coming home to spaghetti bolognese

After traveling for two weeks in April (first for work, then for a little getaway), I was starting to crave the comforts of home in the form of a bowl of pasta. I had some memorable meals while I was away (like decadent rainbow trout with chive butter sauce and an upside down rhubarb cornmeal cake at Mattei's Tavern in Los Olivos), but I was itching to return to the kitchen and make something myself.

Spaghetti Bolognese was the official meal welcoming me back home, and it was far more successful than my last encounter with the sauce. Almost three years ago I was not only using an electric stove (unfortunate, but not the worst part of this story), when a surging fire had broken out in Santa Barbara causing unpredictable electrical outages throughout the city. I suppose it was my own fault that I decided to make a three-hour sauce, but based on the previous outages that had been happening around 7 pm each evening, I figured I would be in the clear by starting my sauce early in the afternoon.

But no. I added the meat to the pan to brown, and an outage. I finished cooking the meat and added the tomatoes, then an outage. The sauce cooked for maybe 45 minutes, boiling away, then an outage. I'm not actually sure how long it really took to make the sauce, but you can bet I was so bothered by the whole situation I wasn't interested in attempting it again for a while.

This time I took a few shortcuts, mainly in the form of my own marinara sauce I had in the freezer. I browned some turkey, poured in the reserved sauce, added torn basil and the sauce was ready in no time. This quick version might not have the extreme depth of flavor as a three-hour version, but with fresh ingredients it will be light and still satisfying, especially after two weeks of restaurant fare.


The trick to a quick sauce that usually simmers for hours is using enhancers like tomato paste and butter that will add layers of flavor without requiring the long cooking times. If you don't have marinara sauce handy, use a 28-ounce can of tomatoes in place of the sauce and add some cooking time so the sauce has a chance to reduce and thicken.

Serves 4-6

Extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 pound ground turkey
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste, the best quality you can find
4 cups / 32 oz. marinara sauce
1/4 cup loosely packed basil, torn
Sea salt and freshly cracked pepper
1 pound spaghetti
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Parmesan cheese, for serving

In a large sauté pan, heat one turn of olive oil over medium-high heat. When the oil is shimmering, add turkey and let brown on one side before turning it over, as this is your chance to create a flavor base for the sauce. Reduce the heat to low and add garlic and tomato paste. Stir to combine and cook for 30 seconds until the garlic is fragrant and the paste is distributed throughout the turkey. Add the marinara sauce and basil and bring to a boil. Reduce heat again and simmer sauce for about 20 minutes, until slightly thickened.

While the sauce cooks, boil the pasta for 6 minutes, or until just undercooked, in a large pot of salted water. Transfer pasta to the sauce to finish cooking and toss with tongs to coat. Add the butter, some Parmesan cheese, and just a dash of cooking liquid. Toss until butter melts and the sauce is lusciously coating the strands of spaghetti.

Serve with extra Parmesan cheese and a dusting of chopped parsley.