Johnny Marzetti Three Ways


Johnny Marzetti was invented in my hometown, Columbus, Ohio at the Marzetti restaurant that used to be downtown on East Broad Street. My parents ate there on occasion.
My mother called the restaurant, “a white tablecloth type of place” but she couldn’t remember if she ever ordered Johnny Marzetti there. Regardless of her patronage to the dish, it rose to international fame, becoming not only a staple in cafeterias around the world, but the state dish of Panama.
Here’s an article in the Columbus Dispatch which shows a photo of the restaurant, and some additional history from the Marzetti’s website

I wanted to demonstrate the various ways that a recipe can be modified so I came up with two versions of this dish based on the original recipe which I also posted below.

Both are low-carb options. One is made with grass-fed beef, and the other is vegetarian. I’ve noticed that there’s not a lot of recipes out there for the low-carb vegetarian, so I thought I’d contribute one. If you want you can add spaghetti squash to the vegetarian version as well… do your own experimenting and let us know what you came up with in the comments below. Frankly, I had planned on using low-carb pasta for these recipes but could not find an acceptable version. To my surprise, I didn’t miss the pasta at all when I skipped it entirely, but the spaghetti squash also made a nice addition.

Johnny Marzetti With Grass Fed Beef and Spaghetti Squash 

  • 1 small onion, chopped fine
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 pound grass fed ground beef
  • 1 cup of cooked spaghetti squash
  • 1 can (14.5 oz) tomato puree or prepared spaghetti sauce
  • 1/2 of a green pepper, chopped
  • 1 cup shredded low-fat or non-fat sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

To cook a whole spaghetti squash, poke it all over with a fork and cook in the microwave on high for eight minutes, turning the squash over after four minutes. Let the squash sit in the microwave for an additional 5 minutes. It will be very hot. Cut it in half when you are ready and scoop out the seeds and throw them away. Then scoop out the rest of the innards and set aside. There will be much more squash than you need for this recipe, but you can freeze the rest if you wish and use it for something else.

Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees

While the squash is cooking, cook the onion in the olive oil over medium-low heat until soft and browned (about 8 minutes)

Add the beef and green green pepper and sauté, until the beef is browned. Drain off the fat by dumping the whole thing in a colander. Return the mixture to the pan and add in the tomato puree. Pour into a 9 inch casserole dish. Sprinkle the grated parmesan on top, followed by the oregano and crushed red pepper flakes. Top with the cheddar cheese and bake for 30 minutes or until the top in nicely browned. Serve with a nice italian salad and a glass of your favorite Chianti.

Low-Carb Vegetarian Johnny Marzetti

  • 1 package ground veggie crumbles
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan
  • 1/4 cup smoked or regular mozzarella torn into bits
  • 1 cup tomato puree or prepared spaghetti sauce. (I used Trader Joe’s spicy Aribiatta)
  • 1/2 of a green pepper, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

Saute the onion in the olive oil over medium-low heat until soft and brown, about 8 minutes. Add the veggie crumbles and green pepper and continue to saute until heated throughout (about 5 minutes). Turn off the heat and mix in the tomato puree to coat. Pour the mixture into a 9 inch casserole dish and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese, followed by the oregano and red pepper flakes. Dot with the torn mozzarella cheese so that it spreads over the dish when melted. Place under the broiler for about 5 minutes until the top is browned. Serve with a nice Italian salad and a glass of Chianti as stated above.

Johnny Marzetti with Grass Fed Beef

ORIGINAL JOHNNY MARZETTI – preserved by the Ohio Historical Society

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3/4 pound mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
  • 2 pounds lean ground beef
  • 3 1/2 cups tomato sauce
  • 1 1/2 pound cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 1 pound elbow macaroni, cooked and drained

Saute onion in oil until limp, about 3 minutes. Add mushrooms and fry until juices are released, about 5 minutes. Add beef and cook, stirring, breaking up clumps, until no longer red. Remove from heat and mix in tomato sauce and all but 1 cup of cheese. Transfer to greased 9- by 13-inch baking dish and add macaroni. Toss gently to mix. Scatter remaining cheese on top. Bake, uncovered, in 350-degree oven until browned and bubbling (35 to 40 minutes). Serves 10 to 12.


Jackie Alpers Is a regular and valued contributor to Broadway+Thresher. Based in Tucson, Arizona she is a full time food photographer and writer with a broad portfolio of national and regional work.

In the 1920s, Ohio’s favorite dish appeared out of necessity at Marzetti’s Restaurant at 16 E. Broad St. in Columbus. Owners Teresa and Joseph Marzetti sought a simple main course, easy and cheap to make. You can learn more about the dish in this article. 

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