Turkey Bolognese

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Veggie-packed, nutritious and flavor-loaded Turkey Bolognese is savory, filling and easy to make — the perfect weeknight meal.

Pair this turkey Bolognese with a quick garden salad like this Olive Garden salad or tasty corn salad.

 

Overhead view of Turkey Bolognese on a bed of spaghetti.

Turkey Bolognese

Ground turkey can get a bad rap, but I’ve found if it’s seasoned and prepared well, it can taste amazing. With a few “secret” ingredients, this Bolognese is every bit as tempting and addictive as beef or pork Bolognese. 

And those few secret ingredients?

  • Beef bouillon powder: I’ve been adding beef bouillon to ground turkey for a couple years now and I swear by it — it boosts and enhances the meaty flavor. My husband is always convinced we’re actually eating ground beef with this one addition.
  • Worcestershire sauce: This sauce gives the Bolognese a great umami, salty flavor and also lends a bolder meat flavor.

QUICK TIP

I recommend getting lean (93/7) ground turkey as opposed to 99% lean ground turkey which tends to dry out and have very little flavor. If you can get ground turkey thigh meat — even better! Additionally, I recommend ground turkey from a carton as opposed to a chub (cylindrical package) — it tends to have better flavor and is less watery.

Recipe Shortcuts

Classic Bolognese sauce usually takes hours to make and can be a bit of a heavy dish. This turkey Bolognese is still ultra comforting, but made in a more nutritious and quicker way — perfect for a weeknight dinner. Here are a few recipe short-cuts to speed up the process even more:

  • Use fire-roasted tomatoes. By using a can of fire-roasted tomatoes we’re adding layers of flavor and a hint of smokiness with no extra work. Score! I love Muir Glen® or Cento® fire-roasted crushed tomatoes best (not sponsored).
  • Grab mirepoix (also called soup starter). Lots of stores sell pre-chopped mirepoix (a French term for diced onion, carrot, and celery) in the produce section of the store. If you’re in a hurry, pick up that fresh-chopped mirepoix, or you can even use frozen mirepoix in this turkey Bolognese sauce.
  • Use jarred garlic or a garlic press. Instead of mincing your own garlic, you can use jarred to save time. Alternatively, a garlic press gets you fresh minced garlic in a fraction of the time that hand mincing takes.

Process shots for making Turkey Bolognese: sauté veggies; add garlic; cook and crumble ground turkey; add seasoning; add tomato paste, bouillon and Worcestershire sauce; add crushed tomatoes; add bay leaves and simmer; toss with cooked pasta.

 

Turkey Bolognese tips

  • Cut the veggies in small, even sizes. To help the veggies incorporate better into the meat sauce and be a good overall flavor add, make sure to finely dice the veggies so they’re all small and similar sizes.
  • Use some red wine. Traditionally, Bolognese uses red wine instead of beef broth. My family doesn’t use wine, though, so it’s not included in this recipe. If you’d like to use wine, you can substitute a medium-bodied red wine, such as pinot noir or merlot, for the beef broth.
  • Add sugar if needed: Depending on the brand of tomatoes you use (and if you opt to use the beef stock/broth or wine), you may need a teaspoon or two of white sugar to counteract the acidity of the tomatoes. Taste and adjust to preference.
  • Go light on the salt: I find ground turkey typically needs a bit more salt than other ground meats, but keep in mind that this recipe uses reserved salted pasta water, bouillon cubes, and salty Parmesan cheese, so add salt slowly and to taste.
  • Emulsify the pasta: The final step of tossing the turkey Bolognese with reserved pasta water and hot pasta is one of the “secrets” to Italian pastas. It’s called emulsifying and that’s how you get a luxurious sauce that coats every bit of pasta. While you can just add the sauce to cooked noodles, we love emulsifying it first. If you’re interested, there is more info here 

Storage

You can make Turkey Bolognese sauce up to 5 days in advance (with very fresh ground turkey). Reheat on the stovetop over low heat. Like most tomato-based dishes, it tastes better the next day!

To freeze: Cool the sauce completely and then transfer it to an airtight, freezer-safe container, and freeze for future use (up to 3 months). Thaw overnight in the fridge and bring to a simmer over low heat before serving.

View of a plate of spaghetti topped with Turkey Bolognese.

How To Use Leftover Turkey Bolognese sauce

We frequently double this recipe just so we have leftovers to use in other recipes throughout the week. If you’re looking for something different, here are a few of the ways we use this sauce!

  • Stuffed Shells: We use 3 cups of this Bolognese sauce in this stuffed shells recipe. (Use this Bolognese sauce in place of the marinara. Pour 1/2 cup below the shells and 2 and 1/2 cups on top.) 
  • Spaghetti Squash: For a veggie-packed meal, I’ve added a few heaping spoonfuls on top of a roasted spaghetti squash.
  • Stuffed Peppers: Mix some cooked rice with a few cups of this sauce. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, cook bell peppers for 5 minutes, remove and drain well. Place about 1/2 cup of this turkey Bolognese sauce on the bottom of a 9-x-13-inch pan and then fill peppers with the rice/Bolognese mixture. Top with 1 cup of Bolognese, cover with foil and bake for 35 minutes at 350 degrees F. Uncover, add 1 cup of shredded mozzarella on top and bake for another 5-10 minutes (until peppers are tender and cheese is melted).
  • Italian “Sloppy Joes”: Pile a few spoonfuls of the turkey Bolognese sauce on top of some crusty rolls, top with mozzarella cheese, and broil for 1-2 minutes in the oven.

