This easy Johnny Marzetti recipe is similar to American goulash but with lots and lots of cheese. It is a comfort dinner recipe that is easy to prepare and so delicious.
What is Johnny Marzetti?
Before I tell you how to make Johnny Marzetti, let’s go over its history. While this recipe falls into the same category as American Goulash or American ‘Chop Suey’, it’s not exactly the same. While I am not from Ohio, this casserole was served in cafeterias all throughout grade school. Our school always served it with a breadstick (which kids would then hollow out and stuff with Johnny Marzetti…as one does).
In 1896, Teresa Marzetti, an immigrant from Italy, arrived in the United States according to Ohio History Central. The same year, she opened a restaurant. Before opening the restaurant, she 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 her popular dishes came to be known as Johnny Marzetti, named after her brother-in-law. While it’s unclear when she first started offering the dish, it became popular in the 1920s.
Fun fact! Teresa’s restaurant later became T. Marzetti Company and you’ve probably seen their salad dressings and dips in your grocery store!
How to make Johnny Marzetti:
Making this recipe is relatively easy and the ingredients are all super accessible and interchangeable.
I did upgrade my Johnny Marzetti just a teensy bit with these fabulous sauces that I sell in my shop and they were absolutely perfect in this Johnny Marzetti recipe.
I used two jars of the ricotta tomato sauce and the flavor was incredible! You can use your favorite tomato sauce variety though.
To make this recipe, start by browning the beef and setting it aside to drain on paper towels. Next, add a diced onion, diced mushrooms, and diced bell peppers. Cook until all the liquid releases from the mushrooms and all of the ingredients begin to turn golden brow around the edges, about 10–15 minutes. From there, add minced garlic and minced chili pepper.
Melt butter into the pot and add spices. You can use an Italian spice blend. I’m not a big fan of the flavor of dried oregano, so I used a mix of dry thyme, paprika, and sweet red pepper flakes.
Add a bit of tomato paste and cook it for 2 minutes. Next, add a bit of reserved pasta cooking water. From there, simply bring it all together. Add the ground beef, the elbows, half of the cheese, tomato sauce, and a can of diced tomatoes. Taste it and add a bit of sugar if your tomatoes are acidic.
After that’s all done, pour it into a casserole dish top with the remaining cheese and bake it for 25 minutes. That’s it!
Looking for more comfort dinner recipes? Check my archives!
If you made this recipe, please rate the recipe below and leave a comment to tell me how you liked it! If you take a picture of it, please tag me on Instagram so I can feature you in my feed!
Easy Johnny Marzetti Recipe
- Wide pot
- Large pot
- 9×13 Baking Dish
- 2 pounds ground beef or use ground turkey, sausage, plant-based crumbles, or chicken
- 16 ounces elbow macaroni
- 1 tablespoon neutral oil if needed
- 1 yellow onion peeled and diced
- 2 red bell peppers trimmed, seeded, and diced
- 8 ounces baby bella mushrooms diced
- 6 cloves garlic peeled and minced
- 1 red Fresno chili pepper cut and minced, or use crushed red pepper
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 teaspoon dry thyme
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1 teaspoon sweet bell pepper flakes optional
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 2 12- ounce jars ricotta tomato sauce or use 2 15-ounce cans tomato sauce
- 1 15- ounce can diced tomatoes
- 8 ounces shredded cheddar cheese
- 8 ounces shredded Italian cheese blend I used a provolone and mozzarella mix)
- 1 teaspoon sugar optional
- ¼ cup fresh parsley minced
- Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
Brown the beef:
- Place a wide pot on the stove over medium-high heat. If needed, add a drizzle of neutral oil. Add the beef and cook, breaking up with a spoon, for 15 minutes until completely cooked through. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate.
Cook the pasta:
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Once boiling, add the macaroni and cook until 2 minutes under al dente. Scoop out ½ cup of the pasta water and set it aside. Drain the macaroni and set it aside.
Cook the aromatics:
- If needed, add more oil to the pot over medium-high heat. Add the diced onion, bell peppers, and mushrooms and cook for 10–15 minutes until they begin to turn golden brown around the edges. Add the garlic and minced chili pepper and cook for 1 minute—season with salt and pepper.
Bloom the spices:
- Melt the butter into the pot. Once bubbly, add the thyme, paprika, and bell pepper flakes if used. Cook for 1 minute.
Brown the tomato paste:
- Add the tomato paste to the pot and stir to coat the aromatics in the paste. Cook for 2 minutes until the paste deepens in color.
- Pour in the reserved pasta cooking water and stir to combine until a smooth sauce forms.
Finish the mixture:
- Add the reserved ground beef, tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, and cooked macaroni to the pot. Add half of the cheddar cheese and half of the Italian cheese mix and stir until evenly combined. Taste and season with salt, pepper, and sugar if needed. Turn off the heat.
Bake the Johnny Marzetti:
- Pour the mixture into a casserole dish. Top with the remaining cheddar and Italian cheese mixture. Bake for 25 minutes until bubbly. If desired, broil the Johnny Marzetti for 2–3 minutes to brown the cheese further.
- Remove the casserole from the oven. Sprinkle with fresh parsley and let stand for 5 minutes before serving. Enjoy!