Johnny Marzetti Casserole

Johnny Marzetti casserole is from the middle of a heart-shaped state on the eastern border of the heartland. I cannot think of anything more Midwestern.

Johnny Marzetti Casserole

Johnny Marzetti Casserole

My closest friend’s family prepared this frequently while I was growing up, and they, like many Ohioans, referred to it informally as “Marzetti”. It serves a large audience and was their go-to for innumerable potlucks and church suppers.

As an adult, I’ve been intrigued to the recipe’s history, which turns out to be fascinatingly ambiguous. Why is this meal, simply a quick, unfancy lasagna, named after a guy? And why has this modest dish remained popular for more than a century?

Johnny Marzetti did not invent Johnny Marzetti

The popular version of Johnny Marzetti casserole’s origins has yet to be supported by historical data. And, while I can’t get enough of revisiting the subject, my own searches via web databases haven’t thrown any fresh light on the matter.

Regardless, they devour the tale as eagerly as they consume the dish itself. Here is the gist: Marzetti’s restaurant in Columbus, Ohio, has been a downtown mainstay for decades. Proprietress Teresa Marzetti created the inexpensive and satisfying pasta bake for cash-strapped students at neighboring Ohio State University, and named it after her brother-in-law.

To date, no old Marzetti’s menu with the dish has surfaced, and the Marzetti family has never confirmed the claim. If the name Marzetti seems familiar for reasons other than casseroles, it’s because the family founded a bottled dressing firm in 1950, which is still in business today. However, the final Marzetti’s restaurant shuttered in the 1970s, giving many years for a nostalgic origin story to emerge.

Johnny Marzetti Casserole

Johnny Marzetti Casserole for Many Cousins

Regardless of any ties with Marzetti’s restaurant, Johnny Marzetti has established a permanent presence in home kitchens and industrial dining halls. Printed recipes first appeared in 1916, and there are hundreds of variations that connect Midwestern community cookbooks like a connect the dots game.

Johnny Marzetti’s close beef-and-pasta cousins include goulash, American chop suey, slumgullion, and Simply Recipes’ own hamburger and macaroni. These are all largely freeform skillet meals, with Johnny Marzetti standing out for being marbled and topped with cheese (typically mild orange cheddar) before being baked. This makes it less suitable for impromptu assembly, but ideal for large assembly ahead of time. Start the family reunion!

Johnny Marzetti Casserole variations and swaps

My Marzetti may not be your Marzetti, but that’s fine. It responds favorably to customization and impassioned viewpoints. Here’s mine!

  • Pasta: I believe that Johnny Marzetti prefers macaroni. Egg noodles are also common, but macaroni provides a better foundation for holding the sauce and meat together. I suppose you could use penne, but it would change it from Marzetti to Marzetti-inspired.
  • Cheese: If this dish originated in an Italian restaurant, why does it use cheddar rather than mozzarella? Search me, but don’t forget to try the cheddar. Believe me, it works. Use orange, white, sharp, or moderate. Really, any shredded semi-firm cheese (or a combination of many) will suffice. I like to add a little grated parmesan to mine for extra flavor.
  • Meat: It’s convenient to have a recipe choice when you just have ground beef. Certain recipes call for Italian sausage. I’ve never tried it this way, and it seems too close to baked ziti. If you want baked ziti, make them.
  • Vegetables: Those who dislike vegetables may avoid the bell pepper and/or mushrooms. I enjoy the taste that the mushrooms bring, but as a ten-year-old, I would not have agreed.
  • Herbs and spices: Midwestern casseroles are known for being bland, but your Marzetti doesn’t have to be. However, the meaty tomato sauce should not be heavily seasoned with Italian spices. Use a gentle hand with the herbs and powdered spices like chili powder or cayenne to add a little assertiveness.

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Recipe Recipes

Johnny Marzetti Casserole

Johnny Marzetti Casserole

Johnny Marzetti casserole is from the middle of a heart-shaped state on the eastern border of the heartland. I cannot think of anything more Midwestern.
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour 15 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Course dinner
Cuisine American
Servings 8


  • 12 ounces mushrooms cleaned and chopped or sliced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil or neutral cooking oil
  • 1 large onion chopped
  • 5 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 bell pepper any color, seeded and cored, finely chopped
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef 90:10 is good
  • 1 28-ounce can whole plum tomatoes in juice
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 3/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 12 ounces 2 3/4 cups uncooked elbow macaroni
  • 8 ounces grated cheddar cheese 2 generous cups, divided
  • 4 ounces grated Parmesan cheese 1 1/2 cups, divided


  • Preheat the oven to 350° Fahrenheit.
  • Grease a 9×13-inch baking dish and put aside.
  • To cook the veggies and meat, heat a large deep pan over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms to the dry skillet. As they heat, the mushrooms will release moisture. Stir them occasionally for 5 to 8 minutes, or until tender, slightly browned, and the most of the liquid has evaporated. Scrape the mushrooms into a basin and set aside.
  • Clean the skillet and return it to the fire. Add the oil; when it ripples, add the onion and simmer for 6 minutes, or until transparent. Cook for a further 1 minute after adding the garlic and bell pepper. Season liberally with salt.
  • Reduce the heat to medium and cook the meat, breaking it up with a spoon into tiny clumps. Stop cooking when the flesh is no longer pink, which should be around 8 minutes.
  • To add the tomatoes and spices, smash them with your hands in the pan (use an apron) and add the leftover liquids from the can.
  • Simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring in the tomato paste, oregano, pepper flakes, and black pepper. Add the saved mushrooms and cook for a further 2 minutes. Taste and season with salt as required.
  • Meanwhile, boil the pasta.
  • While the sauce cooks, heat a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta until it still has some bite. Drain.
  • Assemble the casserole
  • Return the pasta to the saucepan, add the cooked sauce, and mix. Mix in half of the cheeses, then transfer to the oiled dish. Spread the remaining grated cheese on top.
  • Bake for 30 minutes, or until sauce bubbles and cheese is gently browned. Rest for 10 minutes before serving.
  • Leftovers can be refrigerated, securely wrapped, for up to four days. Baked casseroles freeze well. You may even freeze the entire dish to reheat later.
Keyword Johnny Marzetti Casserole

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