Johnny Marzetti

italian food and salad on plate

It’s been more than a few years since I attended elementary school. My memories of those days is sharp and clear. I loved everything about it from riding the bus with Mrs. Harrington, to my teachers and friends, my favorite Holly Hobby satchel, and definitely lunchtime. 

School Days

My elementary school was built in 1912 and is still in use today. It has a grand wooden staircase and large auditorium. The classrooms were enormous, big enough to fit at least two modern classrooms with space left over. There were secret tunnels and shortcuts and a spooky back staircase. I think even today I could find my way around that school blindfolded.

Each year we had two music programs, one at Christmas and one in the spring. Every fall we had the PTO Halloween Carnival and every spring the PTO spaghetti dinner. There were parties for Christmas and Valentine’s Day and treats whenever someone had a birthday. 

And each day, we lined up in the staircase outside of the basement cafeteria to wait our turn at lunchtime. Our teacher made us line up boy-girl-boy-girl to wait, in hopes that it would cut down on some of the chatter. It didn’t work.

The best days were when the cafeteria ladies (we didn’t call them lunch ladies at that time) would slide a slice of pizza on our lunch tray. Those rectangular slabs were the crown jewel of school lunches. I remember that most everything they made was good (except peas and carrots – I still don’t eat peas and carrots). One of my favorites was Johnny Marzetti. 

Johnny Marzetti – an Ohio Dish

Johnny Marzetti is possibly the most famous recipe claimed by the Buckeye State. The creator, Teresa Marzetti immigrated from Italy in 1896 and opened a restaurant in Columbus, near The Ohio State University campus. She became known for the casserole which was named after her brother-in-law.

Ingredients for Johnny Marzetti italian dish
Johnny Marzetti comes together easily and is easily adaptable for a crowd.

Both the restaurant and Johnny Marzetti became extremely popular with Ohio State students. Because it was not only delicious, but also easy to prepare on a large scale, the recipe was picked up and served at first Columbus Public Schools and then in schools across the state. And this is where most of us met Johnny Marzetti.

An Adaptable Recipe

There are a number of different takes on the recipe. Cooks here and there have adapted to meet their tastes. My adapted recipe is below. One note is that I use mozzarella cheese, where most favor cheddar. Also, this last time I did make a smaller separate dish with gluten free spaghetti noodles for my daughter’s boyfriend. He gave it two thumbs up, so it is possible to adapt to your gluten-free lifestyle. I believe it would be easy to adapt as a vegetarian dish as well. 

I frequently double this recipe. Sometimes I will double it and bake the entire thing for a crowd. Other times I will put half of it in a disposable foil pan and stop short of putting the cheese on top. Then I put aluminum foil over the top and deliver the pan to a friend. I include a bag of cheese and the remainder of the instructions. It makes a nice meal for the recipient to pop in the oven, so it’s great for someone with a new baby or possibly taking care of a sick family member. 

Johnny Marzetti

1 pound macaroni noodles
1 tbsp olive oil
1 yellow onion chopped
1 green pepper chopped
8 oz mushrooms chopped
2 pounds ground beef
salt and pepper
2 cans tomato sauce (14 oz each)
2 cloves garlic
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp italian herbs
pinch sugar
4 cups shredded cheese (italian or mozzarella)

Preheat oven to 350.

Cook macaroni until al dente (about 7 minutes). Drain and return to pot.

Heat olive oil on medium heat. Saute onion, pepper and mushroom until softened (about five minutes). Add ground beef and brown. Drain fat.

Add tomato sauce, tomatoes, garlic, oregano, herbs and sugar. Simmer five minutes.

Combine with noodles and stir. Add two cups of cheese and stir to combine. Transfer to greased 13×9 dish. Top with remaining cheese and bake uncovered for 30 minutes.

Great served with bread and salad.

Johnny Marzetti casserole and salad on a plate with fork.
Johnny Marzetti is great with a salad and garlic bread.

Let me know in the comments if you enjoyed this recipe. Do you have a favorite Ohio recipe? What was your favorite school lunch?

Planning a shopping trip for the ingredients? Make an Ohio adventure out of your grocery run! Check out Jungle Jim’s near Cincinnati, but give yourself some extra time. There’s so much to see!

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