An Ohio Casserole Classic | Johnny Marzetti

Food trends come and go.  And ideas, ingredients, or dishes that you might think aren’t exactly cool, always seem to have a way of coming back around.  Being thrifty and using offal and off cuts is fashionable.  It’s hip to garden again.  The values of my Gran are suddenly in vogue.  How charming!

My friend John loves Columbus, loves food and thought it would be great to celebrate Johnny Marzetti with a collection of blog posts from local Columbus food bloggers.  I was so pleased to be included in the crowd and to learn about this dish, not being a Columbus native.  I assured John I’d never heard of or eaten this dish before.  But now what truly fascinates me is that there is a version that made its way to the Rio Grande valley of Texas, a stone’s throw away from where I grew up.   And as it turns out,  it’s something that my Grandma often made for Sunday dinners and potlucks.  I knew it as Macaroni Crunch, but many others knew it as Johnny Marzotti.  Maybe this is the sort of unspoken influence that food has on our lives.

Here’s my version of this Ohio and South Texas classic.  I’ve put my own spin on it by using heirloom tomatoes, fresh mushrooms and peppers from my back garden.  The result is a fresh take on the already entirely delicious French’s-fried-onions-canned-mushroom-soup-and-canned-tomato version with which I grew up.  And somehow, I think Grandma might be proud.  Proud of my garden and my thriftiness and my comfort in the kitchen.

PK’s Johnny Marzetti, serves so, so many, so, so much

For the onions:

2 c all purpose flour

1 1/2 c tonic water or beer

1 large yellow onion, sliced in 1/2 inch rings, then quartered and separated

Vegetable oil for frying

Heat the vegetable oil to 350.  Mix the flour with the tonic water and sprinkle with a generous pinch of salt.  Add in the onions to the batter.  Cook in batches, lightly draining the batter off the onions before carefully adding to the oil.  Fry until golden.  Season with salt and drain on paper towels.  Set aside.

For the casserole:

1 lb lean, grass-fed ground beef

1 lb elbow macaroni, cooked according to package directions

1 T butter

8 oz fresh mushrooms, sliced (preferably not white button)

2 large heirloom tomatoes (one very juicy, one very firm), chopped

1 large green bell pepper, seeded and finely chopped

3/4 lb sharp cheddar, shredded

1/2 c half and half

In a large pan, season the ground beef with salt and pepper and brown.  Drain of any remaining fat.  Set aside.  Wipe the pan with a towel, add the butter and turn the heat to medium high.  Add the mushrooms and cook briefly, about three minutes, tossing to coat in the butter.  Season with salt and pepper.  Add the tomatoes.  Season with salt and pepper.  Cook 3 to five minutes or just until the tomatoes begin to soften.  Add the beef, macaroni, mushroom tomato mixture, 3/4 of the fried onions, the bell pepper, half and half and cheese to a very large mixing bowl.  Stir well to combine.  Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed.

Butter several small casserole dishes (I needed three) and pour in the mixture.  Cover with foil.  Bake one, freeze the other two!  Bake at 350F for 30 minutes, then remove the foil and top with the remaining onions and bake for another five minutes.

For three other great versions of this versatile dish try John’s (JarSloth) purist’s version here, Andrea’s (of Food Embrace) hearty chicken sausage version here, or Rachel’s (of Hounds in the Kitchen) ratio version here.

Playlist included Crazy, by Patsy Cline.


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