Sometimes, a lady needs to cheat. For example, when she is making turkey bolognese sauce. Turkey Bolognese is an easy and healthy pasta sauce recipe. The thick, rich sauce tastes like it’s been simmering all day, but it’s ready in 45 minutes. It’s delicious and perfect for a weeknight dinner!
What this lady should do to make proper, non-cheating Turkey Bolognese:
- Painstakingly chop all vegetables (carrots, onions, celery, garlic).
- Simmer the sauce on the stove for a minimum of two hours, all day if you are going for bonafide nonna status.
- Make the pasta from scratch.
- Use heavy cream.
- Use some wine in the sauce. Drink the rest with dinner.
Oh, and she probably shouldn’t be using turkey.
What this lady actually did:
- Leave the veggies chunky and declare them “rustic.” Because it’s so much faster.
- Ditch the celery. Because one less veggie to chop.
- Simmer the sauce for 10 minutes, then taste it to see if it’s “close enough.” (Spoiler, it’s delicious!)
- Use high-quality, premade refrigerated pasta instead of making from-scratch pasta (more on that in a moment).
- Use wine in the sauce. Drink more wine while making pasta. Open a new bottle to serve with dinner if necessary. Because cook’s prerogative.
- Use regular milk instead of heavy cream and ground turkey instead of beef to make the bolognese healthy. Because more room for dessert!
You can call it “cheating,” “experimentation,” or “this is what was in my pantry, so let’s go with it.”
Regardless of how you decide to describe it, adapting classic recipes is, for me, what keeps cooking exciting and seasonal. In the case of Turkey Bolognese, adapting makes it achievable on a weeknight.
Healthy Turkey Bolognese — Tips for Fast Bolognese Sauce
Classic bolognese sauce usually takes hours to prepare and can be on the heavy side. My goal to transform it into a lighter but still comforting healthy Turkey Bolognese recipe that’s ready in 45 minutes, while a little tricky, turned out to be even more delicious than I’d dreamed!
I swapped the traditional ground beef for ground turkey, adding extra seasoning to keep it from tasting bland. The heavy cream I ditched in favor of whole milk, which still yielded a sauce that tasted thick and decadent.
The trickiest part was figuring out a way to make the bolognese sauce taste as if it had been simmering for hours instead of minutes. Tomato paste, which has an intense flavor, along with a bold red wine did the trick (just as they enrich the sauce in my Red Wine Braised Short Ribs!).
Turkey Bolognese – Freezer Friendly Pasta Sauce
This recipe makes a generous amount of the turkey bolognese sauce. The leftovers freeze easily, so you can enjoy them at a later date or simply cook a bit of extra pasta to suit the size of your crowd.
- To Freeze. Place leftover sauce in an airtight freezer-safe storage container in the freezer for up to 3 months. Let thaw overnight in the refrigerator.
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 medium carrots peeled and finely chopped (about 1 1/4 cups)
- 1 small yellow onion finely chopped (about 1 cup)
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 pound ground turkey I use 93% lean; I wouldn’t recommend 99% lean, as it will easily dry out, or ground chicken
- 3 cloves garlic minced (about 1 tablespoon)
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 cup dry red wine such as Cabernet Sauvignon (or substitute an additional 14.5-ounce can of crushed tomatoes)
- 1 can crushed tomatoes (14.5 ounces)
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1/2 cup whole milk
- 10 ounces tagliatelle or fettuccini pasta
- For serving: freshly grated parmesan chopped fresh basil, and/or chopped fresh parsley
- In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium high. Add the carrot, onion, salt, and pepper and cook until the vegetables are beginning to soften, about 5 to 7 minutes. Increase the heat to medium high, add the ground turkey, and cook, breaking it up with a spoon, until it’s starting to brown, about 3 minutes. Stir in the garlic, oregano, and red pepper flakes and cook just until fragrant, about 1 minute.
- Pour the wine into the skillet and stir, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, and milk and stir to combine. Bring the sauce to a boil, then lower the heat and let simmer for 10 minutes. Taste and add additional salt, black pepper, or red pepper flakes as desired.
- Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook the Giovanni Rana Tagliatelle or Fettuccine just until al dente. Drain and place in a serving bowl. Top with your desired amount of sauce and serve hot, sprinkled with fresh Parmesan, basil, and/or parsley.
