Rich Italian Comfort Food with a Lightened Up Twist!
If you’ve been around PWWB for a while, you know that pasta bolognese is one of my all-time favorite meals. We’ve shared a number of different versions over the years – my low & slow Best-Ever Bolognese, ultra-comforting Gnocchi Bolognese, & a quick & easy Weeknight Bolognese – but this ground Turkey Bolognese is actually one of the very first recipes we ever shared way back in 2016! I’ve been making it for 10+ years (it’s a staple in my eggplant lasagna!), & I figure it’s about time we put it back in the spotlight.
I lovingly refer to this turkey bolognese recipe as “fauxlognese” since this classic Italian sauce is traditionally made with a hearty combination of ground pork & beef. The ground turkey lightens things up a little bit, but the resulting sauce still delivers the richness that’s signature to a great bolognese. The turkey simmers with San Marzano tomatoes, aromatic veggies, herbs, & wine to build tons of restaurant-worthy flavor. It’s just as decadent as the “real deal” – just a smidge leaner!
The other benefit of making pasta bolognese with turkey is that it also cuts down on the amount of time the sauce takes to cook. This streamlined recipe creates a flavor-packed turkey bolognese sauce in an hour or less. While a classic bolognese sauce requires an hours-long simmer, this easy turkey bolognese only needs 15-20 minutes – perfect for busy nights when you’re craving something cozy! Simply toss it with bucatini, pappardelle, or tagliatelle & serve!
FREE Email Series: PWWB Pasta School
Make restaurant-worthy pasta at home!
Turkey Bolognese Recipe Highlights
You’ll love this ground turkey pasta bolognese recipe! It’s…
LIGHT YET HEARTY. Despite using a leaner protein, this ground turkey bolognese recipe results in a super decadent, rich & hearty sauce. You get the best of both worlds!
THE ULTIMATE COMFORT FOOD. The only thing better than simmering a rich & hearty turkey bolognese on a chilly day is tossing it with bouncy bucatini. The coziest meal!
RESTAURANT-QUALITY. Bright & sweet San Marzano tomatoes, white wine, & plenty of aromatics pack tons of classic flavor into the turkey bolognese sauce. A tried & true recipe inspired by my days working in a fine dining Italian restaurant!
Classic flavor with a lightened up twist! ♡ Read on to learn more about how to make Turkey Bolognese, or jump straight to the recipe & get cooking!
What is Bolognese, Exactly?
Bolognese is a type of ragu sauce typically made with beef & pork, white wine, milk, & a little tomato. It originated in Bologna, the largest city of Northern Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region. If you ask me, serving a bolognese is the ultimate expression of love since it’s the type of from-scratch meal that typically requires hours of TLC as it bubbles & simmers on the stovetop. Learn more! ⇢ PWWB’s Best-Ever Bolognese.
Can you make bolognese with turkey? ⇢ Here at the PWWB House, absolutely! This recipe is a twist on my tried & true traditional bolognese recipe, using ground turkey to create a lightened-up version. You can still achieve a ton of rich flavor with leaner meat! A few tricks like choosing at least 93% lean ground turkey, browning the veggies well, & really loading up on aromatics boost the flavor of the sauce to mimic the richness of more classic beef & pork.
Italians love to toss bolognese with a wide & flat noodle like pappardelle or tagliatelle. Here in the U.S., you’ll often see it served on spaghetti. I LOVE serving ground turkey bolognese with bucatini (pictured) because it has the best chewy texture. Bucatini bolognese FTW! 🙌🏼
The beauty of traditional Italian recipes like bolognese is all about transforming simple, humble ingredients into something extraordinary. This turkey bolognese recipe follows suit, using time to coax all the flavor out of a handful of staple ingredients.
Note: Full ingredients list & measurements provided in the Recipe Card, below.
- Ground turkey – It’s important to use at most 93% lean ground turkey here for richness – if you can find 85% lean, that’s even better! Using less lean poultry helps the meat mimic heartier ground beef & pork traditionally used for making Italian bolognese. If you can only find ground chicken, feel free to use it in place of turkey!
