Italian Sausage Bolognese is a hearty comforting pasta sauce, made super healthy with tons of hidden veggies! The veggie base of the sauce is pulsed in a food processor for a flavor packed, nutrient dense dinner the whole family will love! As familiar as spaghetti, yet a totally new hearty marinara sauce, kid-friendly too!
Why We Love It!
- It’s super healthy yet absolutely delicious! – Perfect for picky eaters, and seriously couldn’t we all stand to eat more veggies? This healthy Bolognese sauce, also called Ragu, is a thick, full-bodied meat sauce from northern Italy’s Bologna region. It’s loaded with onion, celery, carrot, bell pepper, garlic and kale, but with the help of a food processor, those veggies go unnoticed in the finished sauce. A familiar marinara style sauce, it’s hearty, filling, and oh so delicious!
- It’s fast and easy! – No chopping involved, all veggies are minced in the food processor! You can prep up a pot of sauce in under 30 minutes and then let it simmer away on the stove.
- It feeds a crowd or gives you great leftovers! – A big one-pot Italian pasta night is great for feeding a crowd with a big salad and garlic bread! Or make it just for your family and enjoy the leftovers. Extra sauce can be frozen and used as a pasta or pizza sauce!
- If you love this recipe, be sure to check out my my other Italian pasta favorites like Mom’s Homemade Spaghetti and Peppers & Fennel Sausage Penne!
Ingredients & Substitutions
- Bulk Italian Sausage – Italian sausage, along with all the veggies makes this a super hearty marinara sauce! You could also substitute ground pork or ground beef like in spaghetti, but bulk Italian sausage adds a lot of flavor to your sauce. You can make this sauce as meaty as you like it, I usually use around a half to a full pound. I buy bulk Italian sausage at our local butcher shop, and it’s great to stock a few extra packages in the freezer.
- The Veggies! – onion, carrot, celery, bell pepper, kale, and garlic – This hidden veggie pasta sauce is loaded with nutrition! The veggies are all minced in the food processor to a pulp-like consistency, so you don’t really notice them in the final sauce. They do add great flavor, a hearty, filling consistency, and make sure everyone hits their daily dose of veggies! The amounts don’t need to be exact and all veggies are optional or interchangeable if you want to leave something out. Zucchini, eggplant, mushrooms, or spinach would make great variations.
- Salt and Pepper – Season the veggies while they saute, this enhances the flavor of all ingredients.
- Italian Seasoning – A basic Italian seasoning or similar blend is great for this sauce. A combination of individual dried herbs is also fine, like thyme, basil, and oregano. Or, if you have them, you can also use about a third cup of fresh Italian herbs such as basil, oregano, thyme, and parsley.
- Brown Sugar – A bit of sweetness balances the acidity of the tomatoes.
- Red Wine (optional) – Bolognese traditionally has a bit of red wine used to deglaze the pot and scrape up all those yummy bits of veggies and sausage before adding the tomatoes. I’ve made this recipe with it and without it, both with delicious results. So I say, if you have a bottle of red opened on the counter, go ahead and add a splash, if you don’t, leaving it out is totally fine!
- Canned Tomatoes – You need 3 large 28oz cans of tomato for this recipe. You can use any combination of crushed or whole peeled tomatoes, pulsed in the food processor. A can of tomato paste also thickens the sauce and deepens the tomato flavor.
- Pasta – I often serve this with spaghetti to make it super kid-friendly. You can also serve bolognese with tagliatelle, a long thin flat egg noodle traditional in Italy. Really any pasta shape will work here such as linguini, fettuccine, or even a hearty short pasta like rigatoni.
Step 1 – In a large pot over medium high heat, begin cooking Italian sausage, breaking it up with a wooden spoon. Meanwhile, wash and roughly chop the onion, celery, carrot (no need to peel) and bell pepper and add them to a food processor.
Step 2 – Pulse the veggies until they are finely minced, scraping down the sides with a spatula as needed.
Step 3 – Move the cooking Italian sausage to one side of the pot and add the veggies to saute on the other side. The sausage may have released enough fat to cook the veggies, if not you can add a bit of olive oil before adding them. Season with salt and pepper.
Step 4 – Saute the veggies and the sausage, keeping them to their side of the pot, until the sausage is fully browned and the veggies are softened, about 10 minutes.
Step 5 – While the mixture is sautéing, pulse the kale and garlic in the food processor until minced. Open your cans of tomato.
Step 6 – Add the kale and garlic to the pot. Add the Italian seasoning and brown sugar and stir everything well to combine. You can add a splash of red wine at this point to deglaze the pan (optional).
Step 7 – Add the canned tomato to the pot. If you are using crushed tomatoes, add them directly. If you are using whole peeled, drain the liquid into the pot of sauce, then pulse the whole tomatoes in the food processor before adding. I like to use a combination of crushed and whole peeled tomato for this recipe. Fill your can of tomato paste with water, pour it back and forth between all the empty tomato cans and food processor to get every last bit of tomato. Then add the red water to the sauce.
Step 8 – Let sauce simmer on low for 1 to 2 hours. It should be almost bubbling but not splattering out of the pot, give it a good occasional stir. When ready to eat, cook pasta and serve with parmesan cheese and a side salad.
The veggies in this healthy spaghetti Bolognese are all optional. If you only have 1 carrot, that’s fine. If you don’t have celery, not a problem to leave it out! These veggies are all interchangeable and the amounts don’t need to be exact. You could also use zucchini, mushrooms, eggplant, or a handful of spinach. It’s a versatile recipe, and great for adding veggies that aren’t normally everyones favorite!
Storage & Freezer Tips
This healthy bolognese sauce is a perfect large batch meal prep because if freezes so well! Store it in glass containers in the fridge (with the pasta or separately) for up to 3 days to reheat for lunches. Or store it in the freezer for 6 months, just the sauce, not the pasta! I like to freeze sauce in 16 ounce glass jars and thaw one for making homemade pizza every Friday night! When freezing in jars, only fill ¾’s full and cool completely in the fridge first so you don’t crack the jars. I like to freeze it in different sized containers. Larger for another pasta night, or even very small jars to make individual Flatbread Pizzas for the kids for lunch. Try it on Eggplant Paninis too!
- Vegetarian Spaghetti Bolognese – This healthy bolognese sauce can easily be made vegetarian! Just omit the sausage and you’ve still got a hearty veggie loaded sauce!
- Vegan Spaghetti Bolognese – You can easily make this a vegan bolognese by leaving out the sausage and topping it with vegan cheese (or omitting). You may want to consider adding even more veggies, like mushrooms, zucchini or eggplant or adding ground walnuts to your food processor for extra protein!
- Bolognese with Tagliatelle – Tagliatelle is often traditionally served with bolognese. It is a long thin flat egg noodle, perfect in heartiness for that full bodied tomato sauce. This is a rich, hearty bolognese so choose a pasta hearty enough to stand up to the sauce!
- Can you use marinara sauce for pizza? – Yes! Really any red sauce, like this Italian Sausage Bolognese, is perfect to use for homemade pizza. The hidden veggies add extra nutrition, especially when the kids just want pepperoni!
More Favorite Pasta Recipes!
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Italian Sausage Bolognese
- 1 onion
- 1-2 carrots
- 2 ribs celery
- 1 red bell pepper
- ½ to 1 pound ground bulk Italian Sausage
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 6 grinds fresh black pepper
- 2 to 3 leaves kale stems removed
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1 Tablespoon brown sugar
- 1 Tablespoon Italian seasoning or a handful of fresh herbs
- ⅓ cup red wine (optional)
- 3 28oz cans whole peeled or crushed tomatoes (or a combination)
- 1 6oz can tomato paste
- 1 pound spaghetti or any hearty pasta
- Parmesan cheese for serving
- Preheat a large sauce pot over medium high heat and begin to brown the sausage. Break up sausage with the back of a wooden spoon as it cooks and move it to the side of the pot.
- Roughly chop the onion, celery, carrot and bell pepper into large chunks. In a food processor, pulse vegetables until they are finely minced to a pulp-like consistency.
- Add the veggies to the other side of the pot next to the sausage. Veggies can cook in the fat from the sausage, or add a bit of olive oil if needed. Season with salt and pepper. Cook until the sausage is browned and the veggies are sauteed, keeping them to their side as best you can, about 10 minutes.
- Pulse the garlic and kale in the food processor until minced and add to the pot, cook for 1 minute. Add brown sugar and Italian seasoning and mix everything together. Add a splash of red wine if using to deglaze the pot, scraping up all those bits of sausage with a wooden spoon.
- Reduce heat to low. Add the canned tomatoes, whole peeled tomatoes can be drained into the sauce, then pulsed in the food processor to desired consistency. Crushed tomato can be added directly to the pot. Fill the tomato paste can with water and use it to rinse all the cans and food processor and then add the tomatoey water to the sauce.
- Let the sauce simmer on low to medium low for 1 to 2 hours, stirring occasionally. It's ok to have it bubble slightly but not boil or splatter.
- When ready to serve, cook pasta following package instructions. Top the pasta with the sauce and Parmesan cheese. Extra sauce can be frozen.
- The veggies are all optional and interchangeable and the amounts don’t need to be exact. For example, 1 carrot, only half an onion, or no celery is fine. You could also add or substitute zucchini, mushrooms, eggplant, or a handful of spinach.
- Store leftovers it in glass containers in the fridge (with the pasta or separately) for up to 3 days to reheat for lunches.
- Freeze sauce for up to 6 months. Freeze in different size containers or glass jars, larger for another pasta night, or smaller to make homemade pizza, individual Flatbread Pizzas for the kids for lunch, or Eggplant Paninis. When freezing in jars, only fill ¾’s full and cool completely in the fridge first so you don’t crack the jars.