Retro Recipe: Johnny Marzetti

This dish, known by various names: goulash, mazetti, HMT (hamburger, macaroni, tomatoes), American Chop Suey (and yes, I know regular chop suey is American!)  had its start in the famous Ohio restaurant, Marzetti’s.  It was first opened in 1896 and the closed in 1942 but another branch opened  but closed in 1972 when Teresa Marzetti died.  Being close to Ohio State University, Marzetti’s was popular for its generous servings, and tasty inexpensive food.  Teresa created this dish for her brother-in-law, Johnny Marzetti.  Columbus public schools learned of this dish and it became a school cafeteria favorite.  To this day, it is one of the most duplicated and favorite school cafeteria foods.  It is still popular in Ohio and the Midwest and many variations pop up at covered dish dinners and suppers, and other social occasions.

Although the Marzetti’s restaurant is long gone, her salad dressings continue on with the Marzetti Company, and her signature casserole dish is still popular.

My family started making this after one of my aunts brought home from high school (1957), several recipes of which one was to be made at home and rated by the family.  We chose Johnny Marzetti or, as it had on the recipe card, “Mazetti”.  It became a monthly regular in our home.  My grandmother, in the summer, made a skillet version to keep the kitchen from getting too hot in the summer. I usually make the skillet version myself, just to save time. Some different versions include the addition of celery, cream of mushroom soup, chopped green pepper.

One of the first dishes I taught teenagers in a church group was the skillet version of this dish. They wanted to learn to cook. They enjoyed the preparations and I can tell you, one skillet is not enough for a group of teens! the next session taught and requested was….sushi!


3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
3⁄4 pound mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
2 pounds lean ground beef
3 1⁄2 cups tomato sauce (I use the equivalent of canned, chopped tomatoes)
1 1⁄2 pounds cheddar cheese, shredded
1 pound elbow macaroni, cooked al dente and drained

Sauté onion in oil until limp, about 3 minutes. Add mushrooms and fry until juices are released, about 5 minutes.
Add beef and cook, stirring, breaking up clumps, until no longer red. Remove from heat and mix in tomato sauce and all but 1 cup of cheese. Transfer to greased 9- by 13-inch baking dish and add macaroni.
Toss gently to mix. Scatter remaining cheese on top. Bake, uncovered, in 350-degree oven until browned and bubbling (35 to 40 minutes). Serves 10 to 12.

Follow instructions omitting cheese. Heat in skillet until bubbly. Cut down to low and cover with 1 c. cheese. Cover and let cheese melt. Cut off heat and allow ingredients to settle. A friend of mine adds extra liquid (water) and adds the uncooked pasta to the ingredients, cooking in the skillet until the macaroni is tender. Cover with cheese.


26 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Let's CUT the Crap!
    Apr 29, 2014 @ 19:59:34

    When we were young my Mom used to make something like this but didn’t bake it and didn’t add the cheese. Still it was d.e.l.i.c.i.o.u.s. Thanks for sharing and for the memories of old.


  2. SirenaTales
    Apr 29, 2014 @ 20:55:44

    Another winner! Thank you. xo


  3. SirenaTales
    Apr 29, 2014 @ 20:56:06

    And special thanks for the history….


    • kanzensakura
      Apr 29, 2014 @ 21:03:16

      You are welcome. Part of my love of food includes the history. I feel if folks know about the dish, it can enhance their enjoyment – take them to another country or another place in time. I make the skillet version more often than the oven and usually leave out the cheese as my husband doesn’t always care for it. some people use spaghetti sauce but using the canned tomatoes gives it that mild cafeteria comfort nostalgia.


  4. jaklumen
    Apr 30, 2014 @ 03:35:53

    I like calling it “beefaroni”… yes, I know it’s a term created by a mass producer of canned pasta (unlikely Ettore Boiardi came up with it, either), but it seems to fit.

