Weeknight Bolognese

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This Easy Weeknight Bolognese recipe delivers everything there is to love about classic pasta bolognese in 60 minutes or less! This hearty Italian meat sauce is made with ground turkey, tomatoes, wine, & loads of aromatics, but a simple secret ingredient eliminates the hours of simmering typically associated with scratch-made bolognese sauce without compromising any rich flavor. The result? A bold, rich, & deeply flavorful turkey bolognese sauce that begs to be tossed into a pile of pasta for the perfect weeknight pasta bolognese dinner.

Stovetop & Slow Cooker instructions provided!

An overhead shot of a large pot filled with weeknight bolognese topped with fresh basil & grated parmesan cheese. A wooden serving spoon is tucked inside of the pasta. While two small pinch bowls filled with parmesan cheese & red pepper flakes, a bunch of fresh herbs, & a blue & white striped linen napkin rest alongside the pot on a creamy white surface.

Everything to Love About Homemade Pasta Bolognese…in 60 Minutes or Less!!!

If you’ve been around PWWB for a while, you know that my truest culinary love in life is pasta. There’s nothing I love more than a good pasta dish & pasta recipes are my absolute favorite to develop. Out of all of the pasta dishes that I love (trust me, there’s a lot of them!) the one I couldn’t live without is, without a doubt, pasta bolognese. Pasta bolognese is my all-time favorite meal.

In fact, one of our most popular recipes here on PWWB is my Best-Ever Bolognese, a luscious, rich & hearty Italian meat sauce made with ground beef & pork, pancetta, red wine, & tomatoes. A recipe I tweaked & perfected over the course of 10+ years, it’s absolutely perfect & everyone who tries it loves it.

Why share a new bolognese recipe, then? Pretty simple. My best-ever recipe simmers for hours to develop the rich, deep, & crave-worthy flavor signature to classic bolognese. It’s the real deal, & it’s so good, but as a food blogger dedicated to sharing weeknight-friendly recipes, I’ve always wondered whether I could streamline my bolognese a bit without compromising flavor. Fortunately, the answer is YES, & the result is this Weeknight Pasta Bolognese.

This easy bolognese recipe delivers everything there is to love about classic pasta bolognese in 60 minutes or less! It’s made with ground turkey, tomatoes, wine, & loads of aromatics, but one simple secret ingredient eliminates the hours of simmering typically associated with scratch-made bolognese sauce without compromising any rich flavor.

Sound too good to be true? My friend, I promise you that it’s not. Weeknight Pasta Bolognese is a game-changer.

A close up of weeknight bolognese sauce tossed into rigatoni pasta, served in a small light gray & speckled ceramic bowl with gold flatware. The quick bolognese is topped with grated cheese & fresh basil. A small pinch bowl with red pepper flakes & a blue & white striped linen napkin rest near the bowl on a creamy white surface.

Weeknight Bolognese Recipe Highlights

You’ll love this Weeknight Bolognese Recipe because it’s…

  • RICH & COMFORTING. A hearty Italian meat sauce made with ground turkey, tomatoes, wine, & loads of aromatics. The ultimate comfort food!
  • WEEKNIGHT-FRIENDLY. Rather than simmering for hours & hours to develop rich flavor, this easy bolognese recipe leans on a couple of smart ingredients to make the cooking process slightly more streamlined. It’s a one-pot recipe that comes together in 60 minutes or less!
  • TOTALLY RESTAURANT WORTHY! Despite its relatively short cook time, this easy bolognese recipe still delivers the big, bold, rich flavor that makes pasta bolognese so crave-worthy.

& seriously, what’s not to love about that?! ♡ Read on to learn more about this Weeknight Bolognese, or jump straight to the recipe & get cookin’!

First thing’s first – What is Bolognese?

Great question, with a delicious answer! But, to fully understand what bolognese is, you must first understand ragu.

Ragu is a term used to describe a type of Italian meat sauce, usually slowly simmered over the course of a couple of hours with some veggies & tomatoes. So while it usually has tomatoes (like marinara) & is usually finished with a splash of cream (like creamy pasta sauces), ragu is kind of its own thing. Ragu is all about meat, & making sure the meat shines. You can make all kinds of ragu sauces: porklamb, roasted duck, wild boar, hearty mushroom, & so on. While all are made with different main ingredients, the common element of ragu is the fact that the meat (or a meaty ingredient) is totally the star of the show.

Bolognese is likely the most famous ragu sauce. Originating in Bologna, the largest city of the Emilia-Romagna region in Northern Italy, authentic bolognese is typically made with beef, pork, white wine, milk, & a little tomato.

What’s weeknight bolognese, then? Pretty simple! Rather than simmering for hours to develop rich flavor, this easy bolognese recipe leans on a couple of smart ingredients to make the cooking process slightly more streamlined. As a result, it’s a one-pot recipe that comes together in 60 minutes or less, perfect for weeknight cooking!

What’s in Bolognese Sauce? Weeknight Bolognese Key Ingredients.

Like many traditional Italian recipes, bolognese is all about giving humble ingredients a little TLC to transform into an amazing meal with deep, rich flavor. I’m the first to admit that this easy bolognese recipe has a lengthier ingredients list, but they’re all pretty simple staples that you likely already have in your kitchen.

Weeknight Bolognese ingredients arranged on a creamy cement surface - olive oil, carrots, celery, yellow onion, 94% lean ground turkey, garlic, tomato paste, dry white wine, fresh rosemary, fresh sage, fresh thyme, bay leaves, parmesan rind, pasta sauce, chicken stock, & pasta noodles.

Note: full ingredients list & measurements provided in the Recipe Card, below.

The key ingredients include…

  • Ground turkey – Whereas traditional bolognese is typically made with ground beef or ground pork, I like opting for a slightly leaner option for weeknight cooking. Ground turkey is great! Avoid extra lean turkey as it dries out very quickly – not ideal for a simmered meat sauce! Choose dark ground turkey or at least 93% lean ground turkey.
  • Soffritto – The Italian holy trinity, a flavorful mixture of carrots, celery, & onion.
  • Aromatics – Loads of garlic & hardy fresh herbs create big bold flavor, while bay leaves & a parmesan rind richen the sauce despite its quick cook time.
  • Dry white wine – I typically cook with Pinot Grigio. If you’d like to try an Italian wine, Verdicchio is great (similar to an unoaked Chardonnay) & Soave is one of my faves (it’s similar to Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio).
  • Jarred marinara sauce – The secret ingredient! While traditional bolognese is made with crushed tomatoes, a good, high-quality jarred marinara sauce has presumably already been simmered for hours. This simple swap eliminates the need to cook the bolognese for a long period.
  • Finishing touches – Notably pasta, half & half, & a good amount of parmesan to bring everything together.

Quick Ingredients Tips & Tricks:

  • Since it provides this easy bolognese with a lot of its flavor, using high-quality jarred marinara is a must. I absolutely love DeLallo’s Pomodoro Fresco Marinara (pictured). It’s made with simple ingredients & has seriously amazing flavor.
  • Fresh herbs & a parmesan rind are also must-haves! I use a combination of fresh rosemary, sage, & thyme, which is conveniently sold packaged as ‘poultry herbs’ at most conventional grocery stores. Parmesan rind is also available at most grocery stores with a nice cheese selection. Store it in the freezer & it’ll keep forever. It’s a great add-in for soups & sauces!

Meal Prep Tip! ⇢ Nearly all of the active prep work for this weeknight bolognese comes from chopping the soffritto veggies. Take care of this in advance by dicing the carrots, celery, & onion – it takes 10 minutes, tops! Check the Recipe Notes, below, for more guidance.

How to Make Bolognese…in 60 minutes or less!

Prepping this weeknight bolognese recipe is really similar to prepping a traditional bolognese sauce – both use a similar method & techniques. However, while traditional bolognese involves an hours-long process of steady simmering to coax all the flavor out of the ingredients, this weeknight bolognese recipe is slightly more streamlined. It’s a one-pot recipe that comes together in 60 minutes or less.

Full Recipe Directions, including step-by-step photos, are included in the Recipe Card, below.

An overview of the key steps…

  1. Brown the soffritto & turkey. Cook the soffritto mixture in olive oil until deeply browned & fragrant, about 15-20 minutes, then add in the turkey & brown for 5 minutes more. Why? ⇢ Taking the time to ensure the soffritto & turkey brown deeply adds so much flavor to the weeknight bolognese sauce! As the soffritto cooks, browned bits (i.e. fond) develop on the bottom of the pan. It’s the foundation of the entire sauce. Don’t rush this process – now’s not the time for shortcuts!
  2. Deglaze. Slowly pour white wine into the pot, using a wooden spoon to scrape up the fond from bottom of the pot. Why? ⇢ The wine creates steam as it hits the hot pot, releasing the browned bits that developed on the bottom. This is where the flavor is, so you want to scrape it up to incorporate it into your easy bolognese sauce.
  3. Build the sauce. Build the bolognese sauce, adding in the remaining ingredients: fresh herbs, bay leaves, parmesan rind, & marinara sauce. Give it a good stir, & let it simmer for 15 minutes, just to bring all of the flavors together. Why? ⇢ A good, high-quality jarred marinara sauce has presumably already been simmered for hours, eliminating the need to cook the bolognese for a long period of time!

That’s it! Less than 60 minutes later you’ll have a rich, flavorful, & totally restaurant worthy meat sauce, ready to be tossed into the best weeknight pasta bolognese ever.

Weeknight bolognese sauce made with turkey in a large pot with a wooden spoon inside.

Alternate Cooking Methods – Slow Cooker Turkey Bolognese!

For an even weeknight-friendlier meal, prep your bolognese sauce in your slow cooker or Crock Pot! I suggest browning the soffritto & turkey on the stovetop to develop those rich flavors, then transfer to a slow cooker to build the sauce with the rest of the ingredients. Full slow cooker directions provided in the Recipe Notes, below!

How to Make Pasta Bolognese.

Serving pasta bolognese isn’t quite as simple as plopping some of the prepared sauce on top of al dente pasta. This is the #1 mistake I see people make when it comes to serving pasta at home. Please, please don’t do this!

Instead, al dente pasta should always cook with the sauce for couple of minutes on the stovetop, allowing the two separate components to come together into one cohesive dish. If you feel like your pasta never turns out as good as it does in a restaurant, this simple step will help tremendously!

An overhead shot of a large pot filled with weeknight bolognese sauce mixed with rigatoni pasta noodles. The pot sits atop a creamy white surface.

Full Recipe Directions, including step-by-step photos, are included in the Recipe Card, below.

How to make awesome weeknight pasta bolognese:

  1. Boil pasta: Cook your pasta of choice (suggestions below) in generously salted water, just until the pasta reaches al dente. Just as the pasta reaches al dente, carefully dip a liquid measuring cup into the pot to reserve about 1 cup of the starchy pasta water. Drain the pasta, but do NOT rinse it. Why? ⇢ Rinsing washes the starchy goodness off the surface of the pasta, preventing it from absorbing & clinging to the bolognese sauce.
  2. Finish the bolognese sauce: Meanwhile, stir half & half and grated parmesan into the bolognese. Cook 1-2 minutes, allowing everything to meld together. Why? ⇢ Half & half adds beautiful richness to the bolognese, while grated parmesan helps tighten up the sauce.
  3. Finish the weeknight pasta bolognese: Add the cooked pasta straight into the bolognese sauce, tossing to coat it well. Adjust as needed so the 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 for a couple minutes more, allowing the pasta to meld with & absorb some of the sauce.

What’s the best pasta to serve with bolognese sauce?

Generally speaking, heavy sauces like bolognese & ragu are best served with wide noodles like pappardelle. Here in the US, you’ll often see it served on spaghetti though I personally love using bucatini, a tubular spaghetti with the best chewy texture. If you prefer a short noodle, try rigatoni (pictured); its tubular shape captures bits & pieces of the bolognese for even more delicious bites of pasta.

My favorite pastas come from DeLallo. Their pastas are made with just 2 ingredients – expertly milled durum wheat & Italian spring water – & they’re extruded through bronze dies to create a rough, textured surface that allows the sauce to latch onto the pasta.

A large pot filled with weeknight bolognese topped with fresh basil & grated parmesan cheese. A wooden serving spoon is tucked inside of the pasta & a blue & white striped linen napkin rest alongside the pot.

