Bolognese with Chicken Italian Sausage
Bolognese, once reserved for weekend cooking, is becoming a weeknight favorite as we spend more time at home.
Traditionally made with beef, pancetta, a variety of carrots, onions and celery, white wine, and tomato paste, Bolognese is known as ragú alla Bolognese, originating in Bologna, Italy. It’s important to remember that Bolognese, being a product of Northern Italy, is not considered a tomato sauce, but a slow-braised meat sauce with a small amount of tomato paste.
I’ve made several variations of a classic Bolognese, and I always come back to this one. I’m not going to claim it to be the most classic Bolognese, but it’s pretty darn close (and, in my humble opinion, just as hearty and yummy). All of the classic ingredients make an appearance, with the addition of freshly crushed garlic and swapping beef for chicken Italian sausage.
Less Tomato, More Wine
Classic Bolognese is not a red sauce, it is a slow-cooked meat sauce; cuisine originated in Northern Italy features sauces that are wine or stock-based and often slowly braised. The tomato in Bolognese consists of 1/3 cup of tomato paste per four servings—that’s it! Whereas we use 1/2 cup of wine and nearly 3 cups of stock for the rest of the base.
Ideally, choose between:
• Pinot Grigio
• Sauvignon Blanc
The general rule to follow is that if you’d drink it, cook with it. However, please don’t cook with anything too fancy—this merely pertains to the idea that you shouldn’t cook with a wine of which you wouldn’t enjoy the taste.
Preparing your ingredients
Bolognese is a slow-braised meat sauce, which takes about 3 hours to cook. The great part about this cook time is that you don’t have to be completely active for the duration of its braising. Once you’ve prepared all of your ingredients and have the sauce simmering, simply stir the sauce occasionally while ensuring that it hasn’t lost too much of its liquid.
Choosing your cookware
The number one choice for cooking at least four servings of Bolognese is going to be a Dutch oven. I use a 5-quart enameled cast iron Dutch oven for just about every “pot” meal, including this one. If you’re using cast iron, be sure to use one that’s enameled. Sauces and foods with too much acidity can break down the metallic molecules in your cast iron pan or Dutch oven and, even worse, break down the seasoning that you’ve spent years acquiring. You can read more about what not to cook in your cast iron pan.
Preparing the chicken Italian sausage
In a classic Bolognese with beef, you’d allow the slow braising of the ground beef to break down and soften the beef bits, incorporating them into your sauce. However, chicken doesn’t behave the same way as beef. Enter the food processor. Start out by browning your chicken sausage in the Dutch oven and then carefully transfer it to a bowl. A few simple pulses in the food processor will break up the sausage, once browned, to give you the consistency of a slow-braised beef Bolognese.
Pick your pork
To achieve the richness of Bolognese, you’ll need to choose your pork option. Traditionally, a few slices of pancetta are used to obtain this slow-cooked savoriness. But, if you don’t have pancetta or prefer to use bacon, you can do so—just make sure to use the right kind. Avoid any type of breakfast bacon (this includes maple and applewood smoked) and opt for something like peppered bacon. You can ask your butcher for clarification; they’ll know the most about the types of bacon on hand!
Mirepoix is a traditional French flavor base made with carrots, onions, and celery. But isn’t this Italian, you ask? Well, yes! Northern Italian cuisine has several influences from neighboring France, including stock and wine-based feasts and flavors from mirepoix.
The easiest way to achieve your mirepoix is by utilizing your food processor. And, hey, since you’ve already pulled it out and have it ready for your chicken sausage, making this flavor base will be a breeze. Simply Rough chop the onion, celery stalks, and carrots, and pulse chop until the combination becomes very fine.
You can add your mirepoix directly into your cooked bacon or pancetta, taking advantage of its fat renderings and salty-and-smoky characteristics. Between the saltiness of the pork and the flavors in the Italian sausage, keep salt and pepper seasoning to a minimum.
Get ready to simmer
Once you’ve incorporated the chicken sausage, pork, and mirepoix, you’ll want to add your wet ingredients and get your sauce simmering.
Depending on how long you braise the Bolognese, you’ll need anywhere between 2 and 3 cups of chicken stock. Start out with 2 cups of stock and your half-and-half or milk. As you stir the sauce, if you notice it becoming too dense or sticky, add 1/3 cup of stock at a time. You’ll want it to be rich and creamy, but not too dense. If you’re adding frozen peas, you’ll want to do this about 30 minutes before it’s done.
If you’ve used all 3 cups of stock and you still want some more fluid, you can incorporate a couple of ladles of pasta water. Cook your pasta to al dente (or slight before), add 1-2 ladles of pasta water and drain the pasta. Add the pasta to your Bolognese and let simmer for 10 minutes with the lid on your Dutch oven or pot. Be sure to add your parmesan only a few minutes before adding your pasta.
Choosing the right pasta
Traditionally, Bolognese is made using Tagliatelle, a wide egg noodle. I’ve used several types of pasta, including:
• Wide egg noodle
• Extra wide egg noodle
Storing and reheating
Ideally, you’ll make more than enough pasta and Bologense for leftovers. I have enjoyed this dish as a late-night dinner and next-morning breakfast. Divvy up the pasta into servings, and store in a glass or medium-sized airtight container.
When reheating, add a splash of chicken stock and warm up in a pot over the stove or covered in the microwave. Add 1-2 teaspoons of parmesan after heating and gently stir. The pasta will have absorbed some of your sauce, so the additional stock and cheese will bring back the rich creamy texture from the night prior.
Are you ready to start braising?
Swapping beef for chicken sausage in this hearty and savory meat sauce and pasta dish.
- Between 3/4 and 1lb of chicken Italian sausage, depending on your preference
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 4 slices applewood smoked bacon
- 1 large carrot, peeled
- 2 celery stalks
- 1 red onion
- 3–5 cloves fresh garlic, crushed
- 1/2 cup white wine
- 1/3 cup tomato paste
- 3 cups low sodium chicken stock, separated
- 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 cup half-and-half
- 1 bay leaf (or 2–3 fresh sage leaves)
- 1/8 tsp nutmeg
- 1/2 cup grated or shredded parmesan
- 1 cup peas, optional
- 1 lb pappardelle, rigatoni, tagliatelle, or egg noodle
- In a Dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium heat.
- Add ground chicken sausage and break apart, cook until it’s just under golden brown and set aside.
- Dice bacon into small pieces and cook over medium heat for about 12 minutes, just under crispy.
- While the bacon cooks, pulse chop the carrot, onion, and celery in a food processor to make the Mirepoix. Once the bacon is cooked, add the Mirepoix to the pot and cook until soft, about 10-15 minutes.
- While the Mirepoix is sautéing, add the chicken sausage to the food processor and pulse until finely ground.
- Add chicken sausage to the pot and increase heat to medium-high. Add the white wine and crushed garlic and stir continually for 10 minutes.
- Stir in tomato paste and add 2 cups of the chicken stock along with crushed red pepper flakes.
- Reduce the heat to low and add half-and-half, bay leaf, and nutmeg.
- Let sauce simmer on low for 2 ½ to 3 hours, stirring often. If the sauce becomes too dense, add ¼ cup of broth at a time until it reaches the desired consistency which should be thick, creamy, but allow for the pasta to absorb some of the liquid.
- Boil 6 qts of salted water and cook pasta al dente, or for 2 minutes less than suggested cook time.
- Remove the bay leaf and add parmesan. If using peas, add them to the sauce now.
- Transfer the pasta to the pot with sauce and stir well.
- Serve immediately and top with a spoonful of parmesan.
Keywords: bolognese, pasta bolognese, italian bolognese, rigatoni, pappardelle, tagliatelle, meat sauce