- I recommend topping the noodles with the Bolognese sauce just before serving. Leftover sauce can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days or frozen for 3 months. This recipe makes a generous amount of sauce, so depending upon your preferred noodle/sauce ratio, you may have some sauce leftover. If this is the case, I recommend enjoying it over a fresh batch of noodles, since refrigerated pasta usually tastes at its prime right after it is made. That said, we also at it rewarmed in the microwave (including the noodles), and it still made for a delicious dinner.
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This looks like exactly my kinda dinner! I love bolognese but have never made it at home, in large part because of the significant time investment. I’m looking forward to trying this!
I hope you and your family all love it, thank you!
You had me at wine and more wine lol! This sounds wonderful I can’t wait to try it! Thank you for sharing.
I hope you enjoy it, Angie!
Hi Erin, Yummy! I’m going to make it tonight! Thanks for this awesome recipe!
I hope you enjoy it, Laurie!
hey girl- this looks amazing!
Thanks so much, Shawnna!
This is going to happen this weekend. Last week i made a glorious pot of turkey chili with butternut squash, so good, seasonings are trght on. Thank you so much for creating delicious, simple, craveable recipes that my family and I love!
Thank YOU for this sweet comment, Marina! I hope you enjoy the bolognese!
I wanna dive into this bolognese!! Looks AMAZING!
This looks amazing! I can’t wait to try!
I hope you enjoy, Brenda!
Made this last night and loved it! My son who is 2 also loved it. I did use heavy whipping cream because it was in my fridge by accident. Will make again!
WHOOO HOOOO! So happy to hear that Kaytee. Thanks fo rletting me know, and so glad your son enjoyed it too.
I don’t care what this is made with or how the veggies are cut – it looks so delicious and I wish I had this for lunch today!
If you do try it (with any size of veggie), I hope you love it Julia!
I love using turkey in pasta recipes! Thanks for the healthier recipe.
So much delish – I need to make this!!
My boys would love this pasta!
I’m adding this turkey bolognese to next weeks dinner menu. Looks delicious! :)
I hope you love it Jennifer!
I absolutely love your “rustic” approach to bolognese! I have to try this, such an easy and quick recipe!
Thank you so much Tanya! Rustic hits the spot sometimes!
I love their pasta!! This looks like the perfect use of it and so easy!!
This was dinner for the not vegetarians in my family tonight and they liked it a lot. I used almond milk, due to a lactose problem with one of them, and it seemed to work well. Also, I had more time than I thought I would so I simmered the sauce longer, but added twice as much crushed tomatoes to compensate for the evaporation. Dinner ended with full tummies and a debate about who would get what part of the leftover sauce. Thanks for a great recipe!
Vivian, thanks so much for giving this recipe a try and taking the time to report back! I’m so glad to hear the recipe was a hit.
Yum! So perfect this time of year.
Oh my! This looks amazing!!
How easy is this recipe? EASY! Can’t wait to try it.
excellent meal- I have made this 3-4 times now and it doesn’t disappoint
I usually add 2 turkey sausage links crumbled to the meat
and a bunch of finely chopped kale to the veggies
also add more crushed tomatoes because of these additions
if I have time I make it ahead and let it simmer but it really doesn’t need it
Lisa, this is wonderful to hear, and your additions sound so yummy too! Thanks for letting me know.
What size skillet did you use? Love your recipes!
Hi Annie, my skillet is pretty big…probably at least 14 inches. I love using 6-quart dutch ovens for pasta dishes like this too!
Hi Erin, Just made this. I used the 99% fat free turkey, it wasn’t dry at all, and used it on top of zucchini noodles. It was absolutely wonderful!! Maybe too good, two of us ate it all :). I did all the chopping early in the day so when I got home it was ready quickly.
Thanks so much for taking the time to leave this review, Carole! I’m happy to hear the recipe was a hit!
I don’t have crushed tomatoes or tomatoes paste only tomatoe sauce. Is it doable and if so what would the substitution be? Thanks so much!
Hi Nicole! I haven’t tried it myself, but you could experiment with one can (about 14-15 ounces) of tomato sauce. If the sauce is too thick you can add a little water, and if it’s too thin you can let it cook down a little further. I hope you enjoy!
Thank you so much for the quick reply. Going to try tonight!
Looks great! Do you think this could be made in the Instant Pot? How long would you suggest on high pressure?