- Soffritto – This Italian holy trinity – a trusty mixture of carrots, celery, & onion – is the base of flavor for the entire turkey bolognese sauce! I like to chop the veggies by hand for chunkier, more rustic pieces, but you can definitely blitz everything up in a food processor for faster results.
- Aromatics – Garlic & fresh herbs like rosemary & thyme infuse big flavor into the turkey bolognese, while bay leaves & a parmesan rind richen the sauce. These flavor boosters are key to a restaurant-worthy turkey bolognese sauce!
- Tomatoes – The concentrated flavor of tomato paste gives the sauce richness, while hand-chopped whole-peeled tomatoes provide body. We love using San Marzano tomatoes for everything from bolognese to a quick & simple tomato sauce.
- White wine – I typically cook with Pinot Grigio but any dry, unoaked white wine works well for turkey bolognese.
- Finishing touches – A little half & half & a good amount of grated parmesan brings everything together.
- Pasta – Bucatini is my fave pasta to pair with this turkey bolognese recipe. Spaghetti or flatter noodles like pappardelle & tagliatelle also work really well – your preference!
How to Make Turkey Bolognese Sauce
Heat & time are key to any bolognese recipe. This requires a bit of patience as every step builds layer upon layer of flavor, but it always yields the best restaurant-worthy results. A big perk of this turkey bolognese recipe is that it comes together faster than a classic bolognese made with beef & pork!
Full Recipe Directions, including step-by-step photos, are included in the Recipe Card, below.
Brown the soffritto & turkey. Start by browning the carrots, celery, & onion super well (don’t rush it!), then add the ground turkey & let everything cook together. Why? ⇢ This step builds the foundation of flavor for the turkey bolognese sauce. It takes a solid 20-25 minutes to get everything deeply browned & it simply can’t be rushed. The payoff in flavor is worth it, especially for a leaner turkey bolognese!
Add aromatics & deglaze the pan. Stir in generous amounts of minced garlic & tomato paste, cooking until fragrant, then deglaze the pan with a little white wine. Why? ⇢ As soon as it hits the hot pan, the wine creates steam that releases the browned bits on the bottom (fond) – that’s where all the flavor is! Scrape them up as the wine simmers to pull the flavor of the fond into the ground turkey bolognese sauce.
Build & simmer the turkey bolognese. Add San Marzano tomatoes, fresh rosemary & thyme, bay leaves, chicken stock, & a parmesan rind to the pot, then bring everything to a simmer & cook, partially covered, for 15-20 minutes until the sauce starts to thicken. Finishing touches! ⇢ Once simmered, stir in a little heavy cream or half & half & grated parmesan to round out all the flavors of the sauce. At this point, all that’s left is to toss the turkey bolognese sauce with pasta!
Turkey Pasta Bolognese
Once the turkey bolognese is simmered to perfection, it’s time for the best part – serving it with some cozy carbohydrates!
Best pasta for turkey bolognese? ⇢ I LOVE serving bolognese with bucatini (pictured), a long, tubular spaghetti. It has a heartier texture than standard spaghetti, which stands up to the richness of the turkey bolognese sauce really well. If you prefer spaghetti or flatter pasta like pappardelle & tagliatelle – go for it! You pretty much can’t go wrong with pasta & meat sauce.
Full Recipe Directions, including step-by-step photos, are included in the Recipe Card, below.
How to Prepare Bucatini Bolognese Properly
The #1 mistake I see people make when serving bolognese is simply tossing a prepared sauce on a bed of al dente pasta – please don’t do this! The key to a restaurant-worthy pasta bolognese is allowing the pasta to cook with the sauce for a couple of minutes. This allows the two separate components to come together as one cohesive dish.
