Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Johnny Mazetti for a Living Treasure

My father-in-law, Earl, is a living treasure. Don't believe me? Click here to read all about it! He grew up in the Panama Canal Zone, and one of the local newspapers interviewed him about his childhood there, and his life after leaving the Canal Zone. It's really interesting...especially the part that explains why mosquitoes don't really bother him much anymore!
A couple of months ago, he emailed me a recipe for something called Johnny Mazetti, which is a dish he grew up eating in the Canal Zone. From what I understand, everyone in the Canal Zone loved this Johnny Mazetti stuff, and they're astounded to learn that it didn't originate there! In fact, the recipe is a variation of a different dish called Johnny Marzetti (notice the r here), which originated in a restaurant in Ohio! And after some research, it seems that Johnny Marzetti is a well-loved recipe in the Northeast (Ohio, Wisconsin, etc.). I'm just a little ol' Kentucky girl, and I'd never heard of the stuff before.

There are some differences between Johnny Mazetti and Johnny Marzetti. The Zonian version uses egg noodles, where the Ohio verison calls for elbow macaroni. The Zonian recipe requires something called Arturo sauce, whereas the Ohio version uses a spaghetti sauce. I found my recipe here (because I lost the one Earl emailed to me), and was pleased to find that it even included a recipe for the elusive Arturo sauce (because I certainly wasn't buying a case of the stuff). It seems that Arturo sauce is a key ingredient to Zonian Johnny Mazetti, because when Earl told his sister Mary that I was making Johnny Mazetti, she said, "How is she going to make Johnny Mazetti? She doesn't have Arturo sauce!" And let me tell you, this Arturo sauce is interesting stuff. Some of the ingredients: mushrooms, cider vinegar, soy sauce, brown sugar. When I mixed mine up, I couldn't decide if it smelled wonderful or horrible. I decided it would be best not to decide.
The recipe is really simple to prepare...there's just a lot of chopping and shredding involved. Green peppers, onions, celery, capers, olives, three kinds of cheese, etc. As I was reviewing the recipe, I thought to myself, "This is glorified homemade Hamburger Helper!" And I guess maybe it is. But I'd call it gourmet Hamburger Helper, at the very least. There are LOTS of strong flavors going on, and I was very skeptical about how it would come together. To my surprise, it was delicious! David and I both commented on how it reminded us both of Bacon Cheeseburger Pizza from Hometown Pizza (a local pizza place). The creamy cheese, tangy olives, and wonderfully weird Arturo sauce combined for one delicious casserole. If you're stuck in a dinner rut and need something new and delicious, you should definitely give this one a try!

Johnny Mazetti
Recipe adapted from Best Room in the House
1 lb. ground beef
1-2 tsp. olive oil
1 green pepper, chopped fine
1 medium onion, chopped fine
1 stalk celery, chopped fine
1 medium can mushrooms, drained
3 cloves garlic
salt & pepper to taste
1 can tomato soup
1 can tomato sauce
1 tsp. chopped capers
1 can Arturo sauce (see recipe below)
1/2 bottle stuffed olives, drained and chopped
3/4 of 1 pkg. of egg noodles (maybe less), boiled
1/2 lb. shredded American cheese (shred your own!)
1/4 lb. shredded Swiss cheese (shred your own!)
1/4 lb. shredded mozzarella (shred your own!)
5 strips bacon, fried and crumbled
1/4 cup red or white wine (use white wine on odd days and red on even)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a large casserole dish (at least 9x13) with cooking spray. Put a large pot of water on to boil. Brown ground beef in a very large skillet. Remove from skillet and drain well. Heat olive oil and saute green pepper, garlic, onion, and celery until softened. Add ground beef back to skillet and add mushrooms, tomato soup, tomato sauce, capers, Arturo sauce, and olives. Simmer on low until thoroughly heated. While the mixture is simmering, boil egg noodles, but not until they're al dente. They should still be a little undercooked. Pour contents of skillet into a very large bowl. Add in the half of each of the three shredded cheeses and al of the egg noodles. Mix until thoroughly combined. Place into greased casserole dish and top with remaining cheese and bacon. Bake for 1 hour. Yields 6-8 servings.
Arturo Sauce
Yields approximately 1 cup
1/4 cup finely chopped mushrooms
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup tomato sauce
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1 Tbs. brown sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp. black pepper
pinch of ginger
pinch of nutmeg
Combine all ingredients and mix well.


  1. that sounds great! i wonder if my husband would try it...

  2. Erin, I enjoy your blog and the news about Earl. The article was a treat and so was the Marzetti. I grew up in the Canal Zone and am friends of Earl and Shirley and have met you also. Your cooking skills are great and patience with Earl even greater. Thanks for the blog and enjoy your cooking. Hope to see you and David again sometime soon. Gayle and Robert

  3. My connection to the Canal is Earl and Shirley Orr. I am fortunate to work with Earl on the NLPA Sheep & Goat Fund. Earl has been with this committee for some 10 years. Over those years Earl and Shirley have gained a place in my heart that can only be filled by dear friends. They are amazing people who love each other and with family and community involvemant that make them valued to the max and as Erin stated "living treasures" to us all.


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