Recipe: Spaghetti with Turkey Bolognese

updated Jan 29, 2020
Spaghetti with Turkey Bolognese
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(Image credit: Emma Christensen)

A chance dinner with friends has brought this meal firmly into my weeknight rotation. We had just finished moving all our earthly belongings to a new house, and our friends (now our neighbors!) took pity on us: “It’s just turkey spaghetti, but you should come over for dinner.”

Come over we did, and we absolutely devoured our plates of “just turkey spaghetti.” It was more than just the hunger of a long moving day — this simple weeknight pasta was seriously good.

(Image credit: Emma Christensen)

This dish is really a reminder that good food doesn’t need to be complicated or use fancy ingredients. In fact, sometimes the most basic, everyday ingredients make the most satisfying meals. In my work as a food writer and editor for The Kitchn, I feel like I’m often trying to find that new, cool, super-amazing thing to wow everyone, but sometimes simple is really best.

Ground turkey isn’t usually on my shopping list, but I’m starting to think it should be — it makes a lighter weeknight pasta sauce that is still full of good flavor. I also like the instant depth that the red wine adds to the sauce, but you could use white wine, beer, or skip alcohol altogether and your sauce would still be great. You could also skip the carrots, or use mushrooms, or add some roasted red peppers. This is obviously an adaptable recipe and you should feel empowered to make it your own, based on whatever basic, everyday ingredients you have around.

And then invite some friends over for dinner. It might be just a simple spaghetti dinner, but it’s always nice to have company at the table.

(Image credit: Emma Christensen)

Spaghetti with Turkey Bolognese

Makes about 8 cups

Serves 4 to 6

Nutritional Info


For the bolognese sauce:

  • 1

    medium yellow onion, diced small

  • 1

    large carrot, diced small

  • 3 cloves

    garlic, minced

  • 1/2 teaspoon


  • 1 1/2 pounds

    ground turkey or chicken

  • 2 tablespoons

    tomato paste

  • 1/2 cup

    red wine

  • 1

    15-ounce can tomato sauce or puree

  • 1 tablespoon


To serve:

  • 1 pound


  • Fresh basil, thinly sliced, to top

  • Shaved parmesan, to top


  1. Warm a few teaspoons of olive oil in a wide, high-sided skillet or saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions, carrots, and a half teaspoon of salt, and cook until the vegetables are softened and the onions are translucent, 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in the garlic and oregano and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

  2. Add the ground turkey and other half teaspoon of salt to the pan. Cook, breaking up the turkey with your spoon, until the meat is browned and no longer raw in the middle. Break up the turkey as much or as little as you like as you cook — personally, I like leaving it a bit chunky.

  3. Add the tomato paste and stir to coat all the ingredients. Pour the wine into the pan and stir until it's been mostly absorbed and has turned the turkey an alarming shade of purple. Stir in the tomato sauce. Let the sauce come to a rapid simmer, then turn the heat down to low and let the sauce cook while you make the pasta.

  4. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add a generous amount of salt and the spaghetti. Stir occasionally until the spaghetti softens and is no longer sticking above the water. Cook until the spaghetti is al dente. Before draining, scoop out a cup or so of the starchy pasta water and set aside. Drain the pasta.

  5. Stir the tablespoon of balsamic into the sauce and taste. If the sauce is thicker than you'd like, add a little of the starchy pasta water. Add salt or pepper as you like.

  6. Serve plates of the spaghetti with the sauce spooned over top. Add a sprinkle of basil and parmesan.

Recipe Notes

Leftovers will keep for 3 to 4 days in the fridge. The sauce can also be frozen for up to 3 months.