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!

4.8 from 10 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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44 Responses to Johnny Marzetti

  1. 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.

    • April 29, 2019 at 2:15 pm #

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

      • 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!

    • 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!

    • October 16, 2020 at 5:22 pm #

      Don’t miss making and enjoying this.

  2. 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!

    • 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!

      • 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.

        • 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.

    • February 16, 2021 at 9:24 am #

      I too am an Iowan – this recipe, as our family has loving referred to as “Johnny”, is actually written down as Johnny Mazette (missing the R and E instead of I) in my grandmother’s stash; and YES, ground pork.

      After reading the history, my guess is that while my grandfather was in the service, WWII, he ate it somewhere and then had her make it (or found recipe) – I say this because our recipe has olives and mushrooms….I just wish I would’ve have asked more questions about this recipe!

      I see some different versions that I’m going to start on as early as this weekend!!!

      Thanks for sharing!

  3. 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.

    • April 29, 2019 at 1:24 pm #

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

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

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

  5. 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!

    • May 1, 2019 at 1:36 am #

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

    • October 12, 2020 at 1:29 pm #

      Growing up in Central Ohio, this was one of the few edible school lunches that was served in my school cafeteria! I’m giving my age away, but school lunch was 25 cents and an extra carton of milk was 2 cents! My junior year of high school a group of us went to dinner at Marzetti’s in downtown Columbus. We all thought we were very sophisticated eating at such a fine dining establishment!

      • October 15, 2020 at 10:52 pm #

        I love your story, Marlene! Others have written with the same fondness of the classic Johnny Marzetti. Thank you for sharing!

  6. September 7, 2019 at 8:18 am #

    I grew up in rural central Ohio. We had this regularly in the school cafeteria. It was always one of my favorites. Of course it was at all the church suppers and my mother made it as well. So close to this recipe but never saw cheese used in these parts. Thanks for what I consider the closest recipe to my fond memories! For anyone trying to get away from canned soups there are condensed soup clones/copycat recipes all over the internet.

    • September 7, 2019 at 7:20 pm #

      Thanks for writing, Melody. I love your story!

  7. April 2, 2020 at 2:34 pm #

    Great recipe, I have made this for my family for over 40 years. But I use 2 lbs ground beef and 2 cans tomato soup.

    • July 19, 2020 at 12:01 am #

      Janie, it’s an oldie but a goodie! Thanks for your suggestion. The more, the better!

  8. August 22, 2020 at 6:58 pm #

    My mom used to make this all the time when we were kids (I was born in 1955). I had some pork left-overs and thought of what we used to call “Johnny’s Dish.” I’m in the process of moving and all my cookbooks are packed away, so I decided to try googling for the recipe. I had no idea there was a story behind the dish! I am staying with my dad and just made it for dinner, and after his first bite, he said, “Is this Johnny’s Dish??” Sort of a treat to be able to say Yes! And everyone has had seconds!

    • August 23, 2020 at 12:40 pm #

      Hi Kathi- I love your story! This recipe is a classic that so many people remember and still enjoy. I’m so glad you found me. Come back again! Thanks so much for writing.

  9. November 2, 2020 at 5:20 am #

    Can it be made ahead, day before and warmed before serving next day?

    • November 3, 2020 at 4:03 pm #

      Doris, I think that would be fine. Pasta dishes like lasagna or ziti casserole can be made a day ahead and refrigerated. I would just bring it to room temperature before baking.

  10. December 18, 2020 at 3:46 pm #

    This was on all school lunch menus here in Ohio. At least once a month. This was when schools had real kitchens and cooked the food there not have it trucked in. My school days? 1952 to 1966, even had it show up in USAF Mess Halls from time to time.

    • December 22, 2020 at 10:43 pm #

      Hi Bob- I love your Johnny Marzetti memory! I too remember those days when school cafeteria ladies made food from scratch and not boxed. I still have never had dinner rolls like they used to make by starting in the early morning and we could smell them all the way to our classrooms and then couldn’t wait for lunchtime! They were huge like baseballs and so fluffy. I can still taste them. How I wish I had that recipe!

