Cooking My Way Through Italy – Emilia Romagna

Since Italy has such a wide range of cuisines, varying by region, I’ve decided that cooking my way through the country is the best way to discover them all. This week, I’m bringing Emilia Romagna to my kitchen. For a look at some of the other regions I’ve explored, read more in the series.

Emilia Romagna might be my favorite region and I’ve never even been there. But, it’s the regional home of Parmigiano cheese, balsamic vinegar, and prosciutto di Parma (typically, what we as Americans know as regular ol’ prosciutto, but not to be confused with prosciutto di San Daniele, among others, here in Italy). So no mystery there as to why it’s my favorite…a region whose culinary foundation is meats and cheeses? Sign me up! Bologna, the capital of the region and the largest city, is also the namesake for my recipe this week, Ragù di Tacchino alla Bolognese, or Turkey Bolognese Sauce. I found this recipe while in the States, but have been tweaking and perfecting it for a while. Since Dave doesn’t eat beef or pork (I can only occasionally get away with a little pancetta or prosciutto here and there), I thought a turkey bolognese might be a tall order in Italy. I was under the impression that Italians reserved turkey for the Christmas dinner table, if for anytime at all. Much to my surprise, I was able to find quite a bit here: turkey sausage, ground turkey, and even lunch meat slices are available at mainstream grocery stores, making the replacement of ground beef with ground turkey a cinch for our house.

As soon as the weather cools down (which it certainly did after the remnants of Hurricane Gonzalo blew through in the middle of the night— yikes), I get eager to add it to our meal plans. While it does take some pre-planning (factoring in the simmer time), it doesn’t take a lot of active time to prepare (the 45 minutes of prep time I list below will be significantly less if you use a food processor to finely mince your soffritto ingredients, or onions, celery and carrots). I’m a big fan of not having to dedicate a whole day to making it, instead starting the prep a bit early and just letting it go until we’re ready to eat.

Turkey Bolognese Sauce
Ragù di Tacchino alla Bolognese (Turkey Bolognese Sauce)

Turkey Bolognese Ragù

adapted from The Culinary Chronicles
Serves: 4 | Prep Time: 45 minutes | Cook Time: 2-2.5 hours


  • 1 lb. ground turkey
  • 1 Tbsp. dried rosemary
  • 1/4 lb. spicy Italian sausage (or spicy turkey sausage), optional
  • 3 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely minced (I use a yellow, but white would work too)
  • 1-2 celery stalks, finely minced
  • 1-2 carrots, finely minced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, finely minced
  • dash of cayenne pepper (more or less, depending on your heat preference)
  • 2 dried bay leaves
  • 2 tsp. dried thyme
  • 2-3 Tbsp. tomato paste
  • 1 c. milk (I use whole milk)
  • 1 c. dry white wine
  • 28 oz. of tomato sauce (I use sauce, because I have a a weird texture issue with cooked tomatoes, but canned crushed tomatoes would totally work as well)
  • 1 lb. of appropriate pasta delivery system*, cooked (I vote for tagliatelle, but linguine would also suffice)
  • Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
  • freshly grated Parmigiano cheese


In a large mixing bowl, blend ground turkey and rosemary by hand until the rosemary is well distributed throughout the turkey. Work in the sausage, if using, and set aside. I actually have ground turkey pre-seasoned with rosemary readily available at my grocery store here, so I can usually skip this part and just add that into the sauce with the sausage at the appropriate time.

Heat olive oil in a large heavy pot. Add onions, celery, carrots, and garlic. Sauté until just softened and add cayenne. Sauté for an additional minute. Add turkey, Italian sausage, if using**, and a healthy pinch of kosher salt. Use a wooden spoon to crumble the meat and break into small pieces. Once the meat is no longer pink, add thyme and bay leaves and stir to combine. Add tomato paste and cook for an additional 2-3 minutes.

Add the milk and bring to a simmer. Continue simmering until all the milk has almost evaporated, about 10 minutes. Add the wine and return to a simmer. Keep simmering until all the wine has almost evaporated, about another 10 minutes.

Add tomato sauce and bring to a boil. Bring the heat down to the lowest setting and continue to simmer on low for 2-2.5 hours, stirring every 10-15 minutes until you get a rich, thick meaty sauce. Careful to not let it simmer too long and have all the juices dry out! Check seasonings and add kosher salt and pepper as needed.

When ready, place the cooked pasta in your serving dish and top with the ragù. Garnish with a generous amount of Parmigiano.

*While a “flat” pasta noodle like tagliatelle is most definitely considered traditional, I also like linguine. This time around, in an effort to use what I already had on hand, I made it with bucatini, which is almost like a spaghetti noodle. It’s thick, but also has a hole down the center, making it tube-like. Using it wasn’t the end of the world, but I certainly prefer tagliatelle.

**I’ve made this recipe with spicy Italian sausage, with turkey sausage, and without sausage all together. It’s definitely better with some sausage, as the fat helps with the lean turkey, but I can only really buy any sausage by the half-kilo (a little over a pound) and this recipe only needs about a quarter of that. Since I probably won’t use it for anything else, sometimes I just opt to leave it out and not waste what I wouldn’t use, and it’s still delicious.

I’m almost positive that there will be more cooking adventures centered around the cuisine of Emilia Romagna because, to celebrate the end of Dave’s thesis, we’re heading there to explore the region in two weeks. And we found a cooking school that doesn’t require a student loan to attend, so I’m basically like a kid at Christmas.

And on that note, I’m headed to the gym, in preparation for the extensive eating I plan on doing in November!