During Gilmore Girls Season 3, Episode 18 – Happy Birthday Baby (which quietly celebrated Lauren Graham’s birthday while simultaneously celebrating Lorelai’s birthday on the show) we witness one of the only times Richard Gilmore cooks. For the weekly Friday Night Dinner, he prepares a favorite dish from his childhood – Johnny Machete. It's a big night! Not only is it the debut of Richard's favorite dish, it's also the night Rory announces to her grandparents that she's going to Yale.
Ever since this episode first aired in 2003, fans have been eager to try this elusive dish. A quick search of the term “Johnny Machete” yields multiple results for a dish called “Johnny Marzetti”, but is it the same thing?
On the surface, they two dishes may seem the same. Johnny Marzetti was first introduced in Columbus, Ohio during the 1890’s. It was the signature dish at a Columbus restaurant called “Marzetti’s”. So when Richard says his grandmother used to make the dish for him, the timeline adds up. Also, Johnny Marzetti is a baked pasta dish. When Richard spoons the heaps of food onto plates, it’s clear his dish is also a baked pasta dish.
This is where the similarities end.
Marzetti’s restaurant in Columbus served Italian cuisine. In line with many Italian dishes, Johnny Marzetti is prepared using a tomato-based sauce, pasta, cheese, and ground beef. Richard’s dish is made with a white sauce (remember when Emily was disgusted to find a can of Cream of Mushroom Soup in the kitchen? It is also “twelve different colors”, due to the variety of vegetables found in the mix – things like broccoli, carrots, yellow squash and zucchini.
Adding Johnny Machete to Eat Like A Gilmore cookbook was a given – the dish is iconic! Initially, I, like so many others, fell for the common belief that Johnny Machete and Johnny Marzetti are two names for the same dish.
Even though the recipe was due to be contributed by Tony Escarcega, I was still excited to be involved in its creation. Tony is a good friend of mine and came over to work on the recipe in my kitchen. Plus, who wouldn’t look forward to experimenting with a cheesy, baked Italian pasta dish?
As soon as Tony & I watched the scene again, focusing in on the details of the food - what we saw on screen, the ways Emily described it - instantly, it became clear – Johnny Machete is its own thing!
This isn’t designed to knock Johnny Marzetti – any recipe that can last more than 100 years is okay by me! No, it’s simply to set the record straight.
If you want to make Johnny Machete based on the actual dish Richard serves – whether it’s in honor of Richard, to comfort your grandchild, or to announce your college acceptance – try the one in your Eat Like A Gilmore cookbook.
Don’t have the cookbook yet? Here is the recipe. Enjoy!
2 lbs Skinless, boneless chicken breast
¼ t Salt
1 lb Dried pasta, rotini recommended
4 T Butter, divided
1 Yellow onion, peeled and diced
1 Carrot, peeled and sliced into ¼ inch thick rounds
1 Zucchini squash, sliced into ¼ inch thick rounds
1 Yellow squash, sliced into ¼ inch thick rounds
1 c Broccoli crowns, chopped into 1 inch pieces
3 cans Cream of mushroom soup
1 c Whole Milk
½ c Half and half
1 c Sour cream
1 T Fresh thyme
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 c Shredded Mexican blend cheese (may substitute ½ c Monterey Jack and ½ c mild cheddar)
Boil chicken: Place chicken in a Dutch oven. Add enough water to just cover the chicken. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Boil for 10 minutes. Drain water. Remove chicken from the pot. Cut into 1-inch cubes. Set aside.
Cook pasta: In a Dutch oven or large saucepan, bring water to a boil over medium-high heat. Add salt, then add pasta. Stir. Cook 7-8 minutes only. Pasta will still be very firm in the center. Use a strainer to drain the water. Set aside.
Prep oven: Place oven rack in center position. Preheat oven to 350°F.
Saute vegetables: In a deep frying pan or Dutch oven, melt 2 tablespoons butter over medium heat. Add onion and sauté for 2-3 minutes. Add carrots. Sauté for additional 2-3 minutes. Add zucchini, squash, and broccoli. Sauté, stirring often, for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
Make sauce: In a Dutch oven, melt 2 tablespoons butter over medium heat. Add soup, milk, half and half, sour cream, and thyme. Stir together. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Simmer on low heat for 10 minutes.
Assemble and bake: To the sauce, add chicken, vegetables and pasta. Gently stir until combined. Pour mixture into 9x13 pan. Cover with shredded cheese. Cover with foil and bake for 15 minutes. Remove foil. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove from oven. Serve hot.
Want more Gilmore-themed recipes? Check out the newest cookbook created specifically for Gilmore Girls fans - Daily Cravings!