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Healthy Ground Turkey Bolognese

If you thought making restaurant-quality bolognese with ground turkey was impossible, think again! This healthy spin simmers extra lean ground turkey with aromatics, Calabrian chiles, tomatoes, milk, and a couple secret ingredients to make a rich, flavorful bolognese perfect for a week’s worth of high protein pasta dishes, lasagna, and more.

Every one-cup serving of this ground turkey bolognese has 23 grams of protein with just 8 grams of fat and 240 calories. So you can get really creative with how you use your big batch of Sunday gravy. Turkey pasta is just the beginning!

ground turkey bolognese with pappardelle pasta, chopped parsley, and parmigiano reggiano

How to Make Bolognese with Ground Turkey

Classic bolognese starts with aromatics in olive oil (also known as soffritto), and that’s how my turkey bolognese starts. But be warned, this isn’t the most classic bolognese you’ll come across.

After softening carrots, onion, and celery in a bit of olive oil with salt and pepper, the recipe starts to stray from tradition with the addition of Calabrian chiles (and some more traditional crushed or minced garlic). You can totally use some tomato paste instead of Calabrian chiles, but I love the little kick and fruity notes of the chile paste.

Then comes the ground turkey. The recipe calls for two pounds, which brings up a good point: Bolognese is a meat sauce. It should be thick and meaty, much thicker than something like, say, chili.

sweating mire poix, adding calabrian chiles and garlic, cooking ground turkey, and simmering with white wine

Wine and Milk?

Once ground turkey is added, broken apart, and fully cooked, twelve ounces of dry white wine is added and simmered until the liquid evaporates. The alcohol in the wine fully cooks off, but you can easily skip the wine by swapping it for something like chicken broth with a tablespoon or two of vinegar for acidity.

Wine is included in bolognese recipes to provide brightness via acidity. And as you’ll see later, I like to add some extra vinegar before serving. There are plenty of workarounds.

Speaking of acidity, let’s talk about tomatoes. I used fire roasted chopped tomatoes from famed pizza maker Chris Bianco’s line of tomatoes, Bianco DiNapoli. San Marzano tomatoes are the gold standard, but I find these are amazing, and I always like using fire roasted tomatoes if possible. It’s optional, but I ran the tomatoes through a food processor to blend completely smooth. If the tomatoes you’re using are quite chunky, I’d recommend doing the same.

adding crushed tomatoes, whole milk, and Italian seasoning to the ground turkey and vegetables, adding balsamic vinegar to the finished bolognese

In addition to the tomatoes, I opted for dried Italian seasoning to pack some herby flavors into the sauce. You’re welcome to use fresh herbs or any seasoning blend here.

So what about milk? Seems like a strange ingredient for bolognese, no? The dairy is actually an important ingredient to keep the extra lean ground turkey tender and bind the sauce together. For more info on the food science side of things, I’ll always point you to J. Kenji Lopez-Alt.

In case you’re wondering about using skim milk instead of whole milk like the recipe calls for, I’ve tested skim milk in similar recipes like my pumpkin ground beef bolognese without any issues. This is already a low fat recipe, but this swap could save an extra two grams of fat per serving or so.

adding freshly grated parmigiano reggiano to the finished turkey bolognese

Simmering and Finishing

The recipe calls for a long simmer with the lid slightly ajar. This is so the liquid can reduce, thickening the bolognese as it cooks. Some people like to cook their bolognese completely uncovered in an oven, but I think a low heat on the stovetop gets the job done just fine and is less of a hassle.

Taking inspiration from the aforementioned Kenji, my turkey bolognese calls for finishing with a tablespoon of fish sauce. This adds some extra umami to the sauce and brings out the “meatiness” of the dish. Don’t worry—there’s zero fishy taste. There are other ways to add similar flavor compounds with ingredients like Worcestershire sauce or soy sauce.

I also like to add a touch of sweetness (and brightness) with some balsamic vinegar and freshness with chopped parsley.

The recipe calls for salting to taste, but you may also want to add some freshly grated parmigiano reggiano or parmesan cheese to the bolognese. This will both add salinity (and a little umami) and help bind the sauce if it’s not quite as thick as you’d like.

