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Johnny Machete? Johnny Marzetti? Just call it delicious.

April 8, 2009

Johnny Machete

If you’ve been around here long enough you’ve heard me mention Gilmore Girls, many times. It’s one of the only television shows I’ve ever become addicted to (for longer than a week), and I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve watched the entire seven-season series through not once, but twice. And yes, I own them all on DVD. I don’t really know what it is about those fast-talking, witty ladies, but I cannot get enough, and I’ve gotten more than one person (like, pretty much everyone I’ve ever lived with) hooked as well, so I know it’s not just me.

What, in the name of all that is good and holy, does this have to do with food? Well, other than the fact that those Girls eat a lot of it, there is one particular episode (in Season 3) in which a strange casserole is mentioned: Johnny Machete. Nothing is said except that it contains cream of mushroom soup, and come on now, every casserole worth its weight contains cream of mushroom soup. It’s not called casserole glue for nothin’.

Of course, I had to make it my mission to find out what this Johnny Machete stuff is. And apparently, it’s not really called Johnny Machete at all. In fact, I haven’t been able to find anything that might indicate where the Machete came from. But Johnny Marzetti is a casserole well-known to Ohioans (again, not sure how that ended up in the Gilmores, but hey, food is funny like that). Apparently invented at a restaurant called Marzetti’s, in Columbus in the 1920s, its, well, it’s a lot like Hamburger Helper. But wonderful.

Bowl o' Goodness

Now, I love me a good casserole, but I will admit I balked a little when I started reading Johnny Marzetti recipes. There are about a million variations, but it seemed that many of them contained both condensed tomato soup AND cream of mushroom soup. And I don’t know about you, but something about that combination made my brain cringe. But I am nothing if not adventuresome (at least in the kitchen), and I just had to know if Richard Gilmore loved this crazy dish for a reason.

Oh, he did. The massive amounts of cheese don’t hurt one bit. It’s warming and comforting, if you live in a place where spring hasn’t been welcomed yet. There’s something very nostalgic about it, even though I’m sure I ate nothing like this as a child. It’s flavorful and creamy and quite, quite hearty. Just the thing for hunkering down to watch an episode (or seven) of the Gilmore Girls, or whatever it is you can’t help yourself from watching over and over again.

Johnny Machete

Johnny Machete
(Yes, I’m going to call it that, even if it is wrong. Maybe I’ll start a trend.)

  • 1 16-ounce package of noodles (I used egg, but anything you have on hand should do fine)
  • 1 T. olive oil or canola oil
  • 1 T. butter
  • 1 5-ounce package of mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • 1/2 medium onion, diced
  • 2 strips of celery, chopped
  • 1 small green bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 10-ounce can of condensed tomato soup
  • 1 10-ounce can of condensed cream of mushroom soup (accept it! love it!)
  • 1 tsp. dried dill (or fresh, if you’re feeling saucy)
  • 3/4 c. Cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 3/4 c. mozzarella cheese, shredded

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil to cook the noodles. Allow them to cook just under 8 minutes, or until they are almost, but not quite ready for eating.

In a medium saucepan, heat the butter and the oil over medium heat. When the butter is melted, add the mushrooms. Stir once to coat them, then let them cook for about five minutes, stirring only once in the middle, so they cook through and get a little bit browned. Remove them from the pan and set them aside.

Add the ground beef to the pan, and cook over medium heat, breaking it up with a spoon. When it’s about halfway browned, add the onion, celery, green pepper, and garlic to the pan, and mix well. Stir the mushrooms back in, and continue to cook until the beef is cooked through and the onions are soft.

Now, mix the ground beef mixture, the noodles, the cream of mushroom and the tomato soups, and the dill together in your pasta pot. Add a bit of salt to taste, and stir in a little more than half of the cheese. Pour the whole shebang into a large baking dish (trust me, it needs to be large). Sprinkle the rest of the cheese on top, and bake for about 30 minutes. If you want to brown the top a little, put it under the broiler for a few minutes at the very end.

In many parts of the country it might actually be spring already, and you may not be in the mood for such a heavy dish. If so, I congratulate you, enviously. Yes, yes, it’s technically spring in Boston, and it’s not snowing and it’s been above 30 degrees every day, so that is good. But we are far from seeing any produce-type growth, and it’s still awfully gray and wet. It’s hard for me to want to cook light lovely dinners full of asparagus and tender greens when they aren’t anywhere to be seen here yet. I’ve been assured they’re coming, though, and when they do, you can be assured you’ll see them here.

Especially since I’m graduating in a mere four weeks, and my unemployed self will have plenty of time to cook and blog after that. How’s that for looking on the bright side?

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31 Comments leave one →
  1. Paul permalink
    April 9, 2009 9:44 am

    minus the mushrooms and muschroom soup – and if you were to use Elbow Macaroni, this would be very similar to my Mom’s “American Chop Suey” – which I hated as a kid – but now love to make (of course I’ve doctored up her bland recipe a bit…)

  2. August 18, 2009 9:44 pm

    I have been looking for someone to do a serious, delicious recipe for this ever since I saw it on GG, years ago. I ran into the same problem you did – there’s a thousand variations, because it’s basically just good old-fashioned home cooking – and I’m glad that someone has distilled all of that down. Perfect. Yay! Thank you!

  3. August 26, 2009 3:26 pm

    Mmm…suddenly I kind of want it to be cold and winter again, so I can make this big pot of deliciousness.

  4. jenny permalink
    August 31, 2009 2:26 pm

    I’m very nostalgic about Johnny Marzetti (Machete!). I never knew it was an Ohio-only thing though (I’m from Ohio). My mom has always made a simplified version with Bush’s bacon and brown sugar homestyle baked beans. It gives the dish a sweetness that is amazing- can’t image preparing it any other way!

  5. Suzan permalink
    September 27, 2009 1:45 pm

    I remember this dish as child, my Grandmother making it for me being one of favorites then and still now.
    depending how many she was serving…
    She made it with
    ~elbow macaroni
    ~lean Hamburger
    1~ lg tin tomatoes, or 28oz of fresh skinned mashed
    4~sm. onions diced
    2c~ Mozerlla Cheesa shredded the more the better(:

    This variation sounds wonderful and I looking forward to trying it out …. thanks for the history of the dish. I had always wondered why the name of dish.Suzan

  6. Betsy Gourley permalink
    October 7, 2009 4:39 pm

    I think my Grandma must have learned to make this during the depression, because her recipe doesn’t contain anything expensive like cheese and cr. mushroom soup. :-) She pulled it off with elbow macaroni, ketchup, brown sugar, onion, ground beef in a pan on the stove. I’m 37 and grew up on this at her house in Greenville Ohio. I make it for my kids now, just the same way she made it. And, she always makes it for me when I visit each summer. I’m always amazed at how many days I can eat on this $3 dish.

    Thanks for the info about being mentioned in Gilmore Girls. I loved that show.

    Betsy
    San Antonio, TX

    • October 9, 2009 10:38 am

      Wow, ketchup and brown sugar? I’m intrigued. And I love how this post brought back so many memories for people! And how the recipe became something so different in different places and for different people. Food is fascinating. :-)

      • Stephany permalink
        December 7, 2010 10:13 am

        My mom’s baked beans contain both ketchup and brown sugar… try the combo- pretty good stuff! Also in a family recipe called Pretty Beans, some people call Calico Beans. Looking forward to trying the Johnny Machete recipe! ♥ Gilmore Girls!

  7. annie b cotton permalink
    October 15, 2009 10:26 am

    I grew up on this in Piqua, Ohio..sometimes called ” Johnny Rosetti” although I have heard the Marzetti Restaurant story .

    Granny pretty much “cleaned out the ‘icebox’ ” so it would vary from week to week…..never tried the brown sugar version , but will tonite,,,Thanks

    • PSzymeczek permalink
      April 5, 2010 2:14 pm

      This often appeared on the school lunch menu for the Troy Public Schools, too.

  8. Erin permalink
    October 31, 2009 2:06 pm

    watching the Gilmore girls now (while I am supposed to be writing a paper for school) and they are eating Johnny Machete – had to google it and found you….must make it soon – sounds yummy and a little disgusting all rolled into one!

    • November 2, 2009 3:30 pm

      That’s pretty much how I decided to make it: I was watching the Gilmores (probably instead of doing homework) and decided to Google Johnny Machete. And I couldn’t really find a lot of information, but what I pulled together was pretty delicious.

      It might sound a little disgusting if you’re not into casseroles and are afraid of condensed cream soups, but let me assure you, it isn’t disgusting at all. It’s delicious. I might need to make it for dinner tonight…

    • Eric permalink
      December 12, 2016 4:29 am

      OMG I am doing exactly that right now! Just watching that episode of the Gilmore Girls (Which, I also have on DVD and is permanently in my DVD player to fill in the gaps when there’s nothing worth watching on TV lol) and asked myself – “what exactly IS Johnny Machete???” Now that I know, it sounds great and I will have to make it soon! ;))

  9. Beth permalink
    November 3, 2009 9:19 pm

    Just made it, and yes, I first heard of this on Gilmoor Girls. It is uber yum!!!!

  10. Duchess permalink
    January 7, 2010 10:23 am

    Dad always made Johnny Marzetti and occasionally Jenny Marzetti, tho’ I haven’t been able to find the difference between the two mentioned online. He always made it with macaroni and tons of chopped onions.

    I’m sure the writers on Gilmore Girls changed the name to avoid licensing issues or giving the Marzetti company a free plug.

  11. nostalgia permalink
    January 9, 2010 1:05 am

    Just watching that episode and googled it straight away! all the way here in little ol’ NZ! Definatly going to try it but minus the mushrooms due to a deadly allergy.

  12. Jen permalink
    February 15, 2010 4:57 pm

    I love Gilmore Girls. I wonder if Amy Sherman-Palladino is from Ohio.

    I’m going to try this, but I’m going to omit the fungus, change the green pepper to red, and trade the cream of fungus for cream of chicken. I’ll call it Jenny Machete instead. ;)

    I found you through your Chicken Florentine. I’m trying to hone my own recipe out of the variety I’ve found. Mine will have a little Jarlesberg in it, I think. We’ll see.

    You make me want to attempt bagels, but I don’t have luck with breads.

    • February 15, 2010 7:05 pm

      Bread doesn’t take luck so much as practice. Start with simpler, basic flour, salt, water, yeast breads and work your way up from there. It’s so easy, and so rewarding, I really encourage everyone to try. It’s SO much cheaper (and tastier) than buying supermarket bread.

      Enjoy your Jenny Machete! I think I’m going to have to make this one more time, and have myself a little Gilmore Girls marathon.

  13. Larry permalink
    February 22, 2010 11:10 pm

    I have great memories of this dish from School (40 years a go) but for some reason i remember ours was made with rice. So with all the varietys here , I am going to try some different combinations and see if Ican find that long lost taste….thank you all for your information………Larry

    • February 24, 2010 8:00 pm

      What’s funny is that I never ate anything called Johnny Machete but the flavor was really familiar to me, and sooo comforting. The closest I could place it was Hamburger Helper. Which my mom didn’t make because she was so annoyed that it was more expensive than just buying tomato sauce and pasta. (At least, that’s what I remember.)

  14. Linds permalink
    May 28, 2010 8:04 am

    This doesn’t look like the recipe that was on Gilmore Girls at all! In fact it’s nothing like the recipe on that episode, their recipe looks like it has zucchini, broccoli, carrots, egg noodles, a creamy sauce, and chicken. This recipe is darker and made with ground beef, and doesn’t have any of the ingredients I listed. It’s embarrassing, but I have watched the seasons 1 through 7 all the way through more then 10 times, and I know exactly what is in Johnny Machete.

    • May 28, 2010 8:26 am

      That’s funny. I’ve watched it quite a bit myself, and I know they never mention anything specifically that’s in it (except canned soups), and I don’t recall any shots close up enough to see zucchini, broccoli, carrots, or chicken as specific ingredients.

      Would you be willing to share your idea about what this recipe might be?

      • Gail Nichole permalink
        October 26, 2010 7:57 am

        If you pause it and zoom in, you can pick out more ingredients; unless you are me and have absolutely no clue what most of that stuff is! I really do want to figure out what it is, though! It looks amazing!

  15. October 26, 2010 8:50 am

    If there is one thing I’ve learned about both Johnny Marzetti/Machete, and casseroles in general, it’s that they are infinitely variable. It sounds like people who grew up eating this one in particular have had it made in about a zillion different variations. And I’m sure they’re all delicious.

    Aside from the fact that The Gilmores absolutely don’t seem like a casserole family, and I can’t imagine Lorelai the First making anything like this, I’m sure they also had it a million different ways.

    • Stephany permalink
      December 7, 2010 10:16 am

      Richard’s grandmother was the one that made the Johnny Machete for him, not Lorelai #1

  16. October 31, 2010 10:33 am

    I got here because I have all the GG scripts and after I watch each episode, I read the script in order to catch the references that went by too fast. Yes, this is after seeing each episode, oh, 3-4 times. It’s a religion! And if you have the answer to who switched all Rory’s Harvard regalia to Yale the day the Independence Inn was reopened post-fire, you have solved a mystery of the universe!

    • Diane permalink
      December 21, 2010 9:35 pm

      Ever since the show went off the air, I’ve been writing my own 8th, 9th and 10th seasons in my head. My best answer for how Rory’s Harvard stuff got switched to Yale: Lorelai only had to make a phone call to Babette, who had bought up stuff for the other 2 schools when word went out that Rory had been accepted to all 3. Babette let herself in with the key in the turtle. Then, Babette made a deal with Kirk for printing up the t-shirts. He was angry with Babette and blaming her for the poor sales of his “Babette ate oatmeal” tees, so she kindly pitched in for the tees for Rory. Those were the last of Kirk’s daily tees.
      I should sue Amy-Sherman Palladino for messing with my head. Not only am I addicted to watching my Gilmore Girls DVD’s over and over, I can’t stop making stuff up about Stars Hollow…

  17. December 3, 2010 8:48 am

    no WONDER Emily did NOT like this, she is a snob….it wasn’t roasted quail with figs or Braised Ostrich…LOL…I am a HUGE FAN of Gilmore Girls and JUST saw the episode with “Johnny Machette” wear Rory got her acceptance letter and told them she is going to Yale

    I LOVE IT! I have to make this now, I have made many good dishes and learned many things from watching the Gilmore Girls. Thanks for the post!

  18. February 8, 2011 8:22 pm

    Omg i love this! I just googled Johnny Machete after watching that episode of Gilmore Girls I too have watched the series two times. Im working on my third!
    Thanks a bunch!

  19. Sarah permalink
    March 8, 2011 9:29 am

    I have to say being raised in an Italian family that the name “Marzetti” could easily be what they are supposed to be saying in the episode. I also heard it called Johnny Rosetti growing up (from Pennsylvania) and yes – someone mentioned it being in school lunches – I had that experience, as well!

    Obsessed with Gilmore <3 Honestly have every episode memorized. Imagine what I could do with that brain power… oh well! It's worth it.

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