Johnny Marzetti

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If you have ever been to a potluck, school cafeteria, church social, or any gathering of many people, it’s likely you have seen or tasted a “Johnny Marzetti.”  This iconic American casserole, or hot dish, if you prefer, has been a staple on tables from coast to coast for decades.  But who exactly was Johnny Marzetti?  Let’s start at the beginning, way back to 1896.

The Johnny Marzetti hot dish originated in Columbus, Ohio by Teresa Marzetti, Johnny’s sister-in-law, for the family’s namesake restaurant.  Her baked casserole consisting of ground beef, onions, cheese, tomato sauce, and noodles, became a big hit with the public and also with students from nearby Ohio State University, and came to be known forever as simply, “Johnny Marzetti.”  People used to say, let’s go have a Johnny Marzetti, just as we say, let’s go get a pizza!

Teresa Marzetti

By the 1920’s, the casserole had become very popular across Ohio and the Midwest, then quickly spread across the country.  The original restaurant closed in 1942, but a second location remained in operation until Teresa’s death in 1972.  Marzetti’s later became known for its salad dressings, which are still produced today and can be found in the refrigerated sections in the produce areas of grocery stores under the label T. Marzetti.

What is interesting is how the name of the casserole changed slightly, depending on where you happened to find the recipe.  It is usually written the correct way, Johnny Marzetti, but sometimes was called Johnny Mazetti, leaving out the “R.”  This was especially true in the Panama Canal Zone, where the casserole was served at U.S. Army commissaries, except they added olives.

Fast forward to the present when one of my local friends Jody knocked on my door holding a bag of church cookbooks she had bought at a book sale in Iowa.  I was thrilled as I love church and community cookbooks, filled with recipes with a local flair or old family recipes.  Sure enough, I found a couple Johnny Marzetti recipes, but one stood out.  It was just called “John M.” but I knew it meant Marzetti as it contained all the original ingredients.

All the church and community cookbooks from Jody.

As I mentioned, there are many versions of the original Johnny Marzetti, some changed a little with time and what was available, to the addition or subtraction of a few vegetables, to the type of meat.

One of the cookbooks from Jody was dated 1957.  Around that time and into the 1960’s, Campbell’s canned tomato soup was very popular, and found itself an ingredient in cakes, salads, sauces, and of course, casseroles, as in the church cookbook, instead of tomato sauce.  Most of the time, you will find that the meat used is ground beef or Italian sausage, but in this case, it was ground pork.  My guess is that’s because it’s an Iowa cookbook, and Iowa is a big pork-producing state.

The casserole is a crowd-pleaser, easy to make, and kids seem to love it.  Google Johnny Marzetti and pick your favorite version and choice of meat or vegetables.  No matter what, you will be enjoying a dish that originated from Teresa, an Italian immigrant who wanted to please her guests at the restaurant.  I love old stories like that.  So here is a question for you – If you were going to develop a dish with your own name attached to it, what would it be?  Many people became very famous using their names on food products, like Duncan Hines, Sara Lee, Pillsbury, Marie Callender, and more.  Who knows – your namesake dish could become the next iconic American culinary invention!

5.0 from 1 reviews
Johnny Marzetti, 1957 version
 
Ingredients
  • Olive oil for greasing casserole dish
  • 12 ounces egg noodles
  • 2 Tablespoons vegetable oil (I used olive oil)
  • 1 pound ground pork
  • ¾ cup diced green bell pepper
  • ½ cup diced onion
  • 1 teaspoon table salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 can (10-3/4 ounces) condensed tomato soup
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 cups freshly grated cheddar cheese, divided (grating it yourself tastes so much better and melts better than the pre-shredded)
Instructions
  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil a casserole dish (about 2 quarts); set aside.
  2. Prepare noodles in boiling salted water as directed on package; drain.
  3. Meanwhile in a large skillet or Dutch oven, heat the 2 Tablespoons olive oil. Add the ground pork, and cook, breaking up into pieces. When the pink starts to disappear, add the green pepper, onion, salt, and pepper. Cook and stir until vegetables begin to soften.
  4. Stir in the soup and water to combine.
  5. Remove from heat and stir in the cooked noodles and 1 cup of the shredded cheese, Mix well, then spoon into prepared casserole dish. Sprinkle top with remaining 1 cup shredded cheese.
  6. Bake, uncovered, for 30 minutes, or until hot and bubbly on the edges. Serve immediately.

 

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13 Responses to Johnny Marzetti

  1. Lisa Keys April 29, 2019 at 3:29 am #

    While I know the salad dressing very well I have never heard or eaten this casserole. What a fun piece of food history.

