Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Turkey Bolognese

You want to eat a healthy and easy to make version of a classic rich Italian meat sauce...
Make Turkey Bolognese!

Let's be clear: bolognese is traditionally eaten with tagiatelle or in a lasagne alla bolognese.  Bolognese is also traditionally made with beef, or beef and veal, or beef and pork, or some combination of the three.  

I read several dozen bolognese recipes, and here are the dominant ingredients across recipes:
  1. Celery, carrot, and onion finely diced and sweated
  2. Some kind of ground and browned meat
  3. Some kind of tomato element (paste/canned tomatoes)
The second most common set of ingredients appear to be:
  1. Dry Red Wine
  2. Garlic
  3. Milk
  4. Pancetta
When it comes to food, I'm not a stickler about tradition. I care about what tastes good, and I also care about what makes you feel good.  Rich dishes have a time and a place, but on a regular weekday night I don't want to be weighed down by a heavy meal. I tend to eat meat minimally or sometimes not at all; when I do eat meat, I tend to stick to lighter proteins.  

Thus, turkey came to play a role in this classic Italian meat sauce. Instead of tagiatelle, I had whole wheat spaghetti on hand.  I would have preferred to use spaghetti squash in lieu of the noodles, but the store was out.  Regardless, this is a great meat sauce that you could put on almost any starch or vegetable.  Frankly, if you're an obsessive tomato sauce eater like myself, you might just want to eat it straight out of the pot.

One note about this dish, the longer you cook the sauce, the better it will taste. It will taste even better the next day.  I was short on time, but simmering the sauce for a full hour worked well... 2-3 hours total would have been even better.

Turkey Bolognese
Serves 4-6

olive oil
1 large carrot, diced fine
1 large onion, diced fine
3 celery ribs, diced fine
1 large shallot, diced fine
3 cloves of garlic, minced fine
4 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 lb. ground turkey meat (organic, mix of dark and white)*
1 1/2 teaspoons smoked paprika (optional)
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flake, plus more to serve alongside the pasta
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 bay leaf
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes, San Marzano*
2 cups low sodium organic chicken broth
1 cup red wine, Bordeaux*
kosher salt
freshly ground pepper
Flat leaf italian parsley, roughly chopped
1 lb. whole wheat spaghetti (or any pasta you fancy)

Prep all of your ingredients for the sauce.  Start by finely dicing your carrot, onion and celery.  You can also do this by mincing them in a food processor. Mince your garlic.  Take the leaves off of the stems of thyme.  Open your bottle of wine, the can of crushed tomatoes, and the tomato paste.

Add a few tablespoons of olive oil to a large pot or Dutch oven.  Add your carrot, onion and celery mixture to the pot, and sweat them over medium heat for 10 minutes.  Add the shallot and garlic, and continue to sweat the vegetables for 6-8 minutes longer until they are softened and just beginning to brown.  Transfer the vegetable mixture to a bowl and set aside.

To the same pot, add your ground turkey.  Add a tablespoon of kosher salt to the meat, as well as as 2 teaspoons of freshly ground pepper.  Break the meat apart with a wooden spoon (you don't want big clumps of meat) and cook the ground turkey until it is browned. Add the vegetables back to the pot.  Add the thyme, paprika, chili flakes and bay leaf to the mixture.  Next, add the tomato paste, and thoroughly mix the paste into the mixture so that everything is coated.  Add the crushed tomatoes, chicken stock, and red wine to the pot. Season with a teaspoon of kosher salt (you can add more later).  Bring the mixture up to a simmer.  Partially cover the pot with a lid, and simmer the sauce for at least 1 hour, or up to 3 hours.  Every 20 minutes or so, check to make sure the sauce is gently simmering and stir it.  If the sauce looks dry, add more chicken stock. If you taste the sauce and want more flavor, you can also add a little extra red wine. As the sauce cooks, it will thicken and deepen in flavor.

For a more traditional bolognese (but not kosher), heat up a cup of whole milk in a separate saucepan. Add the warm milk to the sauce for the last 20-30 minutes of the sauces' cooking time. You can also start this dish by browning pancetta in the beginning, taking the browned pancetta out of the pan and reserving it, sweating the vegetables in the oil from the pancetta, and adding the browned pancetta to the sauce when you add the crushed tomatoes and liquids.

After an hour, check your sauce for seasoning.  Add more salt or pepper as needed.  
Your sauce should be thick, meaty, and incredibly yummy.

When your sauce is ready, let it simmer just a little longer while you prepare your pasta.  Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Cook your pasta al dente, according to the instructions on the box. Drain the pasta and return it to the pot it was cooked in.

Add big spoonfuls of sauce to the pasta in the pot.  Add enough so that the pasta is generously coated with the bolognese.  Plate your pasta, and garnish with a little extra sauce and some roughly chopped flat leaf parsley.

You will have leftover sauce, which you will be extremely happy about. It will keep in the fridge for a few days.  Alternatively, you can freeze it and use it in future belly-warming meals.

Notes on ingredients:
- You can also sub turkey meat with 6 oz. veal + 6 oz. beef, or all beef, or all chicken, or whatever your heart desires
- The quality of the canned tomatoes you use is wildly important to the outcome of the sauce.  I highly recommend using a San Marzano tomato (comes in different brands). I like Cento
- Make sure your wine is drinkable; it doesn't have to be expensive, but it does have to taste good

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