Quick Johnny Marzetti

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This is not the first time I’ve posted a recipe for Johnny Marzetti on this blog. Today I had neither the time nor the need to whip together a dinner so large, so I tried to make this as simply as possible with some convenient ingredients.

By the time I started making dinner today, I’d already walked 15,000+ steps, so I was more than willing to toss aside any culinary aspirations. I admit that I used a can of Chef Boyardee spaghetti sauce in tonight’s dinner. Yes, it possible to buy a can filled with nothing but the same sauce that blankets the famous ravioli of that same brand. Strangely enough, whenever I use this spaghetti sauce, the resulting dish does not scream of canned ravioli. Instead, the sauce lends a bit of complexity with its hints of Romano and fennel.

My husband was the one who introduced me to the Chef Boyardee spaghetti sauce. It’s one of those tips that have been surprisingly useful in the kitchen, like his suggestion to cook hamburgers “low and slow” on the stovetop (which actually makes delightful burgers, by the way).

Quick Johnny Marzetti

Serves 4

  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 8 oz sliced white mushrooms
  • 1/2 t seasoned salt
  • 1 15 oz can spaghetti sauce
  • 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 3 cups cooked pasta, such as macaroni or small shells
  • 1 medium tomato, diced

Season beef and mushroom with seasoned salt in a 10″ or 12″ skillet. Cook and crumble over medium heat until beef is well-browned and mushrooms are soft. Drain fat. Stir in spaghetti sauce and diced tomatoes. Heat until bubbling. Add pasta to skillet, tossing gently until it is covered in sauce. Sprinkle cheese over mixture and stir until cheese is melted.

This recipe goes well with sweet peas and Texas toast on the side.

Johnny Marzetti: My Way

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I recently found the original recipe for Johnny Marzetti online, and I was surprised to see that it featured lots of cheese. I don’t recall seeing any cheese in the version I ate at school back in the late 70’s to early 90’s. Since I love cheese, I thought I’d try making the original, but I just don’t like the idea of making any dish with a pound and a half of cheese. That may be too much of a good thing, so I reduced the cheese and doubled the mushrooms.

Serves 12

  • 2 lbs ground beef
  • large sweet onion, diced
  • 1 1/2 pounds button mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 1/4 t salt
  • 1/2 t pepper
  • 1 lb dry elbow macaroni
  • 1 t seasoned salt
  • 1 t dried oregano
  • 1 t dried parsley
  • 14.5 oz can tomato sauce
  • 14 oz jar or 15 oz can traditional pasta sauce
  • 12 oz shredded sharp cheddar cheese, divided
  • 5 oz shredded parmesan, divided

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray two 13″x9″ casserole dishes with cooking spray. Toss mushrooms with olive oil, salt, and pepper in one of the casserole dishes and place in oven. Cook macaroni according to package directions and drain. While macaroni is cooking, brown ground beef with onion and seasoned salt in dutch oven, drain fat. By this time, the mushrooms should be ready to come out of the oven. Combine tomato sauce, pasta sauce, macaroni, mushrooms, and ground beef mixture in dutch oven. Stir in 2 cups cheddar and half the parmesan. Pour half of the contents of the dutch oven into each of the two casserole dishes. Sprinkle each equally with the remaining cheese, oregano, and parsley. Cook in oven for 35 to 40 minutes or until cheese is nicely browned.

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Spaghetti Dinner

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This evening’s edition: rigatoni and ground beef with Mid’s sauce

Like chili or tacos, spaghetti is one of those dinners I regret I can’t serve more often. If I make spaghetti more than once a fortnight, I risk seeming lazy or obsessed. Since I seldom cook my own sauce, spaghetti is indeed an easy dinner for me to serve, aside from that moment of juggling pans as everything seems to finish at the same moment.

Here in the Midwest, spaghetti is actually two different things, a product or a dinner genre. The difference depends on whether you are buying or making spaghetti. In the grocery store, spaghetti is what you’d call a box of dried semolina dough that is cut to uniform length and ~2 mm girth. When you cook dinner at home around here and call it spaghetti, it could be almost any combination of tomato sauce, pasta and ground meat. Actually the meat is optional. If it is present, it may be crumbled or shaped into meatballs.

Spaghetti dinner has the rare quality of growing with a cook throughout a lifetime. It can be both a starter dish for a beginner or the signature meal of a master. I have made several attempts at creating a decent homemade sauce, but I end up with a bland but nice looking result, like a Penney’s catalog of cuisine. Since these efforts have not yet been worth the time I’ve spent on them, I usually buy a tomato sauce and add meat. My favorite store bought sauce is Mid’s, which is a bit pricey but has a much deeper tenor than typical jarred sauces.

Spaghetti dinner can be varied to the point of using a starch other than pasta. A few years ago, I tried substituting polenta for pasta, with favorable results. I can now make spaghetti dinner twice as often by disguising it as a polenta casserole. The next time I make this casserole, I will post its simple recipe. It is just a bed of polenta covered in meatballs and tomato sauce then topped with mushrooms and mozzarella cheese.

I just had a vision of making a chili variation on the polenta casserole.

That’s what I need to make next.

If it works, I have an excuse to cook more chili, which is even more satisfying than making spaghetti dinner.

This could be how tamales were born. They are a taco variant of the polenta casserole.