Turkey Bolognese

Posted on Sep 24, 2013

Fall is here and with it comes cooler temperatures and something that may surprise some of you: I start craving meat. Unlike many people who live for grilled meat during the summer, I could easily live, and be very satisfied, feasting on every fruit and vegetable I can possibly afford to buy at the farmers market. That’s not to say that I turn vegan during the summer, but I certainly can go days without meat and be content (with the exception of seafood when I’m at the Cape). When fall comes, however, I start craving those slow cooked and hearty meals and, though I love vegetables more than most people, I’ll be the first to say that many of my favorite traditional meat dishes cannot be replaced with vegetables. With that said, since I don’t eat beef and rarely eat red meat in general, I find some meats to be too rich and fatty for my taste, these days. Therefore you’ll find that I sometimes replace a traditional beef dish with a leaner meat, such as turkey. My bolognese is the perfect example.

I learned how to make bolognese at a cooking class at Sur la Table. There the instructor used a pound of beef and a pound of pork. Though it is traditional, that combination is far too rich for my taste. I, instead, have found that dark meat turkey works very well. But just because I’m using turkey, don’t think that I skimp on the other traditional fatty parts of this dish. To me, when you make something such as bolognese, you have to either go all the way or not make it at all. This is not a dish that, in my opinion, can be made with low fat milk and white meat turkey. It’s just not the same. Therefore, it is important to use ground turkey thigh and whole milk.

And one note about the turkey. I, unfortunately, can’t easily find ground turkey that’s raised locally. I bought mine at Whole Foods, and I must admit that it was the first time I bought meat from a grocery store in at least a year. But I know that if I can’t find the meat I need locally, Whole Foods is the next best choice (at least in this area).

With that said, this recipe is all about a few ingredients cooked slowly. Each step builds the complexity and richness of the dish. Do not rush this dish! 

bolognese-1

You begin by chopping the following:

1 large yellow onion
1 large carrot

1 stalk of celery

You want to chop them as finely as possible. I have found that the best way to do it is to give them a rough chop with my chef’s knife and then dump them in a food processor and let the blade chop them the rest of the way for me. The proccessor can get them much finer than I can. Just don’t let them turn to mush.

In the meantime, heat olive oil over medium heat in a heavy bottomed pan or dutch oven. Saute the above vegetables until soft and lightly browned, about ten minutes. Season with salt. Then turn up the heat and add:

2 pounds of ground turkey thigh

I have considered trying 1 pound of turkey and 1 pound of ground pork, but the turkey is so wonderful on its own that I have yet to do it. And as I stated above, it is very important to use dark meat. The white meat just doesn’t have enough flavor. Also, you may want to add a little more olive oil with the turkey, if the pan looks dry.

Cook the meat on medium-high heat until it is nicely browned and it has absorbed all of the fat. That’s an important step that you don’t want to skip. Once the fat has been absorbed, add:

2 cups of red wine

This is an Italian recipe, after all. Of course there’s red wine. I often use chianti, but I honestly know very little about wine to know if it’s the best choice or not.

Once again, you must let the meat cook until all of the wine has been absorbed. Also be sure to scrap up all of the brown bits from the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Once the wine has cooked down and the pan is dry again, turn the heat down to medium low and add:

12 ounces (two small cans) of tomato paste
whole milk

Stir the tomato paste into the meat while you add the milk. Add enough milk to completely cover the meat. And now you wait and let the meat absorb the milk. This step will take around 60-90 minutes. Stir every so often and season with salt and pepper towards the end. Be sure to taste. Actually, in my opinion, it is impossible not to. It smells so amazing that I actually have a hard time stopping myself from tasting too much. I’ve been known to eat quite a bit of it right out of the pan. When it’s almost done, it will look like this:

bolognese-2

As for the pasta, I often serve it with rigatoni. The ridges on the rigatoni hold the bolognese well, plus it’s a sturdy pasta. This time around, however, I served it with my current obsession: bucatoni. I must say that it was a delicious choice. Whichever pasta you choose, make sure it can handle a heavy sauce.

Serve with a touch of parmesan or pecorino cheese on top.