    • Barb Spigner April 29, 2019 at 2:15 pm #

      I have never heard of this casserole or eaten it either !

      • Debbie April 29, 2019 at 3:50 pm #

        Barb, I found it fun to cook just because of the family story and history behind it. It’s very simple, but nice comfort food on cold or snowy Libertyville nights!

    • Debbie April 29, 2019 at 3:45 pm #

      I agree, Lisa, it is a fun piece of our culinary history! I love stories like this. It’s amazing too, how popular the Marzetti salad dressings still are to this day. The Marzetti family still around must be very proud of their ancestors!

  2. Denise April 29, 2019 at 5:52 am #

    Church and community cookbooks are my favorite as well. I’m certain the Iowa cookbooks hold some amazing recipes! (Born and raised in Iowa, so I could be biased.)

    What a great story/history. I’ve never heard of “Johnny Marzetti, but this recipe convinces me to try it. I have all the ingredients (including ground pork from the Iowa farm of my brother and sister -in-law).

    Thanks for a very interesting and enjoyable post!

    • Debbie April 29, 2019 at 1:31 pm #

      Thank you, Denise. I wasn’t born or raised in Iowa like you, but it has a huge place in my heart. My childhood years were spent almost part of every summer with my beloved great-aunt in the tiny Eastern Iowa town of Wyoming. Just a few minutes away is Olin, where many of our ancestors are buried, and to where we will be having a memorial service for my mom soon. She wanted her ashes to be in the old Olin Cemetery, near all her relatives; parents, grandparents, and many more going back more than 100 years. I love Iowa.

      How funny that you happen to have some ground pork to make the Johnny Marzetti! Let me know what you think. It tastes very “Iowa” made with pork!

      • Denise May 2, 2019 at 8:37 pm #

        We really enjoyed this casserole! I can see why it’s been popular all these years as I think the mild flavor would appeal to a wide range of tastes. The only thing I altered was to use only 1/3 c gr peppers (that’s what we had on hand). My mom stirred some sour cream into her portion and thought it was very good. I think this would be a great dish to share when taking a meal to someone in need.

        Yes, I feel so fortunate to always have quality pork (and beef) products in our freezer thanks to our IA brother in law. There are excellent home cooks all over this country, aren’t there? Every state holds delicious food – specialities from the foods produced in that area.

        It’s wonderful that you have such fond memories of time with familly while visiting your great aunt. Those experiences and the sense of connection do so much to shape our lives. I had never heard of Wyoming, IA until reading of it in one of your earlier blogs. (I believe you featured a cake recipe from a church cookbook.)

        Debbie, I’m so sorry for the loss of your mom. Losing a parent changes life in ways that are hard to describe. I hope you find comfort in gathering for her memorial service in a place that’s so dear to you, and to her.

        • Debbie May 2, 2019 at 11:52 pm #

          Thank you for your heartfelt words, Denise. I have seen some Johnny Marzetti recipes with sour cream or even some cream cheese. I love all the ways people make it to suit their tastes, but yet still keeps the spirit of the original recipe.
          I am not surprised you haven’t heard of Wyoming, Iowa, as it is one of those wonderful rural American towns that are so small, it takes about 30 seconds to go through “downtown!” I appreciate your kind words about my mom. She loved going to Wyoming too when she was young to visit her grandmother. I know where my great-grandmother lived and I want to see if her big white house is still standing. My great aunt was the town librarian and if I close my eyes, I can still smell those musty books. I’m so happy to have had all those memories and feel such comfort that my mom will be there forever.

  3. Kim Marsden April 29, 2019 at 6:44 am #

    Enjoyed the Johnny Marzetti casserole history lesson. Although, Teresa is the one it should truly be named after!! That has been a casserole enjoyed by many over the years, including me. Simple, feeds many, and tasty! Perfect for a potluck.

    • Debbie April 29, 2019 at 1:24 pm #

      Agree, Kim – It should be called a Teresa Marzetti since she invented it!

  4. Susan Bickta April 30, 2019 at 7:54 am #

    Looks like a recipe I have to try!!! Thanks for the story and the recipe, Debbie!!

  5. Joan April 30, 2019 at 5:39 pm #

    I blast from the past! My mom and godmother both made this regularly. I have a handwritten recipe in my mom’s recipe box for the same. She left out the peppers and used triangles of American cheese on top!

    • Debbie May 1, 2019 at 1:36 am #

      Sounds good, Joan! Lovely memories from your mom and godmother.

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