Turkey takes over for traditional pork, veal, and beef in this rich and delicious homemade bolognese sauce to create a short cut lasagna dinner that cuts the calories, without sacrificing flavor.
It’s raining. The leaves on the mountain outside my front window are in the most vibrant change of fall colors I’ve seen in ten years. We pulled the tomato plants this weekend and I’ve harvested all my basil to make pesto before frost does it for me. There are days when comfort food is absolutely called for. And that’s when a rich, delicious lasagna raises its hand and squeals, ” PICK ME!”
I love a good lasagna with a rich, delicious meaty sauce with loads of cheese layered throughout and then melted on top. I mean, is there anything better?
But the thing is, my skinny jeans don’t always agree. My solution? Put all that rich flavor in a healthier turkey bolognese sauce and instead of layering my lasagna, toss it together instead.
I borrowed this lasagna toss idea from my Slow Cooker Lasagna Soup where the creamy ricotta mixture is added on at the end as an accent instead of playing equal parts to the noodle and sauce equation. I’m a cheese girl through and through, so that way, I meet my comfort food cravings but my jeans won’t revolt.
What’s the Difference Between a Bolognese and a Ragu?
Where the classic marinara sauce is mostly a smooth tomato sauce jazzed up with herbs, both bolognese and ragu sauces are traditional Italian meat sauces that are slow cooked to create a the deep, almost sweet quality the sauce is know for. They are both made with celery, carrot, and onion to flavor the rich tomato sauce, but their differences lie in the cut of meat they call for.
Bolognese hails from the Bologna region and is traditionally made from a fine grind of pork, veal and beef and typically shys away from the addition of herbs. Ragu is a Neapolitan version and calls for meat that’s been already been cooked and is then shredded into an herbed tomato sauce, and served more like a gravy for pasta or polenta.
How to Make a Bolognese Sauce
Bolognese sauces are best when given time to develop their richness, 2-3 hours is prime. But! If you’re in a weeknight rush, you could cut the cooking time down to 45 minutes and come out with a decent enough, although not nearly as rich, sauce that’ll please.
Some recipes call for the addition of pancetta or bacon, but given I was using turkey this go around and keeping it lower in fat, I skipped it. If you feel like it, certainly add 4 slices or so, chopped fine, and brown before adding the turkey meat.
If you’ve never made a grand bolognese sauce before, this one might shock you…in this recipe you will be using white wine (not red) and milk. Whaaat? And whyyyyy? Yep, they’re one of the hallmark signatures of a thick and rich, meaty bolognese.
So back to the why…
Why Add Milk and Wine to Bolognese Sauce?
I learned the milk and wine technique by watching the grande dame of Italian cooking Lidia Bastianich‘s cooking show on PBS. The addition of milk added to the meat breaks it down and tenderizes it. The addition of white wine adds a bit of acidity and flavor but doesn’t dominate the sauce like red wine might. However, if you only have red wine on hand instead of white, don’t let it stop you from making this recipe. Be sure to add the milk and wine separately and allow them to fully be absorbed by the meat before going to the next step.
I use crushed tomatoes for my sauce. If you only have whole or diced, give them a quick whir with an immersion blender or crush them between your fingers to make a fine tomato sauce to add to the meat.
What Is the Best Pasta to Serve with Bolognese?
Because bolognese is a finer bite of meat, using pastas that the meaty tomato sauce can cling to or get caught in are prime candidates for this rich sauce.
- Long ribbon pasta like lasagna, fettuccine or skinny pasta like spaghetti or linguine
- Shell pasta or tubular pasta like rigatoni or penne for the shapes to catch the small chunks of meat
- Or go low-carb and serve over vegetables like spiralized zucchini noodles or zoodles, spaghetti squash, or stuff in portabello mushroom
Toss the Turkey Bolognese
In this recipe, my healthy-ish turkey bolognese is tossed with the lasagna noodles rather than layered, then each portion is served individually with a dollop of creamy ricotta and parmesan cheese with herbs mixed in. Who says lasagna noodles can only be layered anyway??
- 1 package of lasagna noodles
- Kosher salt
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 pound lean ground turkey
- 3 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
- 1 cup small dice carrots
- 1 cup small dice onion
- 1 cup small dice celery
- 1 cup milk
- 1 cup white wine
- 2 28-ounce cans crushed tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 3 bay leaves
- 1½ teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- For the ricotta cheese topping
- 1 8-ounce container ricotta cheese
- ½ cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
- ¼ cup parsley, chopped
- ¼ cup basil leaves, chopped
- generous pinch of kosher salt
- In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the turkey and cook, breaking it up into small pieces with a spatula as it browns. Cook for about 4-5 minutes or until it's no longer pink.
- Add the garlic, carrots, onion, and celery and cook until the vegetables begin to soften, another 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the milk and cook until evaporated, about 3-4 minutes, then do the same with the wine.
- Add the tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, bay leaves, and season with the kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a lively simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 2-3 hours or until the sauce is rich and thick. Add water to the sauce to loosen it as it cooks if necessary.
- For the ricotta cheese topping, mix all of the ingredients together in a small bowl and refrigerate until ready to serve.
- When ready to serve, bring a large stockpot of water to a boil over high heat, salt it generously, and cook the lasagna noodles until just al dente. Drain and toss with the sauce.
- Serve with dollops of the ricotta cheese mixture and garnish with more Parmesan and fresh herbs or parsley if desired.
More Recipe Reasons to Love Lasagna
- The Cheesiest Spinach and Cheese Lasagna
- Slow Cooker Vegetarian Lasagna Soup
- Butternut Squash Lasagna with Shiitake Mushrooms Plus 7 Lasagna Recipes
- Spinach Lasagna Roll-Ups with Table For Two
- Sausage and Ricotta Lasagna
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