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.


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¬į. 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,


Fast, Easy, Yummy

Here’s another recipe from my mom’s repertoire. This is a pretty simple dish to put together and has the added benefit of taking me back home. It definitely is one of my favorite comfort foods. My mom always served it with rice and tajadas, and so do I.

Corned Beef & Baked Beans
1 can corned beef
1 can baked beans
1 medium onion, sliced
2 tbsp ketchup
1/4 cp water
1/4 tsp Habanero sauce
2 tbsp vegetable oil

Heat up the oil in a medium-sized frying pan, then add the onions and cook until translucent over medium-high heat. Then add the corned beef, making sure to break it up.

Stir it to get the onions spread evenly before adding the beans, ketchup, water and habanero. Mix it all very well, reduce heat to low and cover. Allow it to simmer for about 3-5 minutes before serving.

That’s it!

Turkey’s Day After

Thanksgiving comes and goes. You eat roast turkey to your little heart’s delight and your tummy’s sacrifice. You’ve packed your fridge with leftovers. The family is mostly gone. And the thought of another bite of straight turkey sends you running for the hills. What should you do with all that day old delicious meat?

Make some Turkey and Rice! That’s what I did and it was a hit! You’ve already done the toughest part, cooking the bird. The easy part is staring you dead in the face. So let’s get to it!

1/2 cp bacon, diced
1 large onion, diced
1/4 cp cilantro, chopped
1/4 cp parsley, chopped
4 cps cooked turkey meat, chopped
2 tbsp vegetable oil
3 cps rice
1 packet Knorr Sazón
4 cps broth or water
1 cp beer (or water if you don’t wish to use beer)
Sea salt to taste

Here’s what:
You will need a large saucepan with a tight-fitting lid. Cook the bacon until lightly brown, then add the onions and cook until they become translucent. Add the cilantro and parsley, after stirring it in add the turkey pieces. Remove all to a plate and set aside.

In the same saucepan, add the vegetable oil to heat up. In the meantime, rinse the rice. Once you have drained the rice, add it to the pan, stirring to coat it with the oil. Now add the packet of Sazón, making sure that the powder is evenly distributed on the grains of rice. Now add the liquid and check the salt, season as needed. Bring it to a boil without disturbing it.

Once the water is almost completely evaporated, add the turkey mix and cover with the lid. Lower the temperature to low and allow the rice to cook/steam for 30 minutes. At the end of the 30 minutes, incorporate the turkey into the rice and serve.