- A Light & Lean Version of Classic Italian Comfort Food (Ready in Half the Time!)
- Chicken Bolognese Recipe Highlights
- Back to Basics – What is Bolognese?
- Key Ingredients
- How to Make Chicken Bolognese Sauce
- Serving with Pasta – Chicken Bolognese Bucatini
- Tips, Tricks, & Alternate Cooking Methods
A Light & Lean Version of Classic Italian Comfort Food (Ready in Half the Time!)
It’s no secret that we’re pretty obsessed with bolognese here at PWWB.
As one of the first things I learned how to cook back in my restaurant days, pasta bolognese is one of my all-time favorite meals. Over the years, we’ve shared a number of bolognese recipes, from my tried & true Best-Ever Bolognese to ultra-cozy Gnocchi Bolognese. As much as I love these indulgent & comforting dishes, I also really appreciate a lightened-up version from time to time. This Ground Chicken Bolognese recipe is just that!
A quick adaptation of my longtime favorite Turkey Bolognese, this lightened-up chicken bolognese sauce creates the signature richness of classic bolognese using leaner protein. Ground chicken simmers with sweet San Marzano tomatoes, aromatic veggies & herbs, white wine, & an umami-rich parmesan rind, resulting in a hearty sauce with restaurant-worthy flavor. It’s as satisfying as traditional bolognese made with beef & pork, just a little leaner!
As an added bonus, making bolognese sauce with chicken also drastically reduces the amount of time the sauce needs to cook. While a classic bolognese sauce requires hours of low, slow cooking, this easy chicken bolognese sauce is ready in 1 hour or less – perfect for when you’re craving something cozy during the week. Quickly simmer the sauce, toss with bucatini or pappardelle, & serve – easy!
Chicken Bolognese Recipe Highlights
You’ll love this ground chicken bolognese recipe! It’s…
A LIGHTENED-UP CLASSIC. This feel-good recipe creates all the rich & hearty flavor of traditional Italian bolognese using leaner ground chicken. Truly the best of both worlds!
RESTAURANT-WORTHY. Inspired by my days working at an Italian restaurant, this ground chicken bolognese sauce is absolutely loaded with flavor thanks to ingredients like sweet San Marzano tomatoes, bright white wine, plenty of aromatics & herbs, & umami-rich parmesan rind.
PURE COMFORT. Toss chicken bolognese sauce with bucatini, or whatever pasta you love most, for the ultimate comfort food dinner at home!
Nothing not to love about it! ♡ Read on to learn more about how to make Ground Chicken Bolognese, or jump straight to the recipe & get cooking!
Back to Basics – What is Bolognese?
Originating in Bologna, the largest city of Northern Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region, bolognese is a type of Italian ragu sauce typically prepared with beef & pork, white wine, milk, & a little tomato. I’ve always considered bolognese to be the ultimate comfort food meal, especially because traditional recipes require hours of simmering to coax out as much flavor & richness as possible. In fact, chances are if you came to join us for dinner here at the PWWB House, it’s exactly what’ I’d serve you! Learn more! ⇢ PWWB’s Best-Ever Bolognese.
This particular recipe gives traditional bolognese a lightened-up twist, replacing beef & pork with ground chicken. It’s perfect when you’re craving comfort food but want something a little lighter! Don’t let its leanness fool you, though – it’s still incredibly rich & hearty. A few secrets, like choosing at least 93% lean ground chicken, browning the veggies well, & loading up on aromatics like garlic & fresh herbs, make it possible to easily create a lightened-up chicken bolognese sauce with great depth of flavor.
As far as serving goes, bolognese is best when it’s tossed into pasta! Italians love a wide, flat noodle like pappardelle or tagliatelle. Here in the U.S., you’ll often see bolognese served with spaghetti. I’m partial to chicken bolognese bucatini (pictured), a long, hollow noodle with the best chewy texture.
