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Kinda Healthy Instant Pot Bolognese

Everyone needs a go-to meat sauce for their pasta dishes. And if you’re a calorie conscious eater, I think this Instant Pot bolognese might just be yours. This recipe blends classic bolognese staples with lower fat, lower calorie ingredients to make a high protein bolognese that’s perfect for healthier lasagna, cauliflower gnocchi bolognese, and more.

Don’t worry, I’ve included tons of serving ideas for your bolognese in the post below!

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Instant Pot Bolognese Recipe Walkthrough

While this bolognese requires a bit of prep on the front end, it’s a simple, one-pot recipe (thanks, Instant Pot). I’ll walk you through a visual rundown of the recipe below with a few bonus tips and ingredient notes. If you’re in a hurry, there’s a printable recipe card at the bottom of the post.

Cook bacon or pancetta using the Instant Pot’s sauté function. Transfer the cooked bacon to a plate and set aside, leaving the rendered fat in the pot. 

bacon cooking in the instant pot

The first calorie-saving ingredient for this bolognese is center cut bacon. It still provides salty richness in the finished sauce and just enough rendered fat to cook your vegetables and ground beef with the help of a little extra olive oil.

If you wanted to use the classic pancetta, go for it. You don’t need that much, so the extra fat is manageable.

Add a tablespoon of olive oil to the rendered bacon fat before adding minced garlic, chopped parsley, and diced onion, celery, and carrots. 

diced onion, celery, and carrots with parsley and minced garlic

Unless you’re new around here, you know I’m fairly adamant about using fresh garlic and herbs in recipes where they’re called for. But as for the other ingredients in this bolognese, buying a pre-diced mirepoix (carrots, onion, celery) could be a solid time saver.

Cook for 30-60 seconds, deglazing the Instant Pot.

cooking vegetables in the bacon grease and olive oil

You don’t want to brown the vegetables here, just let them absorb most of the fat and get any crispy bits off the pot before adding the beef for your Instant Pot meat sauce.

Push the vegetables to the side. Brown each side of one pound of ground beef for 4-5 minutes before mincing and mixing with the vegetables to finish cooking.

browning the ground beef in the instant pot

Browning with all the moisture from the vegetables will be a little challenging. So don’t expect perfectly browned ground beef like you’d see in most of my healthy ground beef recipes. But that’s okay, there will still be plenty of flavor development.

That’s part of the beauty of making a pressure cooker bolognese, after all.

Add a 28 oz can of peeled tomatoes, one cup of red cooking wine, cooked bacon, dried oregano, and bay leaves to the beef and vegetables. Stir everything together.

cooked bacon, peeled tomatoes, dried oregano, bay leaves, and red cooking wine added to the ground beef

Bonus points for using tomato royalty, San Marzano tomatoes.

If you don’t want to use wine, there are plenty of substitutions. Namely beef broth with a little red wine vinegar, non-alcoholic wine, or even some juice like grape or cranberry. You want to provide some acidity and a little sweetness with these ingredients.

Seal and pressure cook for 30 minutes.

the bolognese after pressure cooking

I tested this Instant Pot bolognese at different time ranges and can confidently say, there’s not a huge difference between pressure cooking for 20 and 60 minutes with this recipe. That said, 30 minutes seems to be the sweet spot for breaking down the vegetables and packing flavor into the beef.

Like most things, the sauce develops more flavor the longer it sits and all the ingredients have time to get to know one another. But I couldn’t tell much difference between the 30-minute and 60-minute pressure cook times. So why not keep it on the shorter side so you can have dinner on the table sooner?

Remove the bay leaves and break the tomatoes apart with a spoon. Add 2 ounces of grated parmesan cheese, chopped parsley, and optional balsamic vinegar.

grated parmesan and the finished bolognese

If you have extra fat to spare, adding a little heavy cream (or another creamy ingredient) makes a big impact. You can also add more than 2 ounces of parmesan. Just be sure to taste as you go due to its saltiness.

As for the balsamic vinegar, I borrowed this addition from my Instant Pot turkey chili. I think it adds a punch of fresh flavor to a meat sauce. If you’re a fan of J. Kenji López-Alt, he adds fish sauce to his bolognese. My original fettuccine bolognese uses fish sauce, and I’m a fan of the added umami. But I know it may seem like a weird ingredient to some.