Here’s what you’ll do…
Cook the pasta in a large pot of salted water until just al dente (take a look at the package directions for timing!). Reserve 1 cup of the starchy pasta water, then carefully drain the pasta – but do not rinse it! Why? ⇢ Rinsing removes the starches from the surface of the pasta, which prevents the turkey bolognese sauce from properly adhering to the bucatini. Not ideal! (Learn more! ⇢ How to Cook Pasta Perfectly Every Single Time!)
Toss! Add the hot pasta straight into the pot with the turkey 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. This is also a great opportunity to taste & adjust seasoning, too.
Simmer & serve. Let the bucatini bolognese simmer for 1-2 minutes, allowing the pasta to absorb some of the turkey bolognese sauce as it finishes cooking. Serve the turkey bolognese pasta in individual bowls with an extra sprinkle of parmesan & fresh parsley or basil.
Other Tips, Tricks, & Alternate Cooking Methods
Slow Cooker Turkey Bolognese
Make this recipe even more weeknight-friendly by prepping the turkey bolognese in your Crock Pot or Slow Cooker! 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 turkey on the stovetop for ultimate richness. All that’s left to do at dinnertime is cooking the bucatini & finishing the turkey bolognese pasta right in the slow cooker. Refer to the Recipe Notes, below, for more guidance!
Make-Ahead Turkey Bolognese
One of my favorite things about bolognese sauce is its flavors only get better with time. This makes a turkey bolognese sauce super make ahead-friendly! To prep it in advance, make the sauce & let it cool completely before storing in the fridge. At dinnertime, simply reheat the turkey bolognese on the stovetop, toss in the cooked bucatini, & adjust as needed. Check the Recipe Notes, below, for a full make-ahead instructions!
Hearty bolognese sauce is also incredibly freezer-friendly (frozen bolognese is one of my favorite meal prep secrets!). Once you prepare the sauce, let it cool completely & transfer it to a freezer container. You can keep the sauce in your freezer for up to 3 months! Thaw the turkey bolognese overnight in the fridge & reheat on the stovetop before tossing in the cooked bucatini. Easy! Full freezing, thawing, & reheating directions provided in the Recipe Notes below!
I can’t wait for you to try this Turkey 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 – ground turkey.
This particular turkey bolognese, which I’ve lovingly dubbed “fauxlognese,” is a recipe I’ve been making in the past 10+ years since – in fact, it was one of the first recipes we ever shared here on PWWB back in 2016!
It’s essentially a halfway point between PWWB’s Best-Ever Bolognese (the real-deal restaurant version I fell in love with, made with decadent ingredients like pancetta & slowly simmered for next-level richness) & my Weeknight Bolognese (a quicker cooking recipe with a few shortcut ingredients). It pairs ground turkey with fragrant aromatics & streamlined cooking to create restaurant-worthy richness despite the simmer & leaner protein. 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 pound 93% lean ground turkey
- 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 (see Recipe Notes), roughly chopped
- 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 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 basil or parsley, crushed red pepper flakes, etc.
- Turkey bolognese 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 turkey: Add the ground turkey 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 turkey 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 turkey bolognese sauce: Add the garlic & tomato paste to the Dutch oven, stirring to coat the ground turkey 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 turkey bolognese sauce simmers, cook the pasta. Add the pasta to the boiling salted water from Step 1. Cook to al dente according to package directions, 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 turkey 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 turkey bolognese. From here, adjust as needed so the turkey 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!
- 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 in the microwave or on the stovetop until warmed through, adding a splash of stock or water as needed to loosen up the turkey bolognese sauce to your desired texture.
- Make-Ahead Turkey Bolognese Sauce Storage & Reheating: This turkey bolognese sauce is the perfect 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.
- Turkey Bolognese Sauce Freezer Instructions: This turkey 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 turkey 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 Turkey 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 turkey 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 turkey bolognese sauce recipe (Steps 2-4, 6) in the slow cooker.
- 10-Minute Meal Prep: Nearly all of the active prep work for this turkey 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 medium 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)
Keywords: pasta bolognese, ground turkey bolognese, lightened up turkey bolognese