Side note: If this recipe looks like a lot and you’re looking for something a bit easier, check out my 30 minute turkey lasagna casserole. It uses a jar of marinara and a few other shortcuts to make quick work of packing flavor into a ground turkey pasta dish.

My Favorite Healthy Ways to Serve Turkey Bolognese

Bolognese works best, in my opinion, with wide pastas like pappardelle, tagliatelle, or fettuccine. You can find high protein pasta options like the Carba-Nada noodles I used to make my high protein dan dan noodles or low carb options like homemade zoodles, hearts of palm (see the low carb lasagna pictured below) or plant-based chickpea or lentil pastas.

That said, if you’ve seen the pasta comparison in my protein mac and cheese recipe, I think most of the “impastas” aren’t necessarily worth it when comparing the nutrition facts to traditional pasta.

cauliflower gnocchi bolognese, pappardelle bolognese, pumpkin bolognese with pasta shells, and lasagna with bolognese

Pasta is the obvious choice, but what about non-traditional ways to use leftover turkey bolognese?

  • grilled cheese sandwiches, garlic bread sloppy joes, or sliders
  • put your leftover bolognese in a piping bag and make cannelloni or stuffed shells
  • roll leftovers in some Greek yogurt dough for a lighter spin on bolognese sausage rolls
  • combine the bolognese with other spices and vegetables or beans for a spin on chili or curry
  • I saw a comment in a Reddit thread about making shepherd’s pie with leftover bolognese. Check out my turkey shepherd’s pie for an easy mashed potato crust.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this turkey bolognese recipe and how you end up using it. Let me know in a recipe review or comment below. And I’m always happy to help with recipe questions. If you have one, leave it in the comments.

ground turkey bolognese pasta in a bowl garnished with parsley and parmigiano reggiano

High Protein Turkey Bolognese

Yield: 10 Servings
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 2 hours 30 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours 45 minutes

Extra lean ground turkey simmered with aromatics, tomatoes, Calabrian chiles, herbs, and spices for a rich meat sauce perfect for high protein pastas, lasagna, and more.

Ingredients

  • 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
  • 1 medium Onion, diced
  • 5 medium Carrots, peeled and diced
  • 2 stalks Celery, diced
  • 2 teaspoons Kosher Salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon Black Pepper
  • 4 cloves Garlic, minced or crushed
  • 2 Tablespoons Calabrian Chiles (or tomato paste)
  • 2 pounds Extra Lean Ground Turkey
  • 1 1/2 cup Dry White Wine (or chicken broth with 1-2 tablespoons vinegar or lemon juice)
  • 28 oz can Crushed Tomatoes
  • 2 cups Whole Milk
  • 1 teaspoon Italian Seasoning
  • 1/4 teaspoon Allspice
  • 3 Bay Leaves

For Finishing

  • 2 Tablespoons Balsamic Vinegar
  • 1 Tablespoon Fish Sauce (optional)
  • 1-2 handfuls Freshly Chopped Parsley

Instructions

  1. Heat the olive oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Once hot, add the onion, celery, carrots, salt, and pepper. Sweat the vegetables for 6-8 minutes, stirring often, until they have started to soften. Add the garlic and Calabrian chiles and cook for another 1-2 minutes until fragrant.
  2. Increase the heat to medium-high and add the ground turkey. Break it apart and cook for another 5-6 minutes until the turkey is fully cooked and no pink remains.
  3. Once the turkey is cooked, add the wine and cook for another 8-10 minutes until it's mostly evaporated.
  4. Add the tomatoes, milk, Italian seasoning, allspice, and bay leaves. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat to low, cover the pot but leave the lid slightly open, and simmer for 1-2 hours, stirring occasionally.
  5. Once the liquid has reduced and the bolognese has thickened, add the balsamic vinegar and the optional fish sauce and fresh herbs. Salt to taste or add freshly grated parmigiano reggiano or parmesan cheese before serving.
  6. To serve with pasta, cook your choice of pasta in salted water just shy of al dente. Toss the cooked pasta with the bolognese and a small amount of pasta water until the sauce coats the pasta. Garnish with fresh herbs and parmigiano reggiano or parmesan cheese.
Nutrition Information:
Yield: 10 Serving Size: 1 heaping cup (about 9 oz)
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 240Total Fat: 8gCarbohydrates: 18gProtein: 23g

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