Growing up in an Italian household, I have vivid memories of standing anxiously by the stove with an empty bowl and spoon in hand as my mom made pasta sauce. I stood there practically drooling waiting for my mom to ladle me a taste. PURE HEAVEN. I would lick my spoon until I got every last drop off of it then quickly try and sneak some more.
“Alex, you can’t just eat the sauce like it’s soup! What are we going to put on the pasta?!” my mother would say to me.
“Um, then you should have made a double batch because you knew this was going to happen. This is what always happens! Sure I am only 8 years old but I am growing like bamboo in the rainforest, I am taller than most teenage boys and I have an appetite like a lumberjack. Get it together mom you should plan better.” I would say back, holding out my bowl as I fluttered my eyelashes. (I was quite the “stronza” as my Nona would call me. In English that translates to “little shit”)
Reluctantly, my mom would spoon another ladle of sauce into my bowl. SCORE!
For me pasta has never been about the actually noodle, it has always been about the sauce. A good sauce has layers up on layers of flavor, and with one bite you can just taste the love explode on your tastebuds. Still to this day I can just eat a big bowl of sauce for dinner and be totally satisfied. My mom still looks at me like I am crazy, but then again she always looks at me that way no matter what I do, so I am not bothered by it.
My mom’s recipe for bolognese is something very nostalgic for me, it’s rich, meaty and has a ton of flavor. The only problem is that in my older years I have become more cautious of the types of meat I consume. I am not the biggest fan of beef or pork and I refuse to eat veal (Woh I sound high maintenance..it’s totally cool, I totally know I am). Since I don’t eat a ton of red meat or pork, I end up eating a lot of poultry, and I’m not sorry about that either. Birds scare the shit out of me. I would much rather have them on my plate then have them cockadoodledoing or whatever the ‘eff they do anywhere near me. Not to mention, they are quite tasty little buggers. (Did it just get weird? I think it did. I digress)
You can use ground chicken in this recipe, but after much recipe testing, ground dark turkey is definitely the way to go. I use dark turkey meat because it has more flavor then white meat and also white meat has a tendency to get chewy and dried out.
The key to a great flavorful bolognese is to work in stages, browning each ingredient to develop caramelization and flavor. This recipe takes a good chunk of time and A LOT of love, but it’s well worth it. I make a double batch (I know myself) and I freeze whatever I can’t finish so I can have bolognese on hand whenever I want it. I like eating my bolognese with zucchini noodles because I like being able to eat way more than I should and not feel bad about it at all. If I eat this bolognese with regular pasta I will eat a disgusting amount and then feel like a hippopotamus after. So for me, zucchini noodles are the way to go.
To make the zucchini noodles I use a mandolin or spiralizer and slice them into thin noodle like shapes. I then salt the strands liberally and let it sit in a colander for a few hours while the sauce cooks. This technique will pull some of the moisture out of the veggie so when you go to cook them they won’t make your sauce too watery. You will still get some water coming out of them but this step reduces the amount of water by half at least. Right before I serve my pasta I will put my zucchini in a sautee pan and ladle some sauce on top. I cook it for about 3-4 minutes or until the noodles are soft but not falling apart. I sprinkle parmesan cheese on it and give it another stir. I put the zucchini in a bowl and top with another ladle of sauce and top that with more cheese. Then I inhale it like a rabid wolf.
Turkey Bolognese Sauce
- 1 large onion or 2 small, peeled and quartered
- 2 large carrots, cut into big chunks
- 3 ribs celery, cut into big chunks
- 4 cloves of garlic, peeled
- 1/4 cup olive oil (plus more if needed) for the pan
- 3 pounds dark turkey meat
- 1 1/2 cups tomato paste
- 1 1/2 cups red wine
- 1 bay leaf
- 4 cups chicken broth
- 1 bundle of thyme
- 1/2 cup half and half (you can also use heavy cream)
- lots of kosher salt and pepper
- In a food processor, puree onion, carrot, celery and garlic into a paste. In a large pan over medium high heat, coat the pan with 1/4 cup olive oil. Add the vegetables and season liberally with salt. Cook until all the water has evaporated and the veggies start to brown. (This should take about 15-20 minutes)
- Add the ground turkey and season again generously with salt. Make sure you get the meat nice and brown. (another 15-20 minutes)
- Add the tomato paste and cook until toasted and brown. (about 5 minutes) Add the half and half and let that reduce down by half. Then add the wine and cook until the wine has reduced by half.
- Add stock to the pan, it should cover the meat about 1 inch if it doesn’t add more stock or water. Add the bay leaves, the bundle of thyme and stir. Reduce to a simmer and stir occasionally. Do NOT cover your pot! You want the water to cook off and flavors to reduce down and concentrate. As the liquid evaporates you will gradually have to add more water or stock to the pot. (around 2 cups at a time) Continue while sauce simmers for about 4 hours, tasting frequently and adjusting the seasoning accordingly.
- Serve with lots of parmesan cheese over your favorite gluten free pasta or zucchini noodles.