One of the things I love most about Italian dishes like bolognese is that they’re all taking simple, humble ingredients & making something extraordinary with them. This chicken bolognese does exactly that, coaxing an amazing amount of flavor out of just a handful of staple Italian ingredients.
Note: Full ingredients list & measurements provided in the Recipe Card, below.
- Ground chicken – For maximum richness, be sure to use at least 93% lean ground chicken. 85% lean is even better, if you can find it! Using less lean poultry helps the meat mimic richer ground beef & pork traditionally used for bolognese. If you can only find ground turkey, feel free to use it in place of chicken!
- Soffritto – This Italian holy trinity – a trusty mixture of carrots, celery, & onion cooked down in olive oil – is the base of flavor for the entire chicken bolognese sauce! While you can blitz the veggies in your food processor for quickness & ease, I always like to chop them by hand for a chunkier, more rustic pasta sauce.
- Aromatics – A generous amount of garlic & fresh herbs like rosemary & thyme infuse big flavor into the chicken bolognese, while bay leaves & a parmesan rind richen the sauce. These are the flavor boosters that make a leaner chicken bolognese taste completely restaurant-worthy!
- Tomatoes – The concentrated flavor of tomato paste gives the sauce richness, while whole-peeled tomatoes give the sauce body. Bright & sweet San Marzano tomatoes are always a fantastic choice for pasta sauce.
- White wine – I typically cook with Pinot Grigio but any dry, unoaked white wine works well for chicken bolognese. Sauvignon Blanc & unoaked Chardonnay also work beautifully!
- Finishing touches – A splash of half & half or heavy cream & a good amount of grated parmesan cheese bring the ground chicken bolognese sauce together.
How to Make Chicken Bolognese Sauce
Two other essential elements of a restaurant-worthy bolognese sauce are heat & time. Slowly building the sauce creates amazing depth of flavor, & this really can’t be rushed.
That being said, one big perk of this easy chicken bolognese recipe is it comes together a lot more quickly than a traditional bolognese sauce made with beef or pork. Chicken is a much leaner protein & cooking it too long dries it out. Instead, this recipe leans on flavor-boosting ingredients & a few simple tricks to develop a ton of flavor despite the its quick 20-minute simmer.
Full Recipe Directions, including step-by-step photos, are included in the Recipe Card, below.
Brown the soffritto & ground chicken. Take your time browning the carrots, celery, & onion super well until they are nearly caramelized – this takes a solid 20-25 minutes & can’t be rushed! From there, add the ground chicken & let everything cook together. Why? ⇢ A nearly caramelized soffritto is a sign of next-level richness since deep browning is a result of the magical flavor-boosting process known as the Maillard reaction. The Maillard reaction does more than just change the appearance of the veggies & ground chicken – it also gives them deeper, richer flavor. This entire first step is all about developing a rich base of flavor that carries through the entire sauce. It takes a little bit of time, but the payoff is worth it – especially for a leaner chicken bolognese sauce!
Add aromatics & deglaze the pan. Stir in a generous amount of garlic & tomato paste, cooking until fragrant & deeply browned, then deglaze the pan with a little white wine. Why? ⇢ As the wine hits the hot surface, it creates steam, which releases the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. These bits are known as fond & they’re FULL of the deep flavor developed up through this point! Use a wooden spoon to scrape up the fond as the wine simmers to pull its richness back into the chicken bolognese sauce.
Build & simmer the chicken bolognese sauce. Add San Marzano tomatoes, fresh rosemary & thyme, bay leaves, chicken stock, & a parmesan rind to the pot. Bring everything to a simmer & cook, partially covered, for 15-20 minutes until the sauce thickens slightly. Finishing touches! ⇢ Once simmered, stir in a little half and half or heavy cream & grated parmesan cheese to round out all the flavors. At this point, all that’s left is to toss the chicken bolognese sauce with pasta!
Serving with Pasta – Chicken Bolognese Bucatini
Once the ground chicken bolognese sauce is simmered, all that’s left to do is toss it into some al dente pasta. Pretty simple!
