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,


Perfect BBQ Sides: Pasta Salad

Ensalada de Coditos (Macaroni Salad) is a common side dish at family BBQs and beach outings in Panama, trumped only by potato salads. I love them both, but have to admit I most frequently go for potato salads.

Boy, was I happy last week when I found no potatoes in the fridge and was too lazy to go to the grocery store for some. I didn’t have elbow macaroni either, just large pasta shells. Lucky, really, because the salad was¬†too delicious for words. The Hubbz and I are still thinking and dreaming of it today.

It makes for a great side with grilled meats. I cannot stress how easy it is to put together. Feel free to add or remove ingredients at will. Use shells or elbow or penne, fresh or frozen corn, green or red bell peppers, or…, you get the drift, use what you like or have available. This is another non-recipe recipe.

Anamaris’ Excellent Pasta Salad

Pasta shells, cooked and cooled
Eggs, boiled and diced
Fresh corn, chucked and cooked
Red bell pepper, diced
Carrots, cooked & diced
Green onions, finely diced
Mayonnaise, about 2/3 cp
Cajun or Dijon mustard, 1-2 tbsp
Heavy cream, 2 tbsp
Sugar, 2 tsp
Sea salt & black pepper
Piment d’Espellete or cayenne, to taste

In a bowl combine the pasta, eggs, corn, bell pepper, carrots and green onions, set aside.

In a small bowl, combine the rest of the ingredients until smooth, adjust the salt & pepper as necessary before mixing it into the pasta.

Stir until well incorporated, serve cool or at room temperature.


Cookingly yours,

Easy eggplant ravioli


Remember I mentioned eggplant would be showing up every so often? Well, here it is again. I continue to find other ways to prepare this veggie/fruit–it has seeds, does that make it a fruit? Hmmm.

This is still quite similar to the way I had prepared it in the past in that the eggplant is sorta stewed. I’m going to call this a ragout. I’m not completely sure that’s what it is, but I like the name and this is my blog so that’s the name it gets. The dish is a simple one, no complicated or fancy cooking skills required, but it does have a few steps if you choose to make it into raviolis. Alternatively, you could make the ragout and serve it over your favorite pasta. That would be oh so good too.

Eggplant & Tomato Ragout

2 shallots, sliced
3 large tomatoes, seeded & chopped
1 large eggplant, cubed
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp sugar
1 tsp ground black pepper
1/3 cp gin or wine

In a medium-sized pan, heat the oil and add the shallots; cook until translucent. Then add the tomatoes and cook until the tomatoes have soften. Season with salt, pepper and sugar.

Add the gin or wine (you can also substitute with stock) and ignite it to burn off the alcohol.

Add the eggplant, stirring well to coat all the cubes with the tomato puree. Cover with a loose-fitting lid, stirring occasionally. Cook for about 20 minutes or until eggplant is soft and creamy.

Set aside and prepare the ravioli.

For the ravioli I used Chinese wonton wrappers. Here’s the step-by-step action.

Work with a few wrappers at a time. Brush one side with water, these little wrappers have a lot of cornstarch on them to keep them from sticking to each other. I brushed the entire surface with water to get rid of the excess and also to moisten it so I could press them together.


Drop about¬†2 tsps¬†of filling in the center of the wrapper. Don’t overstuff them.

Top with a second wrapper and pinch the edges together. I don’t have a pasta or pastry cutter, I used a knife to trim off the edges. In my head that would help seal the edges together.

Once you’ve filled all the raviolis, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Make sure to add enough salt and oil to cook the raviolis. About 5 minutes or so (follow packet instructions) or until they float to the top. Drain and set aside.

I made a quick Bechamel¬†sauce to top the raviolis, then laid them out in an oven-safe dish, topped them with the sauce and sprinkled some Parmesan. Then baked for about 15 minutes and broiled until the top was golden brown and bubbly. You can skip the bechamel altogether and simply serve the raviolis with the ragout that’s leftover.

These were so¬†light and delicious, I hope you’ll enjoy them. As long as I’m on an eggplant kick, do you have a recipe you love and want to share?

Cookingly yours,

Spaghetti Carbonara

This is an incredibly easy dish to prepare, delicious to boot! I want you to be comfortable with it, though. There are 3 key players, spaghetti–or any noodle pasta you like–pancetta (Italian bacon) and eggs, make sure your eggs are fresh. That’s it, really.

I made a few changes to a basic recipe by Ruth Reichl¬†and only because I’m honery¬†that way. Also because I love bacon with onions. And onions with pasta. And eggs with onions. And pasta with eggs. You get my drift. I didn’t have pancetta, so I used bacon, not that there’s anything wrong with either one. Also, when I was at the store they had that beautiful black peppered bacon, so I went halfzies.

Here’s what I’ll tell you ahead of time:

  • Cube the bacon/pancetta
  • Leave your eggs out so they’re room temperature
  • Use a big mixing bowl to put it all together and fill it with warm water until it’s time to toss the pasta in

Spaghetti Carbonara

1 pound spaghetti
8 strips thick bacon, finely cubed
8 strips thick black pepper bacon, finely cubed
2 cloves garlic, peeled and bruised
1 small onion, finely diced
2 large eggs
Fresh ground black pepper
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano cheese, approx
1/4 cp Italian parsley, finely chopped

Put the bacon into a skillet over medium heat and cook for a few minutes to render¬†its fat. While it’s cooking add the onions and garlic, cook about 5 minutes until the onions are translucent and melting away. While the bacon and onions are cooking, fill a large pot of water to cook the pasta. Bring it to a boil and add salt once it does.¬†Add the pasta and give it a stir to keep it from sticking.

Note: the bacon will not be crisp, which is ideal when you toss it with the pasta and eggs.

Dump the water out of the serving bowl, break and whisk the eggs.¬†Grind some black pepper and whisk. By now the bacon and onions should be ready, keep it warm until the pasta is cooked. Don’t discard all the pasta water when you drain the noodles. As a matter of fact, I pulled the spaghetti straight out of the pot and into the eggy bowl. That way, I pulled in a bit of the pasta water to aid in making the sauce.

The pasta is so hot that it will cook the eggs almost on contact, so make sure to toss and incorporate the two every time you add pasta. Once all the spaghetti is in, add the bacon onion mixture (fat and all), parsley and about 1/4 cp of Parmesan. Add more pasta water as needed, just enough to make the dish moist.

That’s it. Serve immediately with additional cheese to taste.

Cookingly yours,

Rice-your-Roni, or mine

As a kid I was fascinated¬†by Rice-a-Roni. Don’t ask me why, I just was. I think some of it has to do with the allure of the foreign. It was an American product, it had to be¬†good. Bottom¬† line is I liked it, but we couldn’t always find it in Panama so a young, hungry, obssessed Anamaris had to find a way to have it regularly. Yes, regularly. My mom used to fret about the way I would get hooked on food items and would eat little else until I was satiated with it and reached the point where I was physically disgusted by the mere sight of it. Yep, OCD came early on in my life.

So, Rice-A-Roni. I had to make me some and I did and still do and now you can too.


1/4 cp angel hair pasta, broken & uncooked
2 cps long grain rice
2 tbsp oil
about 1 tbsp chicken bouillion (or your preferred flavor)
3-1/2 cps water

If you have looked around my blog, you probably came across my instructions for¬†plain rice, this one will go pretty much the same way. Make sure you use a medium-sized saucepan with a tight-fitting lid. Ready? Let’s do it.

In the saucepan, heat the oil over medium-high heat. In the meantime, put the rice in a colander and run it under cool tap water to rinse, set aside to drain.  Break the pasta noodles into pieces that are about 1/2-inch long and add them to the oil.  Keep an eye on them because they will brown VERY quickly, once they do, add the rice. Stir it several times to coat all the grains evenly.

If you’re using bouillion that is a loose powder, add it now. If you’re using a cube, put it a small cup and add a couple tablespoons of hot tap water and dissolve it before adding it to the rice. Now add the water, stir and allow it to cook undisturbed until the liquid dissolves.

Once the water dissolves, reduce the temperature to low and cover with the lid. Allow the rice to steam for about 15 minutes. After that time, fluff it with a fork and serve.

*Note: If you don’t have buillion, you can substitute the water for broth.

Enjoy Your-Roni!

Cookingly yours,