Actually Good Turkey Bolognese

Allow me to convert you to the dark (aka turkey) side of bolognese with the right combo of ingredients to make this as good as the real (read: pork/beef) thing!

Why yes, you are properly detecting a hefty dose of sass in this recipe’s name. Why? Well, clearly you have never experienced the disaster that is typically turkey bolognese before. It tends to be either super dry or super bland or simply taste like an entirely different category of meal from normal bolognese (and, usually, the dreaded “heath food” category where deliciousness goes to die). Now, let me reason with you. I love a good meat sauce. My boyfriend has a delicious family recipe using pork and beef that inevitably gets me sick to my stomach every time I eat it, as do most hearty meat sauces in restaurants. Don’t worry, I will walk back from this line of TMI, shortly. Let me just say, these sauces are so delicious that I still eat them but try to limit them to “on occasion,” which got me thinking there must be a way to recreate this goodness in a less stomach-intense way. Enter: “actually good” turkey bolognese.

Also, to follow up on my pointed remarks regarding health food. I love healthy food. Most of this blog is healthy food. But have you noticed when something is described as “a health food,” it is usually is to make accommodations for the fact its taste is just not up to snuff? “Health” foods that are actually yummy in their own rights are rarely described as such, and the label is only added if they need a little something extra to defend them from critics (of which I am clearly one).


(Serves 4-6)

  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • 1 small yellow onion, minced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 lbs ground turkey
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tsp fennel seeds (see notes)
  • 1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 tsp red chili flakes
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 3/4 cup red wine (see notes)
  • 6 oz tomato paste
  • 2, 14.5 oz cans of diced tomatoes
  • 5 white mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Optional- fresh herbs for topping (I used a sprig of oregano I had on hand)
  • Optional- pasta to eat this with 🙂


  1. Prep first! Get all your ingredients out and mince your onion and garlic (they can mix), slice your mushrooms (keep separate from onion/garlic), and halve your tomatoes (can mix with mushrooms).
  2. Warm olive oil over medium heat for a minute in a large pot, then add onion and garlic. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring somewhat frequently so that they don’t burn. Then, add turkey, salt, pepper, fennel seeds, nutmeg, basil, oregano, and red chili flakes. Break up the turkey with wooden spoon and cook for ~5 min, until turkey is just no longer pink. Make sure that the fennel seeds have some time touching the bottom of the pot— slightly roasting them will release their flavor.
  3. Add wine, and simmer until mostly evaporated (up to ~10 min— watch to ensure it doesn’t vigorously boil and adjust heat down if so). Next add tomato paste, canned tomatoes, fresh tomatoes, mushrooms, and bay leaf. Stir in. Bring to a simmer, and cook uncovered (stirring for time to time) for as long as you can wait (ideally ~5 hours- this will allow for your flavors to really come together). If you want to do this quickly, simmer for only 30 min but see notes on which wine to use.
  4. Serve atop a bed of pasta and with any fresh herbs you may have on hand. Enjoy! This will keep for several days in the fridge and actually continue to increase in flavor as it sits.


On the fennel seeds: You may not have fennel seeds on hand, but I urge you to go to your supermarket to get them and not to skip this ingredient. They help to capture that flavor we associate with Italian sausage and are key in our mission to recreate the “real” (read: beef/pork) bolognese taste.

On the wine: You can also use white wine. Red wine is good if you are letting simmer for a long time. White wine is better if you’re making this quickly (e.g. not letting simmer for hours). If you use red, aim for a merlot, pinot noir, or chianti. 

On the timing: If you work and are worried about finding time to make this during the week, consider starting the sauce on your lunch break which should give you the ~5 hours needed for it to simmer before dinner. Or bookmark this recipe for your next lazy weekend day in!

What am I listening to as I make this?Big Decisions” by My Morning Jacket (is your big decision the type of wine you use in this sauce, or is it to make turkey the meat in your meat sauce to begin with…)

What can I learn while I make this? The controversy on wines for meat sauce. Now, both my boyfriend and I were raised with family meat sauce recipes that called for RED wine in pasta sauce, so you can imagine my surprise upon googling to discover that many assert white to be the more authentic wine used for Italian sauce cooking. What does your family use?

What if I want a hearty pasta but not this one? Don’t worry– I won’t be offended! Check out these other ideas below:

Want more Carmel Kama’aina content? Follow me on Instagram. All my latest recipes, poems, and behind the scenes tricks are published first on Instagram. Sneak a peek below:

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