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Turkey Bolognese

5 from 1 vote
This veggie-packed, nutritious, and flavor-loaded Turkey Bolognese is savory, filling, and easy to make -- the perfect weeknight meal.
Print Recipe

Turkey Bolognese

5 from 1 vote
This veggie-packed, nutritious, and flavor-loaded Turkey Bolognese is savory, filling, and easy to make -- the perfect weeknight meal.
Course Dinner, Main Course
Cuisine American, Italian
Keyword turkey bolognese
Prep Time 25 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 45 minutes
Servings 4 servings
Calories 546kcal

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 cup EACH: finely diced yellow onion, finely diced carrot, finely diced celery
  • 1 tablespoon finely minced garlic (~3-4 cloves)
  • 1/2 teaspoon EACH: dried thyme, dried basil, dried oregano
  • Fine sea salt and freshly cracked pepper
  • 1 pound lean (93/7) ground turkey (See Note 1)
  • 1/2 cup 100% grape juice or beef broth or red wine (See Note 2)
  • 1 can (28 ounces) fire-roasted crushed tomatoes (I highly recommend Muir Glen or Cento)
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1/2 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 teaspoons beef bouillon powder
  • 12 ounces spaghetti
  • Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • Optional: freshly chopped parsley or basil

Instructions

  • VEGGIES: Add 1 tablespoon oil to a large deep skillet/pot (one big enough to hold all the pasta later!) Heat to medium low, and add in the finely diced onion, carrot, and celery. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 5-7 minutes. Add in the garlic and continue to cook and stir for an additional 3-5 minutes until vegetables are softened and straw colored (you don't want to brown the veggies; reduce the heat if they start browning). Move veggies to the sides of the skillet and increase the heat to medium-high.
  • GROUND TURKEY: Add the ground turkey to the center of the pan. Brown the turkey, crumbling and breaking it up as you stir. Cook 5-7 minutes or until mostly browned through. Drain any accumulated liquid from the ground turkey if needed. Add in the seasonings: the 1/2 teaspoon each of dried thyme, dried basil and dried oregano. Season to taste with salt and pepper, I add 1/2 teaspoon of each. Stir. Immediately pour in the beef broth (See Note 2) and scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the skillet. Cook, stirring until juice is reduced in half, about 1-2 minutes.
  • SIMMER: Reduce the heat to medium. Stir in the tomato paste, bouillon powder, and Worcestershire sauce. Add in the crushed tomatoes and stir. Add in the bay leaves and bring to a simmer. Simmer, uncovered, for 10-15 minutes or until thickened and fragrant, stirring occasionally. Taste and adjust to personal preference adding more salt and pepper as needed. Also taste for sourness -- if you use high-quality tomatoes, it shouldn't be sour. On occasion, however, you might need to add a teaspoon or so of white sugar to balance out the acid.
  • SPAGHETTI: Meanwhile, follow package directions to cook the spaghetti to al dente. (Don't forget to salt the water generously! I add 1 teaspoon salt to every 4 cups of water.) Remove about 1 cup of the pasta water before draining the spaghetti -- you may needed it for emulsifying.
  • TWO WAYS TO SERVE: Either emulsify the pasta: (authentic way; see step #7) or just spoon the sauce over the cooked pasta.
  • GARNISH: Garnish with fresh chopped parsley or basil and freshly grated Parmesan cheese as desired.
  • To EMULSIFY: Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Follow package directions to cook the pasta but DON'T DRAIN (yet!) Scoop out a cup of pasta cooking water and set aside. Now, you can drain the pasta. Add half of the Bolognese sauce to the pot used to cook the pasta. Add hot drained pasta right on top. Toss the pasta and sauce gently for a couple of minutes, slowly adding the reserved pasta water as needed until the sauce thickens and generously coats the pasta. (I usually only use about 1/4 to 1/2 cup of reserved pasta water, but it varies depending on a lot of factors, so add just enough until you have a thick rich sauce coating the pasta).

Video

Recipe Notes

Note 1: I recommend getting lean (93/7) ground turkey as opposed to 99% lean ground turkey which tends to dry out and have very little flavor. If you can get ground turkey thigh meat, that's even better! Additionally, I recommend ground turkey from a carton as opposed to a chub (cylindrical package) -- it tends to have better flavor and is less watery.
Note 2: Traditional Bolognese uses wine instead of beef broth. If you'd like to go with wine instead, you can substitute a medium-body red wine such as pinot noir or merlot. You may need a pinch or two of sugar to counteract the acidity.

Nutrition Facts

Calories: 546kcal | Carbohydrates: 70g | Protein: 34g | Fat: 15g | Saturated Fat: 3g | Cholesterol: 84mg | Sodium: 541mg | Potassium: 589mg | Fiber: 4g | Sugar: 5g | Vitamin A: 205IU | Vitamin C: 5mg | Calcium: 65mg | Iron: 3mg

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