown my ground beef thoroughly before adding the tomato sauce.
    3. Use a high-quality tomato sauce and diced tomatoes without added sugar or preservatives. Look for canned tomatoes that only list tomatoes and salt in the ingredients.
    4. I Bake the casserole until the cheese on top is melted and bubbly and the edges are slightly crispy.
    5. Allow the casserole to cool for a few minutes before serving to allow the flavors to meld together. This will also prevent the sauce from being runny.

    Serving Suggestions

    Johnny Marzetti is such a complete, full and satisfying meal by itself. That being said, I some times serve it with some green salad, it’s hard to beat a classic Caesar Salad.

    Some other great options are Roasted Broccoli, Roasted Asparagus, and Green Beans Almondine.

    Jason would probably say some red wine, as a pasta supper is incomplete without a glass or two of your favorite red… 🙂

    Serving of Johnny Marzetti on a plate next to a bowl of salad.

    Some Variations

    The ingredients in this one can vary wildly from the basic recipe. 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. For a little lighter dish, use ground turkey or ground chicken . 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! 🙂

    Close up side view of our serving of this delicious casserole.

    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 go
    Go Johnny go go
    Go Johnny go go
    Johnny Be Good!!

    Johnny Marzetti, on our Gypsy Plate… enjoy!

    Serving of Johnny on the Gypsy Plate.

    Try some of our other tasty casseroles!
    Southern Squash Casserole
    Eggplant Parmesan
    Pastel de Choclo
    Lancashire Hotpot
    Italian Sausage Bake
    Toad in the Hole
    Sausage Potato Casserole
    Crustless Chicken Pot Pie Casserole

    Johnny Marzetti.

    Johnny Marzetti

    Yield: 10 servings
    Prep Time: 5 minutes
    Cook Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
    Total Time: 1 hour 20 minutes

    Who is Johnny Marzetti? One hearty and nostalgic American casserole, that's who. You might call him by another name, but you know this one!


    • 1 lb ground beef
    • 1 lb ground Italian sausage
    • 4 cups cooked elbow macaroni (we used large elbows)
    • 1 onion, chopped
    • ½ green bell pepper, chopped
    • ½ 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
    • 1½ Tbsp sugar
    • 2 cups shredded cheddar, divided
    • 2 cups shredded mozzarella, divided
    • 1 Tbsp olive oil
    • Salt to taste


    1. Grease the skillet with olive oil and sauté chopped onions on medium high heat till they get soft, about 2-3 minutes.
    2. Stir in chopped bell peppers, mushrooms and garlic and combine well. Cook till the veggies get a little soft, about 3-4 minutes.
    3. 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.
    4. Add in diced tomatoes along with tomato sauce and Italian herbs and combine well. Simmer on medium heat for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
    5. Cook macaroni according to the package instructions. You want it cooked al dente, as it continues cooking in the oven.
    6. Preheat oven to 350°F.
    7. Mix half of mixed grated cheese into the meat sauce. Stir in cooked macaroni and mix well.
    8. Sprinkle remaining grated cheese on top of the assembled casserole. Loosely cover with aluminum foil. Bake for 40-45 minutes in preheated oven.
    9. Remove from oven and rest for 5-8 minutes before serving it up.


    1. Pasta Choice: Choose a pasta that holds up well in casseroles, such as elbow macaroni or penne.
    2. Meat Variety: Experiment with different types of ground meat (beef, turkey, chicken, or sausage) for unique flavors.
    3. Resting Time: Let the dish rest for a few minutes after baking to allow the flavors to meld and the casserole to set.
    4. Leftovers: This hearty dish is great as leftovers (school lunches... hint, hint). You can cover your casserole tightly with cling wrap, or transfer it to an airtight container, and refrigerate for 3-4 days.
    5. It also freezes well, so makes a great meal prep option. I like to break leftovers into individual portions, wrap in cling wrap, put the wrapped portions into ziploc bags and freeze.

    Nutrition Information
    Yield 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.

    Did you make this recipe?

    Please leave a comment on the blog or share a photo on Pinterest

    Picture of Alpana, blogger and recipe developer at GypsyPlate

    Welcome to GypsyPlate! I'm Alpana, former wordwide tour manager and professional caterer, now full time blogger. I love exploring cuisines from around the world, and my recipes have been featured on sites such as MSN, Parade, Brit + Co, CNET and AOL. You can explore my entire collection of sortable recipes in my Recipe Index or learn more about me here.

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      8 thoughts on “Johnny Marzetti (A Midwest Classic)”

      • Really good. Really. really. really good. I made this last night, and the whole meal was tasty. This is the sort of homestyle meal that cold weather is made for. Since Italian sausage is hard to find where I am, I utilised a recipe from scratch. My only complain is that it could be a bit more spicy, but I acknowledge that comes down to preferences – and splashing this with some Valentina or diced jalapenos next time could give it that kick. Because it will be made again, believe that.

        The conclusion is that minced meat and pasta is a basic template for a dish, but no matter how it is dressed up it will be a wholesome, filling winner. All the way from the Mid-West plains to a seaside villa in Alexandria.

      • I was able to vegan-ize this perfectly! I used Beyond Spicy Italian sausages, I Can’t Believe it’s Not Chicken’s recipe for tofu ground beef, and Violife’s shredded mozzarella cheese (I’ve mixed in their shredded cheddar cheese before, as well, and it’s also great!). So delicious! My belt doesn’t appreciate how often I’ve made this incredible casserole!

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