Other Easy Bolognese Tips & Tricks:

Can I make the bolognese sauce ahead of time?

YES, absolutely! It’s the perfect make-ahead recipe. Bolognese is one of those things that stores beautifully since it gets even better as it sits & its flavors meld together. On Sunday or whenever you meal prep, prep the sauce. Rather than serving it right away, transfer to an airtight container & store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. At dinnertime, simply bring the sauce to a simmer & prep your weeknight pasta bolognese. Easy! For additional guidance, full make-ahead & reheating instructions are provided in the Recipe Notes, below.

Can I freeze my leftovers?

YES, absolutely! This easy bolognese sauce is also incredibly freezer-friendly. Transfer the bolognese sauce to freezer containers & freeze up to 3 months. These are my absolute favorite freezer containers to freeze in smaller portions. Fore more guidance, full freezing & thawing instructions are also provided in the Recipe Notes, below.

A close up of weeknight bolognese sauce tossed into rigatoni pasta, served in a small light gray & speckled ceramic bowl with gold flatware. The quick bolognese is topped with grated cheese & fresh basil. A small pinch bowl with parmesan cheese. a bunch of fresh basil, & a blue & white striped linen napkin rest near the bowl on a creamy white surface.

Can I make this weeknight bolognese a little richer?

I opted to develop this weeknight bolognese with ground turkey since we enjoy slightly leaner meals during the week here at the PWWB House. You can absolutely make this easy bolognese recipe using protein with a little more richness, like ground beef or ground pork (or a combination of the two!).

For the ultimate hearty meal, definitely try my Best-Ever Bolognese made with ground beef, ground pork, & pancetta for extra richness. It takes about 3 hours to make, so it’s not quite weeknight friendly, but a make-ahead approach is detailed in the post.

Weeknight bolognese sauce tossed into rigatoni pasta, served in a small light gray & speckled ceramic bowl with gold flatware. The quick bolognese is topped with grated cheese & fresh basil. A bunch of fresh herbs, two small pinch bowls with parmesan cheese & red pepper flakes, & a blue & white striped linen napkin rest near the bowl on a creamy white surface. Another speckled ceramic bowl filled with weeknight bolognese is partially shown.

I cannot wait for you to try this Weeknight Pasta Bolognese! I am absolutely positive you’ll love it just as much as we do. If you do give it a try, be sure to let me know! Leave a comment with a star rating below. You can also snap a photo & tag @playswellwithbutter on Instagram. I LOVE hearing about & seeing your PWWB creations!

Love Weeknight Pasta Recipes? You’re in the right place! Be sure to try my Spicy Italian Sausage & Peppers Pasta, Lemony Basil Creamy Vegan Pasta, or Seared Scallop Pesto Pasta next. Happy cooking! ♡

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Weeknight bolognese sauce tossed into rigatoni pasta, served in a small light gray & speckled ceramic bowl with gold flatware. The quick bolognese is topped with grated cheese & fresh basil. Two small pinch bowls with parmesan cheese & red pepper flakes & a blue & white striped linen napkin rest near the bowl on a creamy white surface. Another speckled ceramic bowl filled with weeknight bolognese is partially shown.

The BEST Weeknight Bolognese

  • Author: Jess Larson
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cook Time: 45 minutes
  • Total Time: 60 minutes
  • Yield: serves 46 1x
  • Category: Pasta Recipe, Main Dish
  • Method: Stovetop
  • Cuisine: Italian

Description

Delivering everything there is to love about classic pasta bolognese in 60 minutes or less, this hearty Easy Weeknight Bolognese is made with ground turkey, tomatoes, wine, loads of aromatics, & a simple secret ingredient eliminates the hours of simmering typically associated with scratch-made bolognese sauce without compromising any rich flavor.


Ingredients

Scale
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 medium carrots, diced
  • 1 stalk celery, diced
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 1 pound 94% lean ground turkey
  • 6 cloves garlic, finely chopped or grated
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine, such as Pinot Grigio
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 46 sprigs fresh sage
  • 810 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 parmesan rind
  • 1 (one) 25-ounce jar pasta sauce of choice
  • up to 1 cup chicken stock or water
  • 1/4 cup half & half
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan or pecorino romano
  • 16 ounces pasta of choice
  • kosher salt & ground black pepper, to season
  • for serving, as desired: grated parmesan or pecorino romano, finely chopped basil or parsleycrushed red pepper flakes, etc.