Hi Madelaine, I have not tried this recipe in the Instant Pot, so I can’t say for certain. I’ve seen anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes on similar recipes online, so if you decide to experiment, I’d love to hear how it goes.
Really good base recipe to start with. Just in case anyone is curious I preferred these few additions. Definitely chop up a nice ripe tomato as well as the can, use your fingers to break it up even more for a better consistency. Do not skimp on your mirepoix, DEFINITELY add the celery and carrot. Follow the 2:1:1 rule (onion:carrot:celery). I really like the addition of one cup brown mushrooms diced, I believe it enhanced the sauce with an earthy savoriness. SEASONING! Stop being scared people!! I did heaping table spoon of kosher salt, half black pepper, plus add a half table spoon of basil and italian seasoning. BEST PART: Trust me on this, just trust me. TWO tablespoons of olive oil (make your nana proud) add the zest of one large lemon NO JUICE, and about half a tablespoon of white sugar. I never write in comment sections, but I hope someone see’s this and follows it. Cheers from a cute lil’ kitchen in San Francisco.
Hi Alex! Thanks for sharing your adaptations of this recipe! I’m happy to hear that you enjoyed it!
I ended up putting the meat in the sauce and not the other way around ??♀️ how long do you think it needs to cook for and is this method doable for a backup? Thank you!!!!!!!!!
Hi Emily! I suggest checking the sauce regularly and pulling out pieces of the meat to check for doneness. It may take longer since it wasn’t browned first. Browning the meat first is an important step for flavor in the sauce, so I wouldn’t recommend skipping it in the future. I hope you enjoy the recipe!
This was so delicious. I cannot believe I have not used ground turkey in my spaghetti sauce before. It was so much better than ground beef. Loved the carrots in the sauce too. So good!
I’m so happy to hear that this recipe was a hit, Patty! Thank you for taking the time to share this kind review!
Looking to make this for dinner tonight. Can I substitute non dairy milk?
Hi Dani! I haven’t tried using dairy-free milk in this recipe, but you could experiment with soy, cashew, or canned coconut milk. If you decide to try one, I’d love to hear how it goes!
This was so good! Just added mushrooms and hot sausage.
I’m so happy that you enjoyed it, Felicia! Thank you for sharing this kind review!
My husband and I LOVE this recipe. Thanks so much for sharing, it is absolutely delicious and you’d never know it’s turkey! We finish with a little fresh basil in addition to the Parmesan and enjoy every mouthful.
I’m so happy that you’ve enjoyed the recipe, Erin! Thank you for sharing this kind review!
Pretty tasty! I will make this again. To save time and adjust to dietary needs, I used coconut milk and substituted chicken broth for the wine with jarred tomato sauce. I served it over Zoodles (zucchini noodles) , and then once with leftover rice.
What would the approximate calorie count be for just the sauce, no noodles?
I’m so happy that you enjoyed it, Candice! Thank you for sharing this kind review! I only have the nutrition estimate listed, but you could use a free online calculator like MyFitnessPal to input your exact ingredients. I hope this helps!
This was delicious! I made it last night and served it with spaghetti squash (instead of regular noodles) and topped with cheese. The sauce was so good that the kids didn’t even care about the squash replacement and even got seconds. The only changes I made: doubled the crushed tomatoes(I felt that otherwise it would’ve been to milky/winey), added a little pureed vegetables. I can’t believe how fast this came together – I’ll definitely be making it again!
I’m so happy that you enjoyed the recipe, Emma! Thank you for sharing this kind review!
Wow, this Turkey Bolognese was absolutely delicious and flavorful! I followed your recipe exactly with the exception of doubling the crushed tomatoes as I had a 28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes.
When I first tasted the sauce after adding the red wine, it seemed strongly wine flavor, but as the sauce simmered (I simmered the sauce a little longer about 30-40 minutes), the taste became wonderfully balanced with all the flavors melding together nicely! I couldn’t stop tasting this sauce as it was cooking ;) I also used the Giovanni Rana Fettucine since I couldn’t find the Tagliatelle at the store. My family, including my picky 13 year old son, loved this recipe and everyone had seconds! We topped the sauce with parmesan cheese and chopped fresh basil. So yummy :) Thank you!
I’m SO happy that you enjoyed it! Thank you for sharing this kind review!