Best pasta for chicken bolognese sauce? ⇢ Feel free to use whatever pasta you love most, remembering that hearty sauces are best paired with equally hearty pasta. In Italy, ragu is often served with flat, wide pasta like pappardelle or tagliatelle. In the U.S., it’s a little more common to find spaghetti bolognese. Here at the PWWB House, I love serving chicken bolognese with bucatini (pictured), a type of hollow spaghetti with beautifully chewy texture. If you prefer shorter pasta, rigatoni is a great option.
Full Recipe Directions, including step-by-step photos, are included in the Recipe Card, below.
*Remember! ⇢ The secret to making a restaurant-worthy pasta bolognese at home is allowing the sauce to quickly finish with the pasta. This is essential! It allows the two separate components to meld into one cohesive dish, just like your favorite Italian restaurant. Learn more! ⇢ How to Cook Pasta Perfectly Every Single Time!
Cook the pasta. Boil a large pot of salted water & add the bucatini or other pasta of choice, cooking until al dente (check the package instructions for timing!). Reserve 1 cup of the starchy pasta water then carefully drain the pasta. Do not rinse it! Why? ⇢ Rinsing removes the starches from the surface of the pasta, which prevents the chicken bolognese sauce & bucatini from marrying together.
Toss! Add the cooked pasta into the pot with the ground chicken bolognese sauce, tossing to combine well. Use your judgment & adjust as needed: a splash of the reserved pasta water helps loosen up the pasta bolognese & a handful of extra parmesan tightens it up a bit.
Simmer & serve. Let the chicken bolognese bucatini simmer for 1-2 minutes. Why? ⇢ A quick simmer allows the pasta to absorb some of the chicken bolognese sauce as it finishes cooking – the secret to creating a restaurant-worthy pasta dish at home!
Tips, Tricks, & Alternate Cooking Methods
Slow Cooker Chicken Bolognese
Feel free to make this ground chicken bolognese recipe in your Crock Pot or Slow Cooker for even easier, hands-off prep. If your slow cooker has a browning feature, you can build the entire sauce in the pot. Otherwise, you’ll still want to brown the soffritto & ground chicken on the stovetop for ultimate richness. When dinner rolls around, simply boil the bucatini & toss it into the slow cooker with the chicken bolognese sauce – easy! See the Recipe Notes, below, for more guidance.
Make-Ahead Chicken Bolognese
One of my favorite things about bolognese sauce is its flavors only get better with time. It’s one reason we love making this chicken bolognese recipe in advance! To do so, make the sauce & let it cool completely before storing it in the fridge. At dinnertime, simply reheat the chicken bolognese on the stovetop & toss in the cooked pasta – easy! Find full make-ahead instructions in the Recipe Notes, below!
Storage & Freezing Tips
Hearty bolognese sauce is incredibly freezer-friendly! We love keeping ground chicken bolognese in the freezer as an easy weeknight meal option down the line. Once you prepare the sauce, let it cool completely & transfer it to a freezer container. You can keep it in your freezer for up to 3 months! Then simply thaw it overnight in the fridge & reheat it on the stovetop before tossing it with your pasta. Check out the Recipe Notes, below, for full freezing, thawing, & reheating instructions.
I can’t wait for you to try this Chicken Bolognese recipe! You will love how this sauce is lightened up, but still as rich, hearty, & flavor-forward as a more classic bolognese. It truly has the best of everything!
If you do give it a try, be sure to let us know! Leave a comment with a star rating below. You can also snap a photo & tag @playswellwithbutter on Instagram. We LOVE seeing your PWWB creations! ♡ Happy cooking!
More Recipes Like This:
Classic Italian Recipes
I fell in love with pasta bolognese during my time working in a fine dining Italian restaurant in the heart of downtown Milwaukee. After much begging, the restaurant’s chef taught me how to make it myself at home. The only problem? I didn’t always have time for the hours-long simmer required to properly cook a classic bolognese sauce. My solution? Create an equally delicious sauce using a leaner protein!