Instructions

  1. Prep: Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Prep the veggies, dicing the carrot, celery, & onion. Gather & measure remaining ingredients according to Ingredients List, above, placing them within an arm’s reach of the stovetop for a smooth cooking process.Weeknight Bolognese ingredients arranged on a creamy cement surface - olive oil, carrots, celery, yellow onion, 94% lean ground turkey, garlic, tomato paste, dry white wine, fresh rosemary, fresh sage, fresh thyme, bay leaves, parmesan rind, pasta sauce, chicken stock, & pasta noodles.
  2. 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 1/2 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.How to make weeknight bolognese, step 2: browning the soffritto in a large white pot. The pot sits atop a creamy white surface.
  3. Brown the turkey: Season the ground turkey all over with 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Add to the center of the pot, such that it’s surrounded by the soffritto mixture. 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. How to make weeknight bolognese, step 3: browning the turkey or meat of choice along with the soffritto in a large white pot. The pot sits atop a creamy white surface.
  4. Build the 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 rosemary, sage, thyme, bay leaves, parmesan rind, pasta sauce, & chicken stock or water. Stir to combine. Bring the bolognese to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low. Cover & simmer, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes.
  5. Cook pasta: Meanwhile, as the weeknight bolognese 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, and set aside. Carefully drain the pasta. An overhead shot of a mesh strainer sitting over a large white pot filled with strained rigatoni pasta noodles. The pot sits atop a creamy white surface.
  6. Finish the 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 bolognese sauce. From here, adjust as needed so the 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.An overhead shot of a large pot filled with weeknight bolognese sauce mixed with rigatoni pasta noodles. The pot sits atop a creamy white surface.
  7. Serve immediately, topped with additional grated parmesan, chopped basil or parsley, &/or a sprinkling of crushed red pepper, as desired. Enjoy!Weeknight bolognese sauce tossed into rigatoni pasta, served in a small light gray & speckled ceramic bowl with gold flatware. The quick bolognese is topped with grated cheese & fresh basil. Two small pinch bowls with parmesan cheese & red pepper flakes & a blue & white striped linen napkin rest near the bowl on a creamy white surface. Another speckled ceramic bowl filled with weeknight bolognese is partially shown.


Notes

  • Storage, Reheating, & 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 until warmed through. 
    • Make-Ahead Easy Bolognese Sauce Storage & Reheating: This easy bolognese sauce is also 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. 
    • Easy Bolognese Sauce Freezer Instructions: This easy 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 – these are my absolute favorite freezer containers! Freeze for up to 3 months. To thaw, place the frozen 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 of Recipe Directions, above. Add garlic & tomato paste & cook according to Step 4 of Recipe Directions, above. Transfer the weeknight bolognese meat mixture to the slow cooker, along with the fresh aromatics, pasta sauce, & broth as directed in Step 4. Slow cook on high for 2 hours or on low for 4 hours, stirring occasionally. Finish as directed in Steps 8-11; you can do this right in your slow cooker. If your slow cooker has a searing/browning feature, you can use it to cook the entire bolognese sauce recipe (Steps 2-4, 6) in the slow cooker. 
  • 10-Minute Meal Prep: Nearly all of the active prep work for this weeknight bolognese 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: weeknight bolognese, easy bolognese, turkey bolognese sauce recipe, pasta recipes, comfort food recipes, weeknight dinner

Recipe & Food Styling by Jess Larson, Plays Well With Butter | Photography by Rachel Cook, Half Acre House.

Follow along with Plays Well With Butter on Instagram, Facebook, & Pinterest for more easy, modern recipes & fun!

Hi there, I'm Jess!

If there’s 1 thing to know about me, it’s this: I am head-over-heels in love with food. I’m on a mission to make weeknight cooking flavorful, fast, & fun for other foodies, & PWWB is where I share foolproof recipes that deliver major flavor with minimal effort. Other true loves: pretty shoes, puppies, Grey’s Anatomy, & my cozy kitchen in Minneapolis, MN.

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