Sometimes you just need a plate of pasta with a big, rich, red sauce.

This lighter version of a hearty Bolognese sauce is a great alternative to calorie-dense restaurant fare. By substituting turkey for the red meat and adding more chopped vegetables, you can create a decadent sauce that you won't regret later.

Recipe: A Lightened-Up Mock Bolognese Sauce (With Turkey and Vegetables)

Ingredients (makes approximately 9 cups of sauce):

  • 2 tsp. olive oil
  • 1 large zucchini, chopped
  • 1 large yellow squash, chopped
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1 lb. ground turkey
  • 3 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 1-pint white mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
  • 4 sprigs of fresh oregano or 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
  • 28 oz. crushed tomatoes
  • 15 oz. passata or strained tomato sauce
  • 1/4 cup Italian parsley, chopped fine
  • Garlic powder, salt, black pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1/8 cup red wine or 2 T. balsamic vinegar (optional)


In a large pot over medium heat, or in an Instant Pot on the medium sauté setting, heat up the olive oil, add the zucchini, squash, onion, and garlic then let it cook for 20 minutes. Season to taste with garlic powder, salt, and black pepper, stirring a few times to prevent sticking.

Add the ground turkey and brown it along with the vegetables, breaking it up as you go. Add the carrots, mushrooms, oregano, crushed tomatoes, and passata, then continue to cook on medium for another 30 minutes.

Here's the hard part. Seasoning will be a very personal matter, and at this point, you'll need to do a ton of doctoring up. Start with pinches of your basic salt, garlic powder, and black pepper. Add depth with a splash of red wine or balsamic vinegar, and soften the edges with a little more oregano. Be conservative because the sauce will continue to set up the more you work on it. If you find that it's getting too thick, thin it out with a good vegetable stock.

Simmer for 30 minutes on low, stirring frequently. Add the chopped parsley, check your seasonings again, then add the milk and stir. Simmer for one last 30 minute period—yes, this takes about two hours total to get just right.

When you're done, you'll have about 9 cups of rich, red Bolognese goodness to top your favorite pasta. Each 2/3 cup serving has just 103 calories.


  • A classic Bolognese calls for a mixture of different meats. By using ground turkey, you are cutting calories, but end up sacrificing a bit of the fatty richness. Don't skip the milk; it's a traditional ingredient that helps round out the sauce.
  • Zucchini and mushrooms don't usually make an appearance in this dish, but they're good, neutral vegetables that help amp up the texture of the final product.
  • Passata is a fresher-tasting ingredient than tinned tomato sauce. You should be able to find it near the canned tomatoes or jars of spaghetti sauce. It's shelf-stable, so buy a few bottles to keep in your pantry.
  • While it may seem strange to use an Instant Pot for this recipe, having the option to time each part of the cooking is a huge advantage.

**All photos by Sarina Petrocelly

What's your favorite way to make spaghetti Bolognese? Share your tips with us in the comments.