Letter from the Editor: Comfort food and Johnny Marzetti

Eric Lyttle
Columbus Monthly

What good is having a regular column space if you can't say hi to your mom on occasion?

Hi Mom!

So I wrote this odd little feature about Johnny Marzetti in this month's issue. You can find it on Page 58. While most people reacted with a look of disgust when I talked about Marzetti for the last few weeks, I'm an unabashed fan of the stuff.

I'm giving credit to Mom. She made a mean Johnny Marzetti when I was a kid.

The funny thing is, when I started working on this story, I decided to look through my cookbooks to see if any of them mentioned the dish. I have a bunch of cookbooks. I figured it had to be in at least one.

For the record, it's in the most recent edition of the “Joy of Cooking.” In fact, if kicks off that iconic cookbook's “Brunch, Lunch and Supper Dishes” chapter.

But before I got to the “Joy of Cooking,” I pulled out a little spiral-bound cookbook called “Holmes Cooking,” published in 2000 by the women of the Holmes United Methodist Church in New Philadelphia, Ohio. I scanned the table of contents, and boom—Johnny Marzetti. I turned to Page 31 and couldn't believe my eyes. There on the page was the recipe, submitted by Robbie Lyttle, my mom.

I called her immediately. “Oh yeah,” she said. A friend of hers belonged to the church and had asked Mom to submit a few recipes. “How'd you get it?” she asked. I had no idea.

But I'm glad I did. That Sunday, as I was working to finish my feature story, I whipped up a batch of Mom's Johnny Marzetti. I say “whipped up” but the truth is, it wasn't quick or even terribly easy. As Johnny Marzetti recipes go, it's kind of time-consuming. But two hours later, my house was filled with the smell of comfort-food tastiness. Soon, I was putting my laptop aside and spooning out a heaping helping, with a couple of garlic sticks to sop up the remnants. It wasn't as good as Mom's—I'm no natural in the kitchen. But it was good enough. I had seconds. It snowed that day, the first snow of the winter. It was like Mother Nature knew I was making a casserole of Johnny Marzetti.

I figured I'd share my mom's recipe. She says it's not really hers—she got it from Kathy Bailey, our longtime next-door neighbor. No matter. It's Mom's to me.

Mom's Marzetti

  • 1 8-ounce package noodles
  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 1 cup dry bread crumbs
  • 1/2 green pepper, chopped
  • 1 can mushrooms (juice, stems, pieces)
  • 1 large onion, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 tablespoons minced parsley
  • 1/4 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 can cream of tomato soup
  • 1 can tomato paste
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 pound sharp cheddar cheese, grated

Brown meat, add onion, green pepper and mushrooms. Add seasonings. When tender, drain and add tomato soup, tomato paste, water and Worcestershire sauce. Cook noodles and drain. Place a layer of noodles in a greased casserole dish, then add a layer of meat mixture and half the cheese. Repeat. Bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes.