Friday, June 10, 2011

Lori's Johnny Marzetti

I love trivia, and the story of Johnny Marzetti is an interesting one, besides being an iconic dish created right here in Columbus, Ohio. I got this information from the Ohio History Central site:

"Ohioan Teresa Marzetti was the first person to serve the casserole Johnny Marzetti in a restaurant.
In 1896, Italian immigrant Marzetti arrived in the United States of America. That same year, Marzetti established an Italian restaurant in Columbus, Ohio on Broad Street. This restaurant closed in 1942, but another restaurant, which had opened in 1919, remained in operation until 1972, when Teresa Marzetti died. Before opening the original restaurant, Marzetti wrote, "We will start a new place and serve good food. At a profit if we can, at a loss if we must, but we will serve good food."
One of the dishes that Marzetti offered her customers became known as Johnny Marzetti, which was named for Teresa Marzetti's brother-in-law. A baked casserole, the dish included ground beef, cheese, tomato sauce, and noodles. It is unclear when Marzetti's restaurant first offered the dish, but by the 1920s, it had become popular across Ohio and the Midwest. This was primarily due to the ease of preparation and the tastiness of Johnny Marzetti."

From the 1940's through the 1990's most schools in central Ohio had Johnny Marzetti on the menu at least once a month. It was always a favorite dish of most school kids. School cooks almost always made their dish using egg noodles, which is what I prefer. Most all families in central Ohio have a variation on this dish as it comes in many styles, most notable is that many people have traditionally made this dish with elbow macaroni. When I was growing up, my mom made this dish with elbow macaroni, and so did most people I knew. My late ex-mother-in-law, Letha Huber, used to brown ground beef with onions, add cooked elbow macaroni, cans of stewed tomatoes, and enough tomato juice to keep it from being dry. We all loved it.

The only Johnny Marzetti I've had that I do not like in any way is the one made with canned tomato soup. It is a disgusting creation, and I do not know why people cook with tomato soup when diced or stewed tomatoes make for a more tasty and appetizing dish. But however you make yours, make sure you try this recipe that I created over the years, as I tried to make a tasty and delicious casserole that we would crave. And crave we do as this is the quintessential comfort food.

Lori's Johnny Marzetti

2 pounds ground chuck*
1 onion, chopped
about 1/4- 1/2 cup green pepper, diced*
2-4 minced garlic cloves*
Real sea salt (pink) and pepper, to taste*
1 can (15 oz) diced tomatoes, undrained
3 (cans) 15 oz  tomato sauce, plus 1 8 oz. can*
2 tablespoons brown sugar, to cut acid from tomatoes
1 16 oz bag medium egg noodles ( I use Meijer brand)
16 oz (1 lb.) Cheddar cheese, grated*
Olive oil cooking spray*

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Put large pot of water on to boil for the noodles. When ready, cook noodles according to pkg. directions; drain and set aside if not ready.
Meanwhile, brown beef in a 6 quart dutch oven, along with onion, green peppers, garlic, salt and pepper; drain grease when done. Stir in tomatoes, tomato sauce, and brown sugar; let simmer till noodles are ready.
Combine noodles and meat sauce in large pot and blend well. Stir in grated cheese. Pour into a 15" x 10" casserole dish. Spray some foil with cooking spray and cover casserole. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes. Remove from oven, remove foil, sprinkle more cheese over top and return to oven till cheese is melted. Remove from oven and allow to set for 5-10 minutes before serving to give cheese a chance to set up some. This makes a large amount that will feed 8-10 people, maybe a bit more, depending on appetites. You can halve this recipe and bake in a smaller pan. This is also great for pot lucks or as funeral food.

*I use ground chuck from grass fed cows.
*I don't measure green peppers as I just add what looks right. You want the flavor without it being too prevalent. I dice and freeze peppers from our garden to use all year long, so this comes out of our freezer.
*You can use garlic salt  or powder instead, or not at all, but we like garlic. If you use garlic salt, do not add extra salt.
*We only use real sea salt in our foods, the pink kind put out by Redmond's Real Salt.
*You want 53 ounces tomato sauce total. I like it okay with just 48 ounces, but Bob likes his more saucy, so you can play with these amounts for your desired amount. I mainly use 53 ounces.
*I actually use around 24 ounces of cheese as we like ours cheesy. You can divide the 16 ounces up by using 3/4 of the bag and then sprinkling the rest at the end, or you can cook all cheese in casserole and not top with anymore. We like to use a lot of cheese.
*I only use olive oil spray as I do not use vegetable oil (soy, canola, or other) in any of my cooking.

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