Keep your Instant Pot bolognese warm in the Instant Pot until you’re ready to serve.

finished bolognese in the instant pot

And that’s a wrap. Your Instant Pot meat sauce will only get better as it rests, so don’t be afraid to prep your bolognese ahead of time.

How to Serve Your Instant Pot Bolognese

I used real deal pappardelle in the photos you see in this post. The tube-shaped pastas like rigatoni and penne also go great with a bolognese. And if you wanted to get crazy, you could use this bolognese in a recipe like my healthier beef cannelloni or mix it with some rice or cauliflower rice like my low carb Italian stuffed peppers. My air fryer stuffed peppers would work as well.

fettuccine bolognese, low carb lasagna, beef and ricotta cannelloni

For a lower carb pasta, you could use something like the Carba-Nada fettuccine I used for my creamy sausage and mushroom pasta or chickpea pasta like in my chicken sausage pasta. Or you could use your meat sauce to make something like my low carb lasagna with Palmini (hearts of palm) lasagna sheets. I’ve also used hearts of palm linguine for things like low carb pasta carbonara in case you wanted a linguine bolognese.

Cauliflower Gnocchi Bolognese

One of our favorite Austin food trucks, Il Saporis, serves an amazing gnocchi bolognese that I had to copy with cauliflower gnocchi. You can prepare the cauliflower gnocchi on its own in a pan and add the bolognese after. Or for an even easier prep method, check out my garlic parmesan air fryer cauliflower gnocchi recipe.

You can also place some of the bolognese in a sauce pan over low heat and let the cauliflower gnocchi hang out in the sauce, covered, for about 10 minutes.

Whatever you end up deciding to do with your Instant Pot bolognese, I’d love to hear about it in a comment or recipe review. And if you have a question about this recipe I forgot to cover, you can drop it in the comments as well. Otherwise, have fun saucing it up out there!

Instant Pot Bolognese

Instant Pot Bolognese

Yield: 8 Servings
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour

A healthier spin on the classic meat sauce that you can use to make everything from low carb lasagna to high protein cauliflower gnocchi bolognese.

Ingredients

  • 4 slices Center Cut Bacon, cut into strips
  • 1 Tbsp (16g) Olive Oil
  • 1/2 (150g) White Onion, diced
  • 2 stalks (100g) Celery, diced
  • 2 small (100g) Carrots, peeled and diced
  • 5 cloves (25g) Garlic, minced
  • 1/4 C (20g) Chopped Parsley, divided
  • 1 lb Ground Beef (96/4)
  • 28 oz can Peeled Tomatoes
  • 1 C Red Cooking Wine*
  • 1 Tbsp Dried Oregano
  • 4 Bay Leaves
  • 2 oz Grated Parmesan
  • 1-2 Tbsp Balsamic Vinegar (optional)

Instructions

  1. Cook the bacon using the sauté function and transfer to a plate once cooked, leaving the rendered fat in the pot.
  2. Add the olive oil, onion, celery, carrots, garlic, 2 Tbsp (10g) of parsley, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Stir everything together, deglazing the pot, before pushing to one side and adding the ground beef.
  3. Brown both sides of the beef, about 4-5 minutes per side, before mincing and mixing with the vegetables.
  4. Once the beef is fully cooked, add the tomatoes, cooked bacon, wine, oregano, and bay leaves. Stir everything together, seal, and pressure cook for 30 minutes.
  5. Once you've released the pressure, remove the bay leaves and break the tomatoes up using a spoon. Add the grated parmesan, remaining 10g of parsley, and optional balsamic vinegar.
  6. Serve with your choice of pasta and top with more grated parmesan and parsley.

Notes

*You can use non-alcoholic wine, broth or broth + red wine vinegar, or even grape/cranberry juice as a substitute. You want something acidic and slightly sweet.

Each serving of bolognese has 3 WW SmartPoints (blue).

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 8 Servings Serving Size: 8 oz
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 185Total Fat: 6.5gCarbohydrates: 13gProtein: 15g

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Heather

Thursday 25th of March 2021

Hi Mason! Can you double the meat like in the original bolognese recipe? We love the original recipe and the lasagna and can't wait to try this recipe. We will also be adding the fish sauce to this one. :)

Mason Woodruff

Sunday 28th of March 2021

Oh yeah, you could double everything if you wanted. Or if you just wanted an extra meaty sauce, maybe add some extra tomatoes or cooking liquid to get the consistency just right. Let me know if you give it a go!

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