  11. February 1, 2021 at 8:36 am #

    It’s really good. In the 1960s it was served in my high school in Pittsburgh, PA. Our family has been making it ever since.

    • February 4, 2021 at 10:13 pm #

      I love how this recipe has stood the test of time. Thanks for sharing, Dianne!

  12. March 5, 2021 at 1:07 pm #

    My family has been eating my Mom’s version of this recipe since I was a kid in the 1950’s. She was an Ohio farm gal born in the early 1920’s and it was a family dinner staple in our house since my Dad got back from WWII. I’m now in my 70’s and it still hits the table about twice a month. I dice up some jalapeno peppers and cook them in with the ground beef to add a bit of tang and zip to the recipe.

    • March 6, 2021 at 1:24 am #

      Keith, what wonderful memories you have. I always find the power and comfort of food to be an amazing part of life. I also love your addition of adding some jalapēnos, which I’m going to try next time! Thank you for sharing.

  13. March 30, 2021 at 2:04 pm #

    My beloved mother-in-law made some she called Russian fluff. It is much like your recipe.
    I will think of both these wonderful women as I make yours.
    Thank you for connecting history and cooking. It is wonderful to remember smells from the kitchen.

    • March 31, 2021 at 10:44 am #

      Thank you for this info, Luella. I have never heard of it called Russian Fluff before. That’s so interesting! I love learning new food facts. Kitchen aromas invoke so many food memories. Thank you for sharing.

  14. September 10, 2021 at 2:08 pm #

    My mother made this all the time when we were kids and I was born in 1957. ! She used pork steak and called it “Tony Mozetti”!!! Isn’t that funny!? I have no idea who Tony was:) We live In Wisconsin.

    • September 10, 2021 at 11:37 pm #

      Lisa, I love that story! I wonder who Tony was too! Thanks for sharing.

    • September 10, 2021 at 11:43 pm #

      Lisa, I love your story! I would love to know who Tony was too. Maybe someone reading this post will know!

  15. October 14, 2021 at 1:09 pm #

    “Johnny Mazzetti” was a staple at our high school lunchroom’s cafeteria in the early 1960s. This was in a small town west of Chicago. It was more of a tuna noodle casserole type thing. It was pretty good! Wish I had some right now!

    • October 14, 2021 at 11:38 pm #

      Terry, now you have the recipe to make and enjoy again. What was your home west of Chicago? I was born in that area.

  16. October 31, 2021 at 6:14 am #

    A beef version was a staple in our elementary school cafeteria in Rome City, Indiana in the 1970’s. I never knew until reading your article that it originated in Ohio and came from the same cook as the grocery store salad dressings. Fun to learn!

    • November 1, 2021 at 12:42 am #

      Laura, it was fun learning Johnny Marzetti facts, and how the dish is still so popular and evokes great memories. Thanks for writing!

  17. February 12, 2022 at 8:24 am #

    My mom always made this with her leftover spaghetti sauce. She also put cream cheese AND sour cream (with green onions stirred in) in it and layered it like lasagna.

    • February 15, 2022 at 12:38 am #

      Dave, I’ve heard of versions similar to that – Yum! Sounds like you have a creative mom.

  18. May 28, 2022 at 3:03 pm #

    I grew up with my mother helping in high school kitchens. She gave me the recipe from my school in 60’s. Different items. Add two large canned tomatoes after browning ground hamburger, salt and pepper onions, celery and green peppers. Then add Tablespoon cider vinegar. Cook about 15 min. Add shredded cheddar cheese to sauce, stir, add egg noodles, bake in oven about 35 min and sprinkle shredded cheese on top casserole before baking. It was a favorite in our GS.

    • May 28, 2022 at 10:44 pm #

      Judith, thank you for your story and the recipe. It sounds great and I love that little touch of cider vinegar!

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