Back in February 2009 my husband said to me “could you make Marzetti for me? We used to have that at my Aunt Barbara’s every Christmas Eve. It was the best!”
So I said “Marz—what?” or better yet let me write it in proper Massachusetts accent: MaaaaaaZettttiiii (notice lack of R)
He explained the dish had ground beef, tomato sauce, noodles and mushrooms – it was a casserole. I commented that it sounded a lot like Mom’s American Chop Suey to me. He was insistent – not the same thing at all! We called Aunt Barbara – she couldn’t quite remember the recipe. Everyone was all grown up and moved away. Those Christmas Eves were a million years ago.
Like a good foodie, I set about on a research mission. First- by consulting my many hundreds of cookbooks. Nothing. (of course that was before I discovered Eat Your Books!) Next – the internet. Jackpot!
Thanks to Arlene Burnett, staff writer at Pittsburgh’s The Post-Gazette.
Johnny Marzetti is a casserole created in the 1920s by the owner of the Marzetti Restaurant in Columbus, Ohio. Who was Johnny Marzetti? According to the “American Century Cookbook” by Jean Anderson, Johnny Marzetti was the brother of the owner of the Marzetti Restaurant. Marzetti’s is also known for its salad dressings which are available in grocery stores, nationwide.
Johnny Marzetti is a baked pasta dish, or casserole, consisting of noodles, tomato sauce, ground beef, and cheese. Other ingredients and seasonings may be added to adjust the taste. The dish originated in Columbus, Ohio, at the Marzetti Restaurant, and spread to other parts of the United States as variations of the recipe were published in magazines and cookbooks during the mid-20th century. The dish is still served in Ohio, especially at social gatherings and in school lunchrooms.
Johnny Marzetti also gained a great deal of popularity in the Panama Canal Zone, where it was served at social occasions and on holidays since at least the early WWII era. The Canal Zone version of the dish typically includes celery and green olives, and is almost always spelled “Johnny Mazetti” by Zonians. The importance of Johnny Mazetti to the culture of the Canal Zone was such that most Zonians are unaware of the origin of the dish and are surprised to learn that it did not originate there.
There must be like 27,000 versions out there but I can see the tweeks between the Mid-West versions and the New England versions. Like the use of egg noodles (mid-west) versus traditional Italian pasta. (New England)
Using my husband’s memories and my research I was able to recreate this traditional family dish to his specifications. More importantly I resisted the urge to doctor up this somewhat plain dish. After all they are Irish! 😉 Did I mention 100 percent Irish?
I can’t possibly figure out how a mid-west Italian dish became a family favorite in an Irish family that arrived in Boston and never left the area. Except Aunt Barbara. I concluded that it was her short stint in Wisconsin as a young wife. She must have picked it up out there, but she really doesn’t remember.
A week after telling a NH friend this story (who for the record also thought it sounded a lot like the American Chop Suey of our youth) – she attends a family function in South Boston at her boyfriend’s sister’s place and guess what was being served? Yep, you got it – “MaaaZhetti”
So it wasn’t just a one-time incident in my husband’s family but apparently a “known” Irish traditional food! I asked around. Many other families around Boston also enjoy the Marzetti. How is this possible?
Certainly the “melting pot” is what this country is all about and makes for some great eating and of course Boston does have a long-standing history of intertwining Irish and Italian food traditions. Although you don’t see many Italians eating corned beef and cabbage; no Irish family gathering around here is complete without somebody’s famous meatballs and “gravy” or a pan of lasagna or apparently….Johnny Marzetti.
Marzetti – the Boston way!
Serves 8 -10 (freeze leftovers for another day!)
1.5 lb ground pork
1 lb lean ground beef
1 (16oz) bag of egg noodles (Barbara uses these but if you like.. use any long pasta that you enjoy)
1 med onion chopped
3 large ribs of celery chopped
8oz sliced mushrooms
2 (10.75 oz) cans Campbell’s tomato soup
1 (14oz) can of diced tomatoes
½ – ¾ cup of grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
1-2 tbsp minced garlic (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Brown meat, onion, celery, mushrooms and salt/pepper in large heavy-bottom, oven-safe dish. (or use skillet and transfer to casserole dish) Meat should be cooked through. Add no other oil or fat unless you think mixture is too dry due to leanness of meat. Meanwhile boil and drain noodles according to package; leaving them just a bit undercooked (al dente). In final oven proof dish – mix meat mixture with soup and tomatoes, and optional garlic. Mix in cooked noodles. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and bake 30 mins.