Extra Special Turkey Bolognese Sauce

Extra Special Turkey Bolognese has a rich layering of flavors. Simmer all day, or use the Extra Speedy version for weeknight dinners! | sauce recipes | turkey recipes | BearandBugEats.com

I first tasted this Bolognese several months ago on our first our-house-hosted “family” dinner night, which involved four people all cooking in our new kitchen. Three of us figured out how to use my new pasta roller, which left flour and two kinds of fresh pasta dough everywhere. Robby made this Bolognese sauce.

We used turkey because one of our friends can’t have pork. It turns out that most turkey sausage comes in a pork casing, so we got plain ground turkey. I thought it might be a little bland, but nope. Nope nope nope. With just a handful of ingredients and significant patience, Robby constructed the best meat sauce I’ve ever had. I immediately demanded that it be made again.

We had a ton of leftover fresh-dried pasta, so later that week I abandoned my plan to stalk Robby into making the sauce again and texted him for the recipe instead. I’ve included two versions here: the all-day grandma’s kitchen version, and the 25-minute weeknight dinner version.

Extra Special Turkey Bolognese

This is a special recipe. You can get away with making this in 25 minutes, and it’s pretty good. But. If you take the extra time to build the flavor layers, it turns into the most harmonious, beautiful sauce. It can be done in under an hour–or you can let it simmer alllll day. Up to you.

Meet the layers:


Mirepoix (onion, carrot, celery)

Turkey + seasonings

Seasoned turkey + mirepoix

Seasoned turkey + mirepoix + tomato sauce

Reduced sauce + red wine

Very reduced sauce + pasta water

Pasta + very reduced sauce + Parmesan cheese = <3

Extra Speedy Turkey Bolognese

If you don’t have all day, it’s okay. I get it. How’s this: you won’t get quite the intense layering of flavors, BUT you can get a pretty good version of this sauce in under 30 minutes. That’s weeknight dinner speed right there. Essentially, you do turkey, veggies, and then simmer with the tomato and wine for a few minutes. Same ingredients, a fraction of the time.

Special tricks:

I am very seriously assured that this cooks best in a large pot or Dutch oven, not a saute pan–it has something to do with the space that the steam has to move around. I’m not sure why this works, but let me know if you figure it out.

To imitate a restaurant finish, transfer the sauce to a saute pan for the last few minutes. Stir in a ladleful of starchy pasta water. Add pasta to pan and quickly toss and serve.

Eat with…

A California Zinfandel-based red blend. Zin is easy to drink, but has body enough that it won’t be intimidated by the intense flavors of the sauce (bonus points if you cook the bolognese with this wine, and then drink it with the finished product). Try Ghost Runner, a fruity light-to-medium blend of Zinfandel and Petite Sirah (retail is about $15).


Turkey Bolognese

  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cook Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
  • Total Time: 1 hour 20 minutes
  • Yield: 4-6 servings 1x


  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 1 celery stick, diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 pound ground turkey or turkey sausage
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning or oregano
  • Olive or canola oil
  • 2 cans (30 ounces) tomato sauce
  • 1/4 cup red wine
  • Additional water or tomato sauce


Extra Special Bolognese

  1. Set a Dutch oven or large pot over medium low heat. Saute onions with a little oil until softening, about 5 minutes.
  2. Stir in the remaining vegetables and saute until they begin to brown, another 5 minutes or so. Remove to a bowl.
  3. Add 1 fresh tablespoon of oil to the pan and cook the turkey with salt, pepper, and oregano/Italian seasoning, breaking it up as you go. When it’s completely browned, add the vegetables back in. Cook for another couple minutes, stirring, to start the flavors mingling.
  4. Add the tomato sauce and stir to combine. Cover loosely and bring the heat down to a bare simmer.
  5. Allow to reduce for as long as you have, 1 hour minimum.
  6. Stir periodically. When it starts to look dry, stir in the red wine. Cover and continue to reduce.
  7. if cooking for a long time, more liquid will be needed. Use additional water or more tomato sauce, about 1/4 cup at a time.
  8. Assuming you are also cooking pasta, reserve some pasta water. Use a 1/4 cup or so to loosen up the thickened sauce and to help it stick to the pasta.
  9. Serve over pasta with a generous sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.

Extra Speedy Bolognese

  1. Brown turkey with salt, pepper, and oregano/Italian seasoning, breaking up into small chunks.
  2. Add veggies and cook until softening, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add tomato sauce and wine. Simmer uncovered for 15 minutes, stirring. Serve with Parmesan cheese.

The Burroughs

Katie and Robby Burroughs, writers, photographers, and curators of Bear and Bug Eats.

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