Ragu bolognese sauce, a meat-based sauce originating from the area of Bologna, Italy, is made with wine, tomatoes, celery, and onions. This healthier version of a classic bolognese sauce cooks up with ground turkey meat instead of beef or pork. Serve up this healthy turkey bolognese recipe with freshly cooked tagliatelle for a bowl of pasta that brings visions of a sweet Italian grandma simmering up a batch for her loved ones and eating it just makes you feel good.
This turkey bolognese recipe is full of rich flavors making it a comfort food recipe perfect for hearty yet healthy meals. This bolognese recipe was inspired by another Italian classic recipe, Toscana Zuppa Soup, here on the site.
For a delicious bread to go along with your Ragu Bolognese be sure and try my Italian Cheesy Pull-Apart Bread. And don’t forget a simple green salad with Homemade Zesty Italian Seasoning to complete this healthy meal that’s sure to be a hit with your family and friends.
If serving up this turkey bolognese recipe as part of a dinner party, don't forget to start off the meal with some delicious Green Marinated Sicilian Olives and this Authentic Italian Almond Biscotti with a fresh brewed espresso following dinner.
😊 Why this recipe works
- It’s a healthy meat sauce that is way better than your basic marinara sauce.
- It’s easy to prepare in advance for future use to create delicious dinner meals throughout the week.
- A mostly hands-off Italian meat sauce makes it easy to serve during the week.
🛒 Ingredient notes
While a good bolognese sauce takes time to make, it’s prepared from fresh, easy-to-find ingredients found in your local grocery store.
- Extra virgin olive oil: For best flavor, choose moderate to good quality extra virgin olive oil when cooking classic Italian meals.
- Onion: White or yellow onion is best to use when cooking sauces.
- Garlic: For the best flavor, make this recipe with fresh garlic and not garlic powder.
- Carrot: Adding diced carrot to the base of the sauce is one of the major differences between regular spaghetti sauce and a bolognese sauce.
- Celery stalk: Along with the carrot, finely diced celery is added to the base of the sauce giving it a slightly different flavor than other Italian tomato sauces.
- Ground turkey meat: Choose lean ground turkey with only 7% fat for the healthiest ragu bolognese.
- Canned stewed tomatoes: Using this chunky canned tomato product means slightly less cooking time since the tomatoes are already partially cooked.
- Fresh parsley: Adds more fresh flavor to the sauce and makes a great addition to sprinkle over the top before serving.
- Fresh basil, thyme, and rosemary: Making bolognese sauce with fresh herbs adds a lot of flavor and makes an incredible difference in how this healthy meat sauce tastes.
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper: Enhances the flavor, but you can easily adjust to your tastes.
See the recipe card further down on the page for a complete list and quantities for each ingredient.
🔪 Step by step instructions
Follow along to see how easy it is to make this slow-cooked healthy meat sauce in just a few simple steps.
- Heat the olive oil in a large pan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic, sauteeing until the onion is soft, about 4 minutes.
2. Add the celery and carrot, continuing to cook over medium heat for 5 more minutes, stirring frequently.
3. When the vegetables are tender, increase to medium-high heat and add the ground turkey meat. Use a 5 blade meat chopper or the side of a wooden spoon to break up the meat, cook until turkey meat is browned and no longer pink inside.
Use a spoon to drain grease from the large pan of turkey meat. Add a paper towel to soak up any grease left, then discard.
4. Add the chopped parsley, basil, thyme and, rosemary to the cooked meat and saute for 1 minute.
5. Blend stewed tomatoes in a food processor or blender until they are mostly smooth with small chunks.
6. Add the tomatoes to the pot and cook the sauce over medium heat for about 20 - 30 minutes, stirring frequently to allow the excess liquid to evaporate.
Give it a taste and add salt and pepper before serving.
Serve up ragu bolognese over your favorite pasta and top with grated Romano cheese or parmesan cheese.
⭐ Hint: Easily cook ground beef and ground turkey with this multi-functional meat chopper utensil
Here are a couple of easy substitutions for ingredients in case you don't have everything on hand or want to swap some things out.
- Stewed tomatoes: Swap out the stewed tomatoes with canned whole tomatoes or crushed tomatoes. When making this swap you will need to cook the sauce for additional time since these varieties of canned tomatoes are not cooked in advance.
- Ground turkey: This healthy bolognese sauce can also be made with lean ground beef.
Here are a couple of quick ideas for changing up this thick rich sauce to create a variety of meals.
- Low-carb option: Serve up your turkey bolognese sauce over cooked spaghetti squash for a healthy dinner with fewer carbs.
- Zestier sauce: Add in a sprinkle of crushed red chili flakes to add a little bit of heat to the sauce.
💭 Tips for making the recipe
- Be sure to remove as much of the oil as possible from the pan after cooking the meat so the sauce doesn’t end up too greasy.
- Use a meat smasher or chopper to quickly and easily break up the meat in the pan.
- Serve up with perfectly cooked al dente pasta for a healthy meal the whole family will enjoy!
🥖 Don’t forget the garlic bread to soak up all the juices in the bowl!
If you prepare this recipe for meal prep or have some leftover sauce you can store it in the freezer for up to three months. For best results, allow the sauce to cool completely before storing it in an airtight container in the freezer.
Traditionally, bolognese sauce is served with tagliatelle, a thick-width noodle made with egg but any type of noodle works great with it or you can even use short kinds of pasta such as rigatoni, penne, or rotini.
More Classic Italian Recipes for Dinner
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Healthy Turkey Bolognese Recipe
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup onion finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic peeled and finely chopped
- 14 cup carrot finely chopped
- 1/4 cup celery stalk finely chopped
- 1 pound ground turkey 93% meat 7% fat
- 28 ounces stewed tomatoes blended in a mixer so there are not any large chunks
- 1/4 cup parsley fresh, chopped
- 1/4 cup basil fresh, chopped
- 1 tablespoon thyme fresh, stems removed
- 1 tablespoon rosemary fresh, chopped fine
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon pepper freshly ground
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- In a large skillet heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and garlic. Sautee until onion is soft, about 4 minutes.
- Add the celery and carrot. Sautee over medium heat for 5 minutes, stirring frequently.
- Raise heat to medium-high and add the ground turkey meat. Using a 5 blade meat chopper. Cook until turkey meat is browned and no longer pink inside.
- Drain any grease from the turkey meat with a spoon. Add a paper towel to soak up any grease left, then discard.
- Add parsley, basil, thyme and, rosemary to the cooked meat. Saute for 1 minute.
- Blend stewed tomatoes in a mixer unlit they are mostly smooth with small chunks.
- Cook over medium heat until the excess liquid is evaporated. This should take about 20 to 30 minutes. Stir frequently.
- Add salt and pepper
- Pour bolognese over your favorite pasta and top with grated Ramano cheese or parmesan cheese.
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Update Notes: This post was originally published in 2015, but was republished with new photos, step-by-step instructions, and tips, in January of 2022.