A quick adaptation of my popular Turkey Bolognese, this Chicken Bolognese recipe pairs ground chicken with fragrant aromatics & streamlined cooking to create restaurant-worthy richness despite the leaner protein & shorter simmer. It comes together relatively quickly & packs a huge punch of cozy flavor!
Once it’s beautifully simmered, all that’s left to do is marry the bolognese sauce with pasta. While tagliatelle or spaghetti might be most traditional, I highly recommend trying bucatini, a tubular spaghetti with the best hearty texture. Finish with some grated parm & a generous sprinkling of finely chopped fresh herbs, & it’s the ultimate comfort food meal. ♡ Happy cooking!
- 1 ½ pounds 93% lean ground chicken
- 2 medium carrots, diced
- 1 stalk celery, diced
- 1 medium yellow onion, diced
- 6 cloves garlic, finely chopped or grated
- one 28-ounce can whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- ¼ cup tomato paste
- 1 cup dry, unoaked white wine, such as Pinot Grigio
- 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
- 8–10 sprigs fresh thyme
- 2 dried bay leaves
- optional: 1 parmesan rind
- ½ cup chicken broth/stock or water
- ½ cup half & half
- ½ cup grated parmesan or pecorino romano
- 16 ounces bucatini or pasta of choice
- kosher salt & ground black pepper, to season
- for serving, as desired: grated parmesan or pecorino romano, finely chopped fresh parsley or fresh basil leaves, crushed red pepper flakes, etc.
- Prep: Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Prep the veggies, dicing the carrot, celery, & onion, & finely chopping the garlic. To roughly chop the San Marzano tomatoes, transfer them & their juices to a food processor & pulse until they’re as smooth or chunky as you like; you can also crush the tomatoes by hand if you prefer. Gather & measure remaining ingredients according to Ingredients List, above, placing them within an arm’s reach of the stovetop for a smooth cooking process.
- Brown the soffritto: Add the olive oil to a Dutch oven (or large, heavy-bottomed pot with lid) over medium-high heat. Once the oil is hot & shimmering, add the carrots, celery, & onion. Season with 1 teaspoon kosher salt, and stir to combine. Cook, stirring occasionally, until deeply browned & fragrant, 15-20 minutes. If the veggies begin to brown too quickly, reduce the heat to medium or medium-low. Once browned, push the soffritto mixture to the outer edges of the pot.
- Brown the chicken: Add the ground chicken to the center of the pot, such that it’s surrounded by the soffritto mixture, & season with 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Reduce heat to medium. Let the chicken brown 2-3 minutes without touching it, then turn it over & brown the second side 2-3 minutes before using a wooden spoon to break it apart into bite-sized pieces. Stir to combine with the soffritto mixture.
- Build the chicken bolognese sauce: Add the garlic & tomato paste to the Dutch oven, stirring to coat the ground chicken soffritto mixture. Cook 2-3 minutes, until browned & fragrant, then build the bolognese sauce. Deglaze the pan by slowly pouring in the white wine, using a wooden spoon to scrape up any browned bits that may have formed on the bottom of the pan. Once the wine is almost completely cooked off, add in the chopped San Marzano tomatoes & their juices, fresh rosemary & thyme, bay leaves, parmesan rind (if using), & chicken stock or water. Stir to combine. Bring the bolognese to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low. Partially cover the pot (place the lid on the pot such that it’s just partially covered, allowing some steam to escape as the sauce simmers) & simmer, stirring occasionally, for 15-20 minutes, until thickened.
- Cook the pasta: Meanwhile, as the chicken bolognese sauce simmers, cook the pasta. Add the pasta to the boiling salted water from Step 1. Cook to al dente according to package instructions, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. Once cooked, carefully dip a liquid measuring cup into the pot to reserve about 1 cup of the starchy pasta water, & set aside. Carefully drain the pasta. (Learn more! ⇢ How to Cook Pasta Perfectly Every Single Time!)
