Pasta with meat sauce is a time-honored classic that never goes out of style. This famous traditional Italian sauce, or ragu, originates in the Northern Italian city of Bologna. While many recipes make Bolognese with beef, veal, pork, or a combination, I've started making mine with ground bison. Pick up some ground bison and try this bison Bolognese meat sauce. It's not totally traditional, but its healthy, rich tasting and big on flavor.
Bison Bolognese Meat Sauce
We eat a lot of chicken and turkey, so it seemed natural that my first test of this recipe was with ground turkey. While it was good, I wanted something different. Something richer. Bison was just the thing.
Lean and healthy, ground bison is now mainstream. With less fat and calories compared to beef, ground bison is a healthy choice for meat eaters. Bison is also an excellent source of heart healthy Omega-3 essential fats, B Vitamins (particularly B6, B12 and Niacin), and the essential minerals iron and zinc. Another benefit, bison are raised on pasture, not in feedlots or on factory farms.
Simmer Sauce Slowly
Start by cooking the vegetables, garlic and herbs until soft in olive oil. Use a heavy pot for even heat distribution, like a Le Creuset 5 ½ quart Dutch oven or other heavy pot. Next, add the ground bison, breaking the meat up with a wooden spoon. Cook the bison until no longer pink. Next, add tomatoes, choosing either fresh or canned depending on the season.
Fresh or Canned Tomatoes?
For this batch of sauce, I used fresh organic heirloom tomatoes while end of summer heirloom tomatoes are plentiful at the market for a good price. To skin tomatoes, cut an "x" in the bottom of the tomato with a sharp paring knife. Plunge tomatoes into boiling water for one minute, the into a bowl filled with ice and water to shock them. The skins will peel right off. Cut the core out of the top. Lastly, pulse tomatoes in a food processor or blender to break them up. You should have 4 cups.
If your are making this in winter when good fresh tomatoes are not available canned are fine. Buy whole tomatoes and seed them, then chop, or use diced or crushed. Look for a brand that reads only tomatoes on the ingredient list without anything else. You will need 4 cups or about 1-28 ounce can plus 1-15 ounce can.
A Splash of "Milk"
Most Bolognese recipes add milk or cream for added richness. If you are dairy sensitive, try full fat coconut milk. It won't taste like coconut. I was out of milk when I made this batch, so I used canned coconut milk and it came out great.
Simmer to Develop Flavor
To develop rich flavor and thick texture, simmer your sauce at least one hour, and preferably two. The simmering sauce will fill the house with wonderful fragrance. Everyone will be asking when dinner will be ready. Extra sauce freezes well, so if you you have extra, freeze it. Better yet, make a double batch and freeze it for dinner in a pinch.
To Serve - Choose Your Noodles
Serve bison Bolognese meat sauce with brown rice pasta for gluten-free eaters, or with whole wheat or multi-grain pasta if you are not wheat sensitive. My favorite brown rice pasta is Jovial. It's worth tracking down at a health oriented market or on Amazon. Jovial has great texture and taste, unlike many brands. Use a wide, flat noodle to catch all of the delicious sauce.
Low Carb or Paleo
Another option for low carb and paleo diners is to make zucchini noodles with a spiralizer. For how to make zucchini noodles, check out this post. One more idea - combine half zucchini noodles with half pasta noodles of choice. It's a nice combination and a way to ease reluctant eaters into trying zucchini noodles.
If you want to learn more about bison, check out this link from Bison Central or this link from The Bison Council.
- 3 ½ pounds tomatoes see note below for canned tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 cup finely chopped onion ½ of a large
- 1 cup finely chopped celery 3 ribs
- 1 cup finely chopped carrot 2-3
- 2-3 large cloves garlic finely chopped
- 2 teaspoons dried Italian herb blend or use basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary
- 1 pound ground bison 10% fat
- ¾ cup dry white wine optional
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 6 ounce can tomato paste
- ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg or more
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 cup half and half or canned coconut milk
- If you are using fresh tomatoes, start by peeling them. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Set up an ice bath by filling a large bowl with half ice and cold water. When water is boiling, place a few tomatoes at a time into the water for 1 minute, then plunge immediately into the ice bath. Tomato skins should peel right off.
- With a sharp paring knife, cut out the core.When all tomatoes are peeled, pulse in a food processor or blender to break them up into a sauce.
- To a large heavy pot (5 quart) over medium heat, add olive oil. When oil is hot add the onion, celery and carrot. Turn heat down to medium low and cook the onions, celery and carrots slowly until soft, about 3-5 minutes. Stir occasionally. Add the garlic and dried herbs and cook 1 minute longer.
- Add the ground bison and cook, breaking it up with a wooden spoon. Cook until it is no longer pink, about 5-7 minutes. Add the wine and cook until wine is reduced, about 3-4 minutes. Add salt and pepper, then stir in the tomato paste and your tomatoes. Add nutmeg, bay leaf and milk. Turn the heat up and bring sauce almost to a boil, then turn down to low and cover. Simmer sauce 2 hours, stirring occasionally, until thick and rich. Serve over pasta or noodles of choice. Extra sauce freezes well.