Food & Drink

Rich bolognese sauce is OK when you eat it with zucchini noodles

Want to eat clean? Ditch the pasta and eat zucchini noodles.
Want to eat clean? Ditch the pasta and eat zucchini noodles. TNS

We’re another week closer to spring, but I’m enjoying the cold winter days. Perhaps it’s because I was born in Iowa that I don’t mind cold days and look forward to snow. I cannot tell you why, but I find it delicious in every way. One of my favorite cold-day recipes is bolognese sauce. You can make it healthier or low-carb by spooning it on top of spiralized zucchini noodles.

Before you think I’ve gone noodles, hear me out. Zucchini is very mild tasting, particularly when it’s raw. It also happens to have