    We follow menu themes for meal planning, Monday night is typically Italian, and this is easy Italian-American. I wonder what Lidia Bastianich’s interpretation on it would be?


    • kanzensakura
      Apr 30, 2014 @ 10:27:42

      I kinow a lot of people call it beefaroni but I didn’t want to use that term that harkens to a canned product. But call it what you will, it is good stuff. I usually make the skillet version rather than the baked version because it is so much quicker. many times, work wipes me out and when I get home, I do not feel like long cooking. I halve the skillet version for my husband and I and use a pint jar of my home canned tomatoes – which is perfect. It also gives it a bland, retro school cafeteria vibe which can be very comforting. I doubt seriously Chef Boiardi came up with it either, but instead, probably fixed more like the Marzetti verision. The oven version is good for a change but uses a lot of gas in the cooking Skillet version I save time, energy, and gas. Brad doesn’t care much for cheese either so I keep a bowl of fresh grated parmesan nearby for him to add as he will – or won’t. I don’t do themes. I didn’t grow up with meals that way but rather, with what was on sale or fresh in our garden. Brad did. He said he always looked forward to Sunday because that was take out pizza night, lol. His mom is not a very good cook. So on the nights there were assigned to sandwiches and the pizza night, he was most happy. I had to teach him to eat fruits and veggies after we were married. How are you doing? Date: Wed, 30 Apr 2014 07:35:55 +0000 To:


      • jaklumen
        Apr 30, 2014 @ 16:00:33

        Hai, Toni-san, skillet versions of pasta dishes are indeed much easier– the last time we did the America’s Test Kitchen of skillet lasagna, we had Princess do it and she did very well with it. *Definitely* much easier than traditionally prepared lasagna, and still so tasty.

        We do themes because it’s a structure to work with and the family knows what to expect. We struggle with gardening (long story in and of itself), but still, I usually open the pantry and work with what’s there. We don’t follow the themes strictly all the time. Plus, we have a son with autism, and he very much needs a predictable routine, even for meals.

        I’m about as well as can be expected… I guess I’ll have to make a post soon about the flaming hoop jumping with the doctor’s offices and such.


        • kanzensakura
          Apr 30, 2014 @ 16:17:33

          Yes, you do indeed need the routine. It is good you all are willing and able to do it. I’ve always been a successful gardener, grew up in our family garden. I’m sure Princess did an excellent job with the cooking! I know I certainly did my share as a young un. I guess I’m one of those folks who are ADD or something because I get easily bored. Brad, bless him, will eat the same thing for his work lunch every day of the week. I have to have variety. I don’t cook things that will have or I halve recipes to avoid leftovers. I know. I’m bad. Pot Roast and tacos are it for leftovers!. years ago, my mother came up with the idea of putting pipes next to plants to better use the water and get it down to the roots. It’s simple – 18 inch lengths of PVC pipe with one end cut in a slant. That part digs into the ground for several inches by the plant. you then pour water into the pipe and it goes right to the roots and makes them go down further too. Not so much wasted/evaporated surface water. I had a small garden several years ago that wowed folks. During a localized drought, my tomatoes, squash, cukes, eggplant flourished because of those pipes. When I did my laundry, after the clothese rinsed but before they spun dry, I’d bucket out the water and use in the garden. I canned 32 qts. of tomatoes and 14 pints of maters off of 6 plants. Plus made pickles from the cukes and had more than enough squash and eggplants to share along with tomatoes. Those pipes really did the trick. I have them installed by several fruit trees as well so if there is a drought, I can still water and keep the trees productive and alive.Not pretty, but definitely worth their weight in water! I think Brad’s family, while unstructured, he and his brother often fell to the side so his father got most of the attention. he was a banker and his career came first and foremost. His mom nurtured his father’s career more than the two boys. That is sad, isn’t it? I’m proud for how you nurture your family and encourage your kids and do things to help them.


          • jaklumen
            Apr 30, 2014 @ 16:21:33

            Understand the ADD bit– I’m outnumbered 3 to 1 on that front (yes, the rest of my little family has it, but I don’t).

            Yes, I’m researching “self-watering” container systems that basically utilize this underground tap system you describe, but your mother’s system seems much easier.


            • kanzensakura
              Apr 30, 2014 @ 16:36:25

              and cheaper! I did as she did and bought a length of the pipe and then used a circular saw to cut and taper. When the season is over, pull them up and store and use again the next year. and if you do laundry at your home, use the rinse water like I did. It’s kind of tedious, but worth it. I also purchased several 50 gallen tubs to catch water. I have it covered with screen and fastened to keep critters and a lot of bugs out of it. sometimes, I just transfer the rinse water to the tubs to hold it for when I want it. I’ve cut our laundry back to once a week. but it is only the two of us so it is easy to do that.


  5. TheGreat Zambini
    Apr 30, 2014 @ 16:51:31

    That’s a really cool recipe! I like the inclusion of the history of the dish, that’s always fun. I like seeing these retro recipes sometimes, I feel like there are so many fewer American dishes than other cultures so we really have to hang onto the few that we have that aren’t diner dishes! 🙂


    • kanzensakura
      Apr 30, 2014 @ 17:32:15

      Thank you very much! I enjoy doing retro postings and cooking the retro dishes. I even have a first edition Fannie Farmer I delve into occasionally. I am glad you enjoyed it. I think I have posted a Perfection Salad recipe and one for a Daffodil Cake my grandmother always used to make in the spring. Those unique American dishes are so wonderful. Some may consider most of them bland, but I call it comforting. I make the Marzetti dish often in the skillet to save time and money and my husband doesn’t always like that much cheese in a dish. I also use, instead of tomato sauce or spaghetti sauce, my own canned tomatoes. A quart jar makes the recipe with some to spare and a pint jar allows me to halve the recipe, which I often do for just us two. Thank you so much for commenting. I appreciate it. Date: Wed, 30 Apr 2014 20:51:32 +0000 To:


      • TheGreat Zambini
        May 14, 2014 @ 00:00:09

        Daffodil cake? I’ll have to try it! These old dishes don’t taste bland if you make them with wholesome ingredients. If you are using industrial food that is grown without any flavor, of course the dish will taste as bad as its components! Thanks for the tip, I’ll keep it in mind come tomato season 🙂


        • kanzensakura
          May 14, 2014 @ 03:42:58

          Nowadays,we equate hyperflavor with good, forgetting about the simplicity of flavors. This is a cake that one doesn’t eat while texting and talking and having to have the flavor grab your attention. The texture is to be explored and the delicate pure lemon is to be savored, to be listened to like the whisper of a friend. It is a simple cake that doesn’t scream for attention. It slows us down and helps us to remember a more peaceful place. Like you say, wholesome quality ingredients go in to making this cake more than the sum of its parts. It is actually, a rather Zen cake. 🙂


  6. FlaHam
    May 02, 2014 @ 12:41:35

    Kanzen, that truly sounds great,.especially today a gray rain filled day, with a slight chill (thanks to the AC in the hotel room) in the air. That or a verison of it was standard fare onboard the Navy ships I served on, and it seems like it is a one skillet meal, which makes cleanup a lot easier. take care, Bill


    • kanzensakura
      May 02, 2014 @ 16:36:29

      Thank you Bill! You are a veteran, which I did not know. A double thank you for your service to us. It seems this recipe goes from coast to coast, border to border. The skillet version is much quicker and as we use propane, less costly and less use of the gas. I use home canned tomatoes (quart jar) because I actually like the not as spicy version of this – I guess it harkens back to the school cafeteria days! It actually isn’t bad in the summer either. You can use ground turkey and it does well. Take care! Date: Fri, 2 May 2014 16:41:36 +0000 To:


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