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Kinda Healthy Pumpkin Bolognese

Whether you need a bolognese without tomatoes for dietary needs or want to get festive this fall and winter, this easy pumpkin bolognese is the perfect recipe. I’ve adapted this recipe from Joshua McFadden’s cookbook, Six Seasons, to save some prep work and be a bit lower calorie.

In fact, every serving of this winter squash bolognese has 17 grams of protein with only 11 grams of carbs, 5 grams of fat, and 185 calories. That leaves plenty of room for your favorite pasta and LOTS of cheese.

holding a bowl of pumpkin bolognese with pappardelle above a pot of bolognese

How to Make Pumpkin Bolognese

It begins with a classic mirepoix or blend of diced onion, carrots, and celery. These are cooked slowly in olive oil with a bit of salt and pepper for 8-10 minutes. The goal is to bring out flavor without browning or caramelizing the vegetables.

diced onions, carrots, and celery on a cutting board

Once the veggies are softened, it’s time for ground beef. The recipe calls for extra lean ground beef but if you’re not concerned with calories, I’d go with something like 80/20 ground chuck or a blend of beef and pork. All that extra fat lends itself well to a bolognese.

sweating mirepoix in a Dutch oven

You don’t want to brown the ground beef like you would in, say, my firecracker ground beef. No, you want to break it apart and fully cook while mixing with the veggies.

cooking ground beef with vegetables in a Dutch oven

Once the beef is cooked, a dry white wine is added and reduced for another 8-10 minutes. This cooks off the alcohol and develops a ton of flavor.

You’re welcome to use sparkling grape juice for a non-alcoholic substitute. More white wine substitutes for cooking.

adding wine to cooked ground beef and mirepoix in a Dutch oven

I like to add bay leaves at this point to bring out as much flavor as possible from all the ingredients in the bolognese.

bay leaves added to the meat sauce

Once the wine is reduced and very little liquid remains, it’s time for the star of the show—pumpkin. The recipe calls for canned pumpkin, but you could certainly use fresh homemade pumpkin puree.

You’ll also need skim milk. Or if you’re not calorie-conscious, whole milk, half and half, or heavy cream. For an extra creamy bolognese, you might consider something like the ricotta in my creamy Italian ground chicken soup.

You can also use a plant-based milk or cream to make this pumpkin bolognese dairy free.

canned pumpkin and milk added to the meat sauce in the Dutch oven

Season with a bit of allspice and ground cumin, reduce to a simmer, cover, and let the bolognese with pumpkin hang out for about an hour. Remove the bay leaves and you’re ready to rock.

Be sure to salt and pepper the final bolognese to taste. In the recipe card below, I noted that I added a full teaspoon of kosher salt to my finished dish.

Dutch oven with finished pumpkin bolognese before serving

Something to keep in mind is how you’ll be serving your bolognese. If you plan to cook fresh pasta in salted water and add the pasta with a bit of the pasta water, you’ll add some saltiness that way.

Speaking of serving…

What to Make with Bolognese

In the photos here, I’ve served this pumpkin bolognese with pappardelle and conchiglie (pasta shells). I simply cooked the pasta in salted water, added some bolognese to a small pan, and added the cooked pasta with about 1/4 cup of pasta water to bring everything together.

The pasta to bolognese ratio is personal preference. I personally like a lot of sauce and use about 1 cup of pumpkin bolognese for 3-4 ounces of dry pasta. That’s more than traditional recommendations.

pumpkin bolognese with pasta shells served with garlic bread and a caesar salad

Lower Calorie Pasta Bolognese Options

The easiest solution for a low calorie pasta pairing for this bolognese would be chickpea, lentil, or protein pastas. Take the Banza pasta shells in my bacon cheeseburger one pot pasta, for example. There’s also the option of cauliflower based options like my cauliflower gnocchi bolognese.

I’ve also included more low carb pasta alternatives like veggie spirals and such in the recipe card’s notes section below.

With all these options, I’d prepare them the same way as the classic pasta I mentioned above.

Aside from classic pasta bolognese, you could use the pumpkin sauce to make low carb lasagnacannelloni, or a leftover bolognese sandwich. Check out my turkey bolognese recipe for even more ideas like sliders and grilled cheese sandwiches. There are tons of ways to use it so have fun!

Okay, that should cover everything you need to know about making bolognese with canned pumpkin. If you still have a question, leave it in the comments at the bottom of this post. Otherwise, I hope you enjoy this recipe!

And if you need a great dessert pairing, check out my cast iron apple crisp or brown butter chocolate chip skillet cookie recipes next.

pumpkin bolognese with pasta shells served with garlic bread and a caesar salad

Pumpkin Bolognese

Yield: 12 Servings
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 50 minutes

A tomato-free, high protein bolognese made with canned pumpkin and lean ground beef.


  • 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
  • 2 medium Onions, diced
  • 3 medium (180g) Carrots, peeled and diced
  • 2 Celery Ribs, diced
  • 2 teaspoons Kosher Salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon Black Pepper
  • 2 pounds Ground Beef
  • 1 1/2 cup Dry White Wine*
  • 2 cups Skim Milk**
  • 30 oz can Pure Pumpkin
  • 1/2 teaspoon Allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon Ground Cumin
  • 2 Bay Leaves
  • More Salt and Pepper, to taste


  1. Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion, carrots, celery, salt, and pepper. Sweat the veggies, stirring often, until softened but not browned, about 8-10 minutes.
  2. Add the ground beef and break apart to fully cook.
  3. Add the white wine and cook until very little liquid remains, another 8-10 minutes.
  4. Reduce to a low heat before adding the pumpkin, milk, and remaining ingredients. Cover and simmer for 45-60 minutes (or longer) to allow flavors to develop. Salt and pepper to taste before serving. (I added about 1 tsp of additional salt.)
  5. Serve with your choice of pasta, freshly grated parmesan or Pecorino Romano, and fresh parsley.


*The alcohol will cook out of the wine, but you can use sparkling grape juice for a non-alcoholic bolognese.

**Use half and half if you're not calorie-conscious.

To serve, cook your pasta of choice, add the bolognese to a pan over medium-low heat, add the cooked pasta (and maybe a few tablespoons of pasta water), and toss together.

Favorite pasta choices include: cauliflower gnocchi bolognese, hearts of palm lasagna sheets and noodles, fettuccine bolognese with Carba-nada noodles, chickpea and lentil pastas, and protein pastas

Search "Mason Woodruff Pumpkin Bolognese" to log in MyFitnessPal.

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 12 Serving Size: 1 cup (about 8 oz)
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 185Total Fat: 5gCarbohydrates: 11gProtein: 17g

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