This turkey bologense sauce is a lightened up version of the beloved Italian classic, but it is every bit as thick, delicious and hearty. In this tutorial, I show you step-by-step how to make the best bolognese sauce (with turkey or beef!) You can prepare the sauce ahead and keep it on hand for easy use with your next pasta dinner. But don’t worry, I also have a quick shortcut for those busy weeknights.
What is Bologense Sauce?
Bolognese sauce, known as ragu alla bolognese, is a rich, slowly cooked meat sauce used with lasagna or other flat pasta shapes like pappardelle or fettuccine (in my opinion, it can go with other pasta options as well.)
Bologense sauce preparation involves several simple techniques, starting with sweating and sauteing a soffritto of onion, celery and carrots. Traditionally, ground beef or a combination of beef and pork are added to simmer gentle along with white wine, whole milk and a small amount of tomatoes or tomato concentrate.
Today’s recipe is a lightened up adaptation of Marcella Hazan’s infamous bolognese sauce, which I understand is the “gold standard.” I used ground turkey and extra virgin olive oil, it was still hearty and rich in texture as should be; and the family loved every bite!
Low and Slow is the Trick to Bolognese
Classic Bolognese sauce does not require unfamiliar ingredients nor any big “cheffy” skills. What it does require though is patience.
To arrive at the best texture– rich and thick bolognese sauce– you’re going to go low and slow, my friend. This is true also for our turkey bolognese sauce as well (don’t worry, I have a shortcut for you still.)
How to Make Bolognese Sauce (with turkey or beef)
- Cook onions in extra virgin olive oil over medium heat for about 5 minutes till nice and translucent. Add carrots and celery and let this party sweat for about 2 minutes. Stir regularly.
2. Add meat (turkey, beef, or a combination of beef and port). Break the meat up with your spoon and make sure it cooks a bit to loose it’s raw/bloody color.
3. Add whole milk. Let milk bubble away completely. Keep stirring. Add nutmeg.
4. Now, add wine. Again, let simmer until completely evaporated, then stir in tomatoes.
5- From here, when you see the tomatoes bubble, turn the heat to super lazy simmer. Cook uncovered for 3 hours or so. Remember, low and slow is key here.
To serve, toss with your favorite cooked and drained pasta with a side of Parmesan. I like to start the meal with a simple salad like this 3-ingredient Mediterranean salad or this Mediterranean avocado salad.
Important Cooking Tip
Most of the cooking time here is hands off, but as the bolognese sauce is simmering low and slow, watch to add liquid as needed. If it’s looking too dry, add about 1/2 cup of water at a time (or tomato juice from the canned tomatoes you used. At the end, however, there should not be water, it should be a super thick sauce.
Make Ahead Tips
You can absolutely make bologense sauce on the weekend when you have the time, then store it in the fridge for a night or two, or freeze it for later use. Cool the sauce completely, then transfer it to a container before storing in fridge or freezer. Bring sauce to a simmer before use.
Shortcut: Quick and Easy Bolognese
Okay, I know I’ve been harping on the idea that bolognese is a low-n-slow kinda sauce, but someone out there is looking for a quick and easy bolognese recipe. So, if you must, here is a shortcut for those busy weeknights.
This shortcut uses marinara sauce; I adapted it from Giada De Laurentiis. You basically omit the milk, wine, and tomatoes and a couple other items used in the original sauce recipe. And here’s what you do:
- Sautee onions, then add celery and carrots and cook for 2 more minutes or so.
- Add meat and cook for just 1 minute, breaking it up.
- Add marinara sauce, turn heat to medium-low and cook for 15 to 20 minutes.
I will say, if you have the time, make bolognese the classic way and store it for later use.
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This turkey bologense sauce is a lightened up version of the beloved Italian classic, but it is every bit as thick, delicious and hearty. Be sure to view the step-by-step tutorial above and review the recipe notes for tips and shortcut options.
- 3 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil (I used Greek Private Reserve)
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 1 celery stalk, chopped
- 2 small carrots, chopped
- 3/4 lb ground turkey (or lean ground beef, if you prefer)
- Kosher salt
- Black pepper
- 1 cup/ 250 ml whole milk
- 1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 7 whole canned plum tomatoes (about 1 1/2 cup), cut up
- In a heavy saucepan, add extra virgin olive oil and onions. Heat on medium. Cook and stir the onions until translucent about 5 minutes, then add celery and carrots. Cook for another 3 minutes, stirring frequently.
- Add ground turkey (or lean ground beef, if you prefer). Add a large pinch kosher salt and ground black pepper. Using a wooden spoon, break up the meat. Stir well until meat is no longer raw and it loses its red color.
- Add milk and let it come to a gentle simmer. Stir frequently until milk has completely bubbled away. Stir in nutmeg.
- Add wine and let it simmer until it has completely evaporated, then stir in the plum tomatoes.
- Once tomatoes come to a gentle bubble, turn heat down to a very low simmer. Cook sauce, uncovered, for 3 hours or so.
- IMPORTANT: occasionally check if you need to add a little liquid to the sauce. If it looks dry or starts to stick, you can add about 1/2 cup of liquid (water or some of tomato water from your plum tomato can.) At the end, there should be no water remaining.
- Taste the bolognese sauce and correct for salt.
- Toss with your favorite cooked and drained pasta with a side of Parmesan.
- Cook’s Tip: Classic Bologense sauce uses ground beef and butter, this turkey bolognese is a lightened up version. If you like, use ground beef. And in place of 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, use 3 tbsp of butter.
- Cook’s Tip: To achieve the best texture, thick and hearty bolognese, do not rush the cooking. Bolognese is meant to cook low and slow.
- Make Ahead Instructions: You can make this sauce a night or two ahead and refrigerate, or even a couple of weeks ahead, in which case, you need to freeze it. Cool the sauce completely, then transfer it to a container and refrigerate or freeze for future use. Bring the sauce to a simmer before using.
- Short Cut: If you are really in a pinch, you can try this shortcut to bologense using store-bought maranira sauce. I adapted this from Giada De Laurentiis. It’s tasty and works well, but don’t expect the same results as far as authentic flavor and texture, of course. Follow step #1 as written. In step #2, once you add the meat, cook for about 1 minute. Add marinara sauce. Bring heat to medium-low and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring regularly to allow flavors to meld. Toss with your favorite pasta!
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- Category: Entree/Meat and Poultry
- Method: Stovetop
- Cuisine: Italian
Keywords: Bolognese, How to Make Bologense, Turkey Bolognese, Easy Bologense Sauce