Seriously my new “go-to” homemade meat sauce recipe. I love the extra veggies for extra nutrition, and the flavor from the tomatoes and wine is delish. It’s great on its own over pasta, or even better in lasagna or a baked pasta dish. I like to make it a day in advance and let it sit overnight to develop even better flavor.
I’m so happy that you’ve enjoyed it, Julia! Thank you for sharing this kind review!
Meh kinda flavorless
I’m sorry to hear that this recipe wasn’t to your tastes, Anna. I (and many other readers) have really enjoyed the flavors, so I truly wish you would’ve too!
Looks like I only have diced tomatoes in the pantry, would that work? Or should I stick them in a food processor first?
Thanks – love your recipes!!
Hi Samantha! I’d suggest breaking the diced tomatoes down a bit first to reach more of a crushed tomato consistency. I hope you enjoy the recipe!
6th recipe made! This one reminded me a lot of a traditional Ragu recipe I’ve been making for years. Mine doesn’t have milk, but it does have beef stock, which adds a nice depth. Anyway, I made this tonight following your directions and we all loved it. I’ll definitely make this again.
I’m so happy that it was a hit, Marie! Thank you for sharing this kind review!
Okay… I was a little apprehensive at first because I’ve never heard of pitting milk in bolognese sauce but…. OMG this sauce was so delicious! I made this recipe as is and I let it simmer a little longer to get a thicker consistency. I served it on top of some store bought gnocchi and it was incredible. I’ll be making this sauce on repeat.
I’m so happy that you enjoyed it, Hailey! Thank you for sharing this kind review!
Really tasty! It would be great to have the nutrients just for the sauce!
Hi Sarah! So glad you enjoyed the recipe! Thank you for this kind review!
This is absolutely delicious! I’m so happy I found this recipe and can’t wait for my husband to get home to try it! Thank you for sharing it!
Hi Rose! So glad you enjoyed the recipe! Thank you for this kind review!
You spelled “ounces” incorrectly in the pasta section of your Turkey Bolognese recipe
Thanks Bob, fixed it. Hope you enjoy the recipe!
Easy to follow recipe and very tasty my son has second, will make it again and may try a soy mince one to
Hi Kuldip! So glad you enjoyed the recipe! Thank you for this kind review!
This was delicious. I did make a few adjustments to make it less points for WW: added celery, halved the red wine, halved the milk and went with 2%, did half and half 99% lean and 93% lean ground turkey, doubled the fresh garlic and threw in a handful of parsley. I chopped all of the veggies in my food processor, so adding the celery did not add any time. ;) Great recipe – and both my teens loved it too!
Hi Nikki! So glad you enjoyed the recipe! Thank you for this kind review!
Absolutely delicious. I added diced mushrooms and celery because I was cleaning out my fridge. I will make this again and again – thank you!
I’m so happy that you enjoyed it, Susan! Thank you for sharing this kind review!
This is the first review I have ever given and I was compelled to as this was the worst recipe I have ever eaten. In fact I couldn’t finish my serving. I don’t recommend it to anyone.
I’m sorry this recipe wasn’t to your tastes, Teresa. I (and many other readers) have truly enjoyed it, so I wish you would’ve too!
Love this recipe! It’s simple to make and I like the healthier turkey aspect. It freezes and reheats well, too. This has become one of my go-to dinners to cook!
Hi Rayna! So glad you enjoyed the recipe! Thank you for this kind review!
Absolutely delicious! Nothing left in the pot to freeze! This is now my go-to recipe for Bolognese! Thank you so much….. looking forward to trying your other recipes 😁
Hi Sinead! So glad to hear you enjoyed it! Thank you for your kind review!
I’ve always made beef bolognese with heavy cream, which is simply decadent, however this recipe is tough competition. I omitted both the milk and wine (added another can of tomatoes) and my kids finished this in one serving. I actually made a double batch a few days later. I’m bookmarking this and it will be on my regular rotation of dinners.
Hi Rebecca! So glad you enjoyed the recipe! Thank you for this kind review!
Hi Erin, usually I love your recipes. This one turned out very bland and non-flavorful. I made a double batch so I could freeze half of it and we went ahead and through for the other half away.
I’m sorry to hear that it wasn’t to your taste Julie. The recipe has worked well for myself (and others) but I know how frustrating it can be to try a new recipe and not have it work out, so I really wish you would’ve enjoyed it!