- Finish the chicken pasta bolognese: Remove the lid from the pot with the bolognese sauce, increasing heat to medium-high to maintain a steady simmer. Stir the half & half and grated parmesan into the bolognese. Cook 1-2 minutes, allowing everything to meld together. Add the pasta straight into the pot, tossing to coat it in the chicken bolognese. From here, adjust as needed so the chicken bolognese sauce evenly coats the pasta – if the mixture is too thick, toss in a little of the reserved pasta water; if the mixture is too loose, toss in an extra handful of parmesan cheese, etc. Cook over medium heat for 1-2 minutes, allowing the pasta to meld with & absorb some of the sauce.
- Serve immediately, topped with additional grated parmesan, chopped basil or parsley, &/or a sprinkling of crushed red pepper, as desired. Enjoy!
- Jess’ Notes & Tips:
- Ground chicken: I can’t emphasize the importance in using the right chicken mince for this chicken bolognese recipe! To result in the rich flavor & succulent texture that makes bolognese so craveworthy, the chicken needs a decent fat content. Look for at least 93% lean ground chicken, though if you can find 85-90%, that’s even better! If you’re purchasing from your grocery store’s butcher counter, ask for ground chicken thighs or dark meat. Please avoid using ground chicken breasts or ground chicken that’s more than 93% lean (e.g. 98% lean ground chicken breast) – if that’s all you can find, the best substitute is 93% lean ground turkey.
- Meal Prep: Nearly all of the active prep work for this chicken bolognese recipe comes from prepping the veggies. Take care of this in advance – it takes 10 minutes, tops! – & you can jump straight in to cooking during the week: dice 2 carrots, 1 stalk of celery, & 1 medium yellow onion. Transfer to an airtight container & store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. (10 minutes active)
- Make-Ahead, Storage, & Freezing:
- Pasta Bolognese Storage & Reheating: Leftover pasta bolognese will keep, stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator, for up to 5 days. Reheat leftovers in the microwave or on the stovetop until warmed through, adding a splash of stock or water as needed to loosen up the chicken bolognese sauce to your desired texture.
- Make-Ahead Chicken Bolognese Sauce Storage & Reheating: Chicken bolognese sauce is a great make-ahead recipe because it stores so well – it’s one of those things that gets even better as it sits & its flavors meld together! To store, prepare according to Steps 2-4 of Recipe Directions, above. Once cooled, transfer to an airtight container & store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Reheat bolognese sauce on the stovetop. Once simmering, finish according to Steps 5-7 of Recipe Directions, above.
- Chicken Bolognese Sauce Freezer Instructions: The chicken bolognese sauce is also incredibly freezer-friendly. To freeze, prepare according to Steps 2-4 of Recipe Directions, above. Once cooled, transfer to a freezer container or divide between multiple freezer containers for smaller portions – Souper Cubes are my absolute favorite freezer containers! Freeze for up to 3 months. To thaw, place the frozen chicken bolognese sauce in the refrigerator overnight or submerge the freezer container in room temperature water for a quicker thaw. Easily reheat on the stovetop. Once simmering, finish according to Steps 5-7 of Recipe Directions, above.
- Alternate Cooking Methods:
- Slow Cooker Chicken Bolognese: Prep the bolognese sauce according to Steps 2-3, then add garlic & tomato paste, & deglaze according to Step 4 of Recipe Directions, above. Transfer the chicken bolognese meat & soffritto mixture to the slow cooker, along with the fresh aromatics, tomatoes, & broth as directed in Step 4. Slow cook on high for 2 hours or on low for 4 hours, stirring occasionally. At dinnertime, cook the pasta & finish the pasta bolognese as directed in Steps 6-7; you can do this right in your slow cooker. If your Crockpot or slow cooker has a searing/browning feature, you can use it to cook the entire chicken bolognese sauce recipe (Steps 2-4, 6) in the slow cooker.
Recipe and Food Styling by Jess Larson, Plays Well With Butter | Photography by Rachel Cook, Half Acre House.