Ground chicken is a perfect stand-in when you want the depth of a meat sauce without the richness. Slow-simmered Chicken Bolognese is a beautifully layered pasta sauce made in the traditional style. It’s also happens to be an easy, lower calorie alternative that gives full-bodied flavor without the full-bodied feeling after.
We’ve all got our favorite secret weapons in the kitchen, from tools to hacks to ingredients. And when it comes to ingredients, ground chicken is pretty high up on my list of ways to outsmart my body.
With way less fat and fewer calories, ground chicken is a great substitute for ground beef that won’t leave you feeling heavy after a meal.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: “It’s also dry and not as flavorful.” Well, dear reader, I hate to break it to you, but that’s not really a “ground chicken” problem. Properly prepared, ground chicken can be flavorful, versatile, and incredibly tender.
Thankfully, I have spent quite a bit of time working in this particular medium to create delicious, healthy ground chicken recipes, so you don’t have to.
This versatile meat is a beautiful blank canvas just waiting for a bevy of flavors. Ground chicken makes for incredibly flavorful meatballs (shawarma meatballs are a family favorite, but if you crave traditional flavors, try this chicken meatball soup); infused with the right amount of healthy fats, like avocado, it makes for a great chicken burger; put it to the taco test with Ground Chicken Taco Zucchini Boats; or simply trust me on this one, and dive right in to ground chicken Bolognese recipe.
What is Chicken Bolognese?
Before we dive in, remember that all ragu is meat sauce and all meat sauce is ragu.
Bolognese sauce, or “ragu alla Bolognese,” is a regional version of a traditional slow-cooked Italian meat sauce.
For reference, take my Italian Meat Sauce recipe. It’s got the classic ragu vibe you’re thinking of – tomato, onion, garlic, and basil, with red wine and, of course, lots of meaty meat (mine calls for ground beef and sausage, but I know people who use pork neck, chunks of veal… pretty much anything).
Now, Bolognese does have meat (traditionally ground – or minced – if you want to be precise), but it also has more nuance.
You start with a mirepoix (rather, a soffritto since we’re talking Italian food here) and build up your sauce with meat and tomatoes, then work in wine and milk (it works, trust me). I finish this healthier Bolognese sauce with a dash of nutmeg, which is traditional, but not always used.
See? Layers. And while the ground meat is an important one, I promise you that ground chicken absolutely holds its own.
Is Chicken Bolognese Healthy?
With or without ground chicken, Bolognese pasta sauce isn’t inherently unhealthy. It’s chock full of vegetables and meat which means vitamins and minerals, fiber, and protein. However, ground beef has significantly more fat than ground chicken; by swapping out, the primary benefit is reducing the amount of fat and calories in the recipe.
If you need to make swaps based on dietary restrictions, there are several options. Gluten free serving suggestions are included below. If you need to go dairy free, oat and soy milk are good creamy plant-based alternatives – almond milk is too thin. Do not use lactose-free milk as it should not be boiled.
Red White or White Wine?
Shockingly enough, there is way more internet drama surrounding the evolution of pasta Bolognese than I ever imagined, and if you want to dive in, Google is your friend.
For the purposes of this recipe, it’s safe to say that by the time Bolognese made it to our shores, it had developed into a recipe that predominantly featured ground beef and red wine.
Like classic beef Bolognese, meat is the star of show in chicken Bolognese, and red wine will overpower the poultry. So, while I use red wine for my beef Bolognese, white wine is much better suited for the more delicate flavor of chicken and works perfectly in this sauce.
How to Make Chicken Bolognese
Use ground chicken to make a healthier pasta Bolognese. Start by sautéing ingredients in layers to bring out their flavors, then simmer low and slow on the stovetop to build depth. Finish cooking the pappardelle noodles right in the sauce for perfect texture and flavor.
- Saute the ground chicken in butter and olive oil until no longer pink. Season with salt and pepper, and break into small chunks using a wood spoon.
- Add onions, carrots and celery, and saute with the chicken until the vegetables soften. Add garlic and cook until very fragrant.
- Deglaze the pot with white wine, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Continue cooking about 5 minutes until the wine is completely absorbed.
- Add the tomato paste and stir constantly for 1-2 minutes, then add the canned tomatoes and whole milk. Season with nutmeg, and place the bay leaf on top.
- Simmer 45 minutes to 1 hour uncovered, depending on desired consistency, stirring occasionally to prevent scalding.
- In final 20 minutes, cook the pasta according to package directions to 1-2 minutes below al dente, then reserve 1 cup of pasta water and drain.
- Add the cooked noodles and a quarter cup of pasta water to sauce. Toss until the noodles and sauce are well combined, then simmer 2-3 minutes more, until the noodles are cooked through.
- Serve right away, garnished with grated parmesan cheese and chopped basil. Enjoy!
- Cook Bolognese sauce in a heavy bottomed pan. A pot like a Dutch oven distributes heat more evenly so you don’t get hot spots that can cause the sauce to scald.
- Stirring the tomato paste into your sauce for a solid 1-2 minutes will help remove any “canned flavor”.
- Use white wine for chicken Bolognese – red wine is best for heavier meat sauces (like beef Bolognese).
- Don’t forget to save your pasta water! This starchy liquid gold will add more body to your sauce but will also thin it out as needed.
Best Noodles for Bolognese
Chunky sauces like Bolognese are best served over long wide noodles – more surface area to cover with that delicious sauce! Pappardelle or tagliatelle are my go-tos, but rigatoni and penne also work if you want a short pasta.
Can Gluten-Free Pasta Be Used?
You can absolutely substitute gluten-free noodles in this ground chicken pasta recipe. Just prepare according to the package directions. As an alternative, this “meaty” chicken Bolognese also has enough body to hold up served over polenta. To go completely grain-free, we also enjoy it spooned into roasted spaghetti squash “bowls”.
What to Serve with Chicken Bolognese
A meal unto itself, you don’t need much – if anything – to accompany ground chicken Bolognese for it to be a super satisfying meal.
Did you make this chicken bolognese sauce? I’d love to know how it turned out! Leave a comment and a rating below.
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- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tbsp butter
- 2 lb ground chicken
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- ½ tsp ground pepper
- 1 large sweet onion, diced to ¼”
- 3 medium carrots, diced to ¼”
- 3 stalks celery, diced to ¼”
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 c dry white wine
- 4 tsp tomato paste
- 1 28- oz can crushed tomatoes
- 1 c whole milk
- Pinch grated nutmeg, freshly ground if available
- 1 whole bay leaf
- 1 lb pappardelle noodles
- 1 tbsp kosher salt
- Grated parmesan cheese, to taste
- Fresh chopped basil, to taste
- Heat a dutch oven or large soup pot over medium high heat. Add the butter and oil and heat until the butter melts, then foams. Break the chicken into chunks, add to the potk, and season with salt and pepper. Use a wood spoon to break up the chicken into small pieces. Continue to saute, stirring occasionally, until the chicken is no longer pink.
- Add the onion, carrot, and celery and toss to combine with the chicken. Saute, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are softened, 6-7 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute more.
- Pour in the wine to deglaze the pot. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the wine has been completely absorbed, about 5 minutes.
- Add the tomato paste; stir constantly for 1-2 minutes to remove the canned flavor and to fully incorporate into the chicken and vegetable mixture.
- Add the tomatoes and whole milk, then season with the nutmeg. Stir until well combined. Place the bay leaf on top.
- Bring the sauce to a boil, then reduce to low heat. Simmer, uncovered, for 45 minutes to 1 hour, depending on your preference for consistency. Stir occasionally to prevent scalding the bottom of the pot. Taste for seasoning, and adjust with salt and pepper as needed.
- In the last 20 minutes, bring a large pot of water to a boil and season with 1 tablespoon kosher salt. Add the pappardelle noodles and cook 1 minute below al dente. Reserve 1 cup pasta water, then drain.
- Add the cooked noodles to the sauce, along with ¼ cup pasta water. Toss the noodles and the bolognese until well combined, and simmer 2-3 minutes more, or until the noodles are cooked through and tender. If the sauce is too thick, add more pasta water in quarter cup increments.
- Serve right away, garnished with grated parmesan cheese and chopped basil. Enjoy!