Johnny Machete? Johnny Marzetti? Just call it delicious.
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.
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.
(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?