Heeeere’s Johnny! The history of a pasta casserole

Have you ever heard of Johnny Mazzetti? If you’re Panamanian (or have lived in Panama) you probably do. Funny thing is, in putting this post together, I came to learn about the history behind the dish. I don’t think I believed this to be an original recipe by my mother, though I still think of it as her dish. Johnny Mazzetti, the dish, is very popular in Panama, so I Googled it. Turns out the dish originated in Columbus, Ohio at a restaurant called Marzetti. Leave it to Panamanians to change someones name.

Nonetheless, this was one of my Mami’s favorite party dishes because of how easy it was to prepare and how much mileage you could get from it, I mean, it goes a loooooong way. Like any other popular recipe, Johnny Mazzetti has many incarnations. My mom would make hers with olives, raisins and boiled eggs, in essence, you make picadillo and grow it with pasta.

I must confess that I made this a few months ago, I was yearning for some comfort food and the memory of it came rushing back. I also have to confess that this is not really my mom’s recipe. It has been seriously adulterated… for the better. Not that there’s anything wrong with the original recipe, I just wanted…more. So I brought together 2 comfort foods: mac ‘n cheese and Johnny Mazz and ended up with a casserole of goodness. And you get dibs.

MacZetti

For the beef mixture:
1lb ground beef
3/4 tsp sea salt
1 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp Italian Seasoning
1 large onion, diced
1/2 bell pepper (preferably red), diced
2 serrano peppers, finely chopped
1/2 cp cilantro, chopped
1 small can crushed tomatoes
1 cp broth or water
1/4 cp Cotija cheese

For the pasta:
2-1/2 cps of a combination of Mexican crema (creme fraiche), heavy cream and milk (you can use all of them or take your pick)
Sea salt
White pepper
2 cps cheese (I used Pepper Jack and Cheddar)
3 tbsps butter
Dash of nutmeg
1 lb pasta (I used mezzi tubeti, but elbow, rigatoni would do)

Heat a medium skillet over high heat and add the ground beef and the next 4 ingredients, stirring well to evenly distribute the seasonings. Allow the moisture of the beef to evaporate, before adding the onions, serranos and bell pepper. Cook until the onions are translucent before adding the cilantro and tomato puree. Add the broth or water and check and adjust the seasoning as needed. Allow it to simmer for about 15 minutes over medium low heat. Stir in the Cotija cheese.

Cook and drain the pasta, then add the milk, cream and crema over low temperature. Add the cheese and butter, stirring until dissolved. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg.

Preheat oven to 375°. Liberally butter a baking dish and spoon half of the pasta, top with all the beef, then the rest of the pasta. Bake for about 20-30 minutes or until bubbling.

For more yummy shots, click here.

Cookingly yours,
Anamaris

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8 thoughts on “Heeeere’s Johnny! The history of a pasta casserole

  1. It’s currently raining and dark outside my office window, and this looks like perfect food to curl up with on the couch on a day like today. Think my boss will understand if I say I have to leave to make a Panamanian pasta casserole?

  2. It’s miserable in New York. The wind got me this mornig and I flew like a witch to the train station..I am hungry and nothing to eat in the restaurants in my area. So bored…and then you come up with this comfort concotion and right now I am pissed off at you…sticking my tough out!

  3. @Jane & Tes, I hope you guys will try it, this one is a keeper! Kinda like homemade hamburger helper…, but better.

    @Wawa (Cynthia), I think if you use the Panama line you should be golden. My little country has a lot of pull, just watch almost any movie.

    @Norma- ajajajajajaAJAJAJAJAJAJA You quack me up. I’m sticking my tongue out right back at ya! I love it!

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