To me, Bolognese sauce is the essence of cooking: The sizzling of vegetables, the layering of flavors, and then the long, slow simmer to reach perfection. And that perfection is easy to reach. There's not a lot of measuring or precision involved, just patience and love.
The challenge for me was how to make the sauce healthy. Classic, though not necessarily traditional, recipes call for up to three types of meat (beef, pork, and veal) plus pancetta or bacon. Sometimes, the veggies are cooked in butter since it's a northern Italian recipe where butter is used as well as olive oil. I've seen recipes list heavy cream in the ingredients. First, I swapped out all the ground meat for ground turkey. Next, I made the pancetta optional. Last, I eliminated butter and heavy cream. What did I keep? The vegetables, the layers of flavor, and the slow cooking method to create all that flavor.
This is the kind of recipe that is great to make on a weekend or when you have time to slowly cook the sauce. That way, if you're busy during the week, you can store it for five days in the fridge or three months in the freezer and use it when needed. It's perfect for a cold day, over pasta, or zoodles, or polenta. If you like cheese, it benefits from a liberal sprinkling of the best quality Parmesan you can afford (I get mine at Trader Joe's). And if you have leftover Parmesan rinds, definitely throw one or a couple into the sauce for the last hour of simmering as it will really develop the umami flavor of the sauce.
Healthy & Delicious Turkey Bolognese
Makes 4 - 6 servings, and still you may have a little leftover
2 oz. pancetta, cubed, optional
2 medium yellow onions, diced
2 medium carrots, diced
2-3 stalks of celery, diced
2-4 cloves of garlic, minced
2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon hot pepper flakes or more to taste
2 to 4 Tablespoons of tomato paste
1/2 cup white wine or chicken broth
1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds ground turkey
1 cup chicken broth
Parmesan rind, optional
salt and pepper
fresh Italian parsley, chopped, for garnish
pasta, polenta, zoodles, etc. for serving
In a large pot, brown the pancetta over medium heat. Remove the pancetta, but not the drippings, from the pan.
Add the onions, carrots, celery, garlic and olive oil to the pan. Stir so the veggies are coated in the pan drippings and olive oil. Saute over medium heat for 10-15 minutes until the vegetables are soft and the onions are just beginning to turn color. Stir in the tomato paste and pepper flakes and continue to cook over medium heat for one minute. Add the wine (or 1/2 cup of chicken broth) to the pan and stir to release the brown bits stuck to the bottom of the pan.
Add the turkey. Break it up into small pieces using a fork or two wooden spoons (what my husband calls the "choppy choppy" method). Once the turkey is broken up, lower the heat to low, add the chicken broth, pancetta, and Parmesan rind (if using), and simmer for 30 minutes to one hour.
During the last 20 to 30 minutes of cooking, prepare what you plan to serve the Bolognese sauce over, whether that's pasta or polenta or something else.
Once you have simmered the sauce, taste it, and add salt and pepper as needed. Remove the Parmesan rind. At this point, it is ready to serve over your favorite pasta or polenta. If you are using it later, let it cool to room temperature. Next, package it in a storage container and either place it in the fridge for up to five days or in the freezer for up to two months.
Nutritional awesomeness: Ground turkey is an excellent source of protein. If it is pasture-raised, it also will contain a good ratio of omega-3 fatty acids to omega-6 fatty acids. Ground turkey is a good source of niacin and vitamin B6. You can read about the health benefits of vitamin B6 here. Olive oil is a monounsaturated fatty acid that has been shown to help lower bad cholesterol. It contains polyphenols which are powerful antioxidants. Studies in Europe have concluded that olive oil consumption helps lower blood pressure. One Greek study with 36,000 participants concluded that there is an inverse relationship between eating olive oil and rates of cancer. Onions are a good source of Vitamin C. Carrots are an excellent source of Vitamin A, which promotes vision health, bone growth, and immunity. Celery is an excellent source of Vitamin K, which is essential for blood clotting and recovering from injuries.