Johnny Marzetti Casserole

The origin of Johnny Marzetti casserole may be traced to the heart of a state located on the eastern edge of the area commonly referred to as the heartland. There is nothing more Midwestern, in my opinion.

When I was growing up, the family of my best friend made this frequently, and they called it by the nickname “Marzetti” informally, just like many Ohioans do. Tasty with ground beef and cheesy, tomato-sauced macaroni, it’s a crowd-pleaser that they’ve served at numerous church dinners and potlucks.

I’ve been fascinated to the recipe’s convoluted history as an adult, which is intriguing. Why is this dish, which is basically an unfancified, quick version of lasagna, named after a man? And why has the charm of this simple casserole lasted for more than a century?

Johnny Marzetti Did Not Invent Johnny Marzetti

It has not yet been established that the conventional account of how Johnny Marzetti casserole came into being is supported by any historical evidence. In addition, despite the fact that I simply cannot get enough of revisiting the subject, my own explorations of web databases have not provided any fresh insights into the matter.

Whatever the case may be, people consume the tale with the same eagerness that they consume the casserole itself. This is the main point: Marzetti’s, a restaurant located in Columbus, Ohio, was a mainstay in the downtown area for many years. The proprietor, Teresa Marzetti, came up with the idea for the inexpensive and hearty pasta bake for the students who were struggling financially at Ohio State University, which is located nearby. She named the dish after her brother-in-law.

To this day, there has been no discovery of a vintage Marzetti’s menu that includes the dish, and the Marzetti family has never provided any evidence to support the claim. It is possible that the reason the name Marzetti is familiar to you for reasons that are not related to casseroles is because the Marzetti family established a firm in 1950 that manufactures bottled dressing; the company is still in operation today. On the other hand, the final Marzetti’s restaurant closed its doors in the 1970s, which provides a significant amount of time for a sentimental origin myth to develop.

A Casserole With Many Cousins

Johnny Marzetti has carved out a permanent role for himself in the kitchens of homes and in the dining halls of institutions, regardless of any conceivable associations that may be made with Marzetti’s restaurant. Printed recipes first appeared in print as early as 1916, and there are dozens of different variations that link community cookbooks from the Midwest together like a game of connect the dots.

Some of the dishes that are considered to be close relatives of Johnny Marzetti are goulash, American chop suey, slumgullion, and the very own hamburger and macaroni recipe that is offered by Simply Recipes. The Johnny Marzetti differentiates out from the rest of these recipes because it is marbled and topped with cheese (often mild orange cheddar) before being baked. All of these dishes are essentially made in a skillet. Because of this, it is less suitable for putting together on the spur of the moment, but it is quite suitable for putting together in large numbers in advance. Call for the family get-together!

Johnny Marzetti Variations and Swaps

My Marzetti might not be your Marzetti, but that’s okay. It takes well to personalization as well as passionate opinions. Here are mine!

  • Pasta: I contend that macaroni is the pasta for Johnny Marzetti. Egg noodles are also traditional, but macaroni creates a superior framework to hold the sauce and beef together. I suppose you could use penne, but doing so would push it from Marzetti to being Marzetti-inspired.
  • Cheese: If this casserole originated in an Italian restaurant, why does it have cheddar and not mozzarella? Search me, but do give the cheddar a spin. Trust me, it works. Use orange or white, sharp or mild. Really any shredded semi-firm cheese (or a blend of a few) would be fine. I like to add a little grated parm to mine for some oomph.
  • Meat: It’s nice to have a recipe option when you have ground beef on hand and that’s it. Some recipes call for Italian sausage. I’ve never had it this way, and to me it would be flirting too closely with baked ziti. I say if you want baked ziti, make baked ziti.
  • Vegetables: The vegetable-averse may skip the bell pepper and/or mushrooms. I like the flavor that the mushrooms add in particular, but as a ten-year-old, I would not have agreed.
  • Herbs and spices: Midwestern casseroles have a rep for being bland, but your Marzetti does not need to be. The beefy tomato sauce, however, should not be an Italian seasoning bomb. Use a light hand with the herbs and look to ground spices like chili powder or cayenne if you’d like to impart a little boldness.

Johnny Marzetti Casserole

PREP TIME15 mins
COOK TIME75 mins
SERVINGS8 servings
YIELD1 (9×13-inch) casserole


  • 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 (28ouncecan 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


  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. 

    Grease a 9×13-inch baking dish; set aside.

  2. Cook the vegetables and beef: 

    Heat a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms to the dry skillet. As they heat, the mushrooms will give off their moisture. Stir them occasionally until they are soft, slightly browned, and most of their liquid has evaporated, 5 to 8 minutes. Scrape the mushrooms in a bowl; set aside.

    Wipe out the skillet and return it to the burner. Add the oil; when it ripples, add the onion and cook until translucent, about 6 minutes. Add the garlic and bell pepper and cook 1 minute longer. Season generously with salt.

    Add the beef, reduce the heat to medium, and cook, breaking the beef up with a spoon into small clumps. Stop when the meat is no longer pink, about 8 minutes.

    Sliced mushrooms stirred in a hot skillet over the stove for Johnny Marzetti casserole recipe

    Onions, bell pepper, and garlic cooking in the skillet on the stove for Johnny Marzetti casserole recipe

    Beef added to skillet on the stove and cooking with the vegetables for Johnny Marzetti casserole recipe
  3. Add the tomatoes and seasoning:

    Use your hands to crush the tomatoes directly into the pan (wear an apron) and add the remaining juices from the can.


    My mom prefers to stick kitchen scissors right into the can and chop the tomatoes up that way. It’s less messy, but not as fun.

    Add the tomato paste, oregano, pepper flakes, and black pepper and simmer until saucy, about 20 minutes. Add the reserved mushrooms; simmer 2 minutes longer. Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed with salt.

    Hand crushing whole canned tomatoes into the skillet with the ground beef mixture for Johnny Marzetti casserole recipe
    Simply Recipes / Mark Beahm

    Cooked mushrooms added to the meat sauce in the skillet for Johnny Marzetti casserole recipe
    Simply Recipes / Mark Beahm

  4. Meanwhile, boil the pasta:

    As the sauce cooks, bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add the pasta and cook until it still retains a bit of bite. Drain.

    Cooked elbow pasta draining in a colander in the stove for Johnny Marzetti casserole recipe
    Simply Recipes / Mark Beahm

  5. Assemble the casserole: 

    Return the pasta to the pot; add the cooked sauce and toss. Mix in half of the cheeses, then dump into the greased dish. Scatter the remaining grated cheese on top.

    Johnny Marzetti casserole ingredients mixed together with cheese in a pot
    Simply Recipes / Mark Beahm

    Johnny Marzetti casserole ingredients added to a casserole dish
    Simply Recipes / Mark Beahm

    Casserole dish with Johnny Marzetti casserole ingredients topped with grated cheddar and parmesan cheese
    Simply Recipes / Mark Beahm

  6. Bake:

    Bake until the sauce bubbles and the cheese is lightly browned, about 30 minutes. Let rest 10 minutes before serving.

    You can refrigerate leftovers, tightly covered, for up to 4 days. The baked casserole freezes well. You can even freeze the entire casserole to reheat later.




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