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.


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