Truly the Heart of It All

Filed under no i really do love ohio

Last night, Kamran and I were walking down his hallway after putting the laundry in downstairs, and I said, “It smells like Johnny Marzetti up here!”

And then I was like, “Whoooooooa.” Because I haven’t said the words Johnny Marzetti in probably 16 years, which was the last time I ate an elementary school lunch. And I certainly haven’t thought about it since then, because I didn’t even like it at the time.

Kamran Wikipediaed it for me, and the entry says:

Johnny Marzetti is a baked pasta dish, or casserole, consisting of noodles, tomato sauce, ground beef, and cheese. Other ingredients and seasonings may be added to adjust the taste. The dish originated in Columbus, Ohio, at the Marzetti restaurant, and spread to other parts of the United States as variations of the recipe were published in magazines and cookbooks during the mid-20th century. The dish is still served in Ohio, especially at social gatherings and in school lunchrooms.

How great is that?! It started in Ohio and is still served there! Things like this fill me with such sentimental feelings for Ohio. I know that other states have culture that’s specific to them, but Ohio’s seems so much better to me: Euchre (which is supposedly from Pennsylvania but is only played by Ohioans), Cornhenge, Marilyn Manson, the U.S.’s first traffic light (in my hometown!), the world’s largest horseshoe crab, Bessie the Lake Erie Monster and now, Johnny Marzetti.

Had you heard of it?


  1. Tina says:

    Giant Jesus!!!?!?!

    …oh wait.

    • Too soon, Tina. Too soon.

      • Tina says:

        It was made out of styrofoam! They were asking for it! If only I had been driving by it at exact moment of incineration — I would have gone from my atheistic ways to true believer in 0.5 seconds thinking I had just witnessed the onset of the apocalypse.

  2. kimz says:

    Have I heard of it? Sure. It’s called Chef Boyardee.

    • Dammit, Kim. It’s nothing like that.

      One of my co-workers was like, “Um, yeah, that’s baked ziti.” But no! This is a specific blend of rotini, low-quality cheese, and tasteless tomato sauce.


      • kimz says:

        Rotini, low-quality cheese and tasteless tomato sauce sound like Chef Boyardee to me!

      • Ryan Cordle says:

        Johnny Marzetti was basically the only exposure I had to “Italian food,” save pizza, until Olive Garden came to Lancaster. It is definitely one food I can only associate with Central Ohio.

        • Hmm. Maybe that explains why, to this day, I don’t care much for Italian food. Except at Olive Garden. Which is special.

          I’d say buckeyes are the only food more Ohio for me, but they’re a little too obvious. But far more delicious.

  3. Noel says:

    This cracked me up because Ryan and I are going to visit his parents this coming weekend and, no lie, just YESTERDAY I said to Ryan, “How much you wanna bet your mom has a big pan of Johnny Marzetti waiting for us when we get there.” Oh, and I had never heard of this dish before marrying into his family, so it is definitely an Ohio thing.

    • See, this is exactly why I’m happy to have a blog and to have neat people reading it.

      Now I can’t wait for Johnny Marzetti to become your thing, the dish you make so often for your family that there’s literally always leftovers of it in your refrigerator, most them growing mold, and your kids openly hate it.

  4. Kim says:

    I think they served this at my grade school and called it American chop suey, didn’t they? The noodles were elbows. I never ate it, however. My mother didn’t allow school lunch.

    My Italian father also made this (when my mother would allow it, like twice a year) and just referred to it as baked pasta.

    Also: EW.

    Also: I will fight you to the DEATH on state culture. I mean, Thanksgiving? Sam Adams? Basketball? Proper clam chowder? AMERICAN INDEPENDENCE? YOU’RE WELCOME.

    • According to Wikipedia, American Chop Suey is the name common in New England, and Macaroni and Beef is common all over. I’d say they’re NOTHING ALIKE, but Johnny Marzetti is listed on the Wikipedia page as a very similar dish. DID YOU WRITE THAT IN THERE?

      Your dad is an Italian with an English accent?

      I don’t know. I kind of feel like all of your culture just sort of happened there because the rest of the U.S. didn’t exist yet. That giant horseshoe crab had the chance to exist anywhere, and it CHOSE Ohio.

      • Kim says:

        Ha, yay! I love being validated by Wikipedia. And that New England has its own words for everything.

        Of course my dad is an Italian with a British accent. He’s actually Scots-Italian (so, American) and I think his ridiculous accent came from emulating the Kennedys but making it less Boston and more snob. And the fact that anyone at all Scottish is destined to speak insanely in some way, right? His Italian heritage is also entirely Northern Italian, but when he’s feeling wicked Italian he totally plays it up all Southern Italian-like, like a pasta sauce commercial. With a British accent. It’s terribly embarassing.

        My mom is Romanian-Irish (so, American), which, quelle horreur, so she basically rides on her blonde hair and blue eyes and pretends as hard as she can that she’s of English Protestant descent, but her giant family’s tendency toward public drunkenness in the Catholic church betrays her pretty regularly. And she doesn’t like gin.

        I feel like this should help you understand why I am the way I am, somehow. You know, crazy, and generally acting my way through life.

        Also, I assume your melting pot heritage is like, German and English? But I’m bad at guessing. And when I travel abroad, most people guess I’m Dutch or Swiss or someting neutral and inoffensive (I WISH), so I think these things are harder than most people think.

        Um, also, Mass has current culture too. Like … pink hat sports fans. And maybe Hollywood the East Coast version (dear GOD). ROPE BRACELETS. Nevermind, fine. Your stuff is more quaint. I bet I will never see any of it though, because it’s OHIO.

  5. bluzdude says:

    Never heard of Johnny Marzetti but I played euchre throughout high school and college in Ohio. And never again.

    • 4 real?!

      I mean, I grew up with a love/hate relationship with Euchre because while I enjoyed it, my dad was so serious about it that he’d often make my sister and me cry while trying to correct our mistakes. Now, though, I try to play it four- AND six-handed at every family gathering, and another Ohioan and I even taught our co-workers to play so we could quietly get on Yahoo! games while at work and duke it out.

      • bluzdude says:

        The people at school were also deadly serious about their euchre… so serious, in fact, that I was usually scared shitless to play with them… especially when I was a freshman and all insecure. God forbid I accidentally trump my partner’s ace… I’d be exiled… Blacklisted… shunned…

  6. Cristy says:

    So funny! I’m starting to learn “West Virginia-isms” as far as food is concerned. A few are that they have “hot dog sauce” instead of “chili” and fried bologna is a delicacy. Ew.

    I’d never heard of that, but I know I’ve eaten something similar for school lunch.

    I can’t even think of Texanisms, and I lived there most of my childhood. Guess I’m not “cultural,” eh? :)

    • Hot dog sauce?! That’s hilarious. Do people not eat chili on its own over there in Virginny? I used to eat bologna rolled up with mustard in it as a kid every day, though, so you could pretty easily coax me into fried bologna. Especially if you put some “hot dog sauce” on top.

  7. Cara says:

    YES! It was one of my favorite things that my Grandma would make! She sprinkled bread crumbs on the top and baked it……YUMMY!!! Served it with homemade applesauce. Gracious, time to find that recipe!

    My Grandma used noodles, like egg noodles, hamburger from homegrown cows, stewed tomatoes, and chunks of cheddar cheese. Her’s was way better than any Chef Boyardee!

    • Wow, I wish your grandma had given her recipe to the school cafeteria. Bread crumbs, egg noodles, and homemade applesauce? I would’ve actually LIKED that.

      I remember going to your house as a kid, though, and having your mom’s pizza with her homemade tomato sauce and being like, “WHAT IS THIS?!” She was way ahead of the organic, local food movement and probably didn’t even know it.

  8. For my wedding gift, I want you and Tracey to regale me with a story of your close encounter with Bessie.


    • I think the closest we’ve been to Lake Erie is going to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The first time we drove up there alone in high school (in my ’86 Blazer—oh, yeah!), the directions we printed out from the website said, “If you drive into the lake, you’ve gone too far.” Clearly, we missed our chance with ol’ Bess.

  9. Nicole says:

    I never heard of Johnny Marzetti until Walnut. What a shock between the school bus, farm animals and strange food that wasn’t handed to me in a tinfoil container with plastic wrap protecting it. Strange indeed!

    • I wish Walnut would’ve taken it one step further and actually had farm animals IN the bus and cafeteria. When I think of the Village of Ashville, I want to remember chickens walking around everywhere and people leading cows down Long Street.

  10. Tracey says:

    As much as I feel like Johnny Marzetti is part of my childhood, I never did taste it. Or any morsel of school lunch, for that matter.

    But I like knowing that it’s specifically Ohio.

    • If you ever doubt how much your mom loves you, you can remember never having to eat a school lunch. And also not being grounded for life for selling off what she packed for you.

      • Tracey says:

        Seriously, man. I was too picky for school lunch, so I got packed lunch. I hated the bus, so she drove me every day. I had it made.

  11. Mike Lowrey says:

    Nope I’ve never heard of it, but then again I didn’t know Ohio was still even a state until 3 years ago.

    • It’s so weird how the education system in my little village could be better than yours in NYC. I had to learn all of the states AND their capitals in 3rd grade. I can name all of the Presidents in order, too.

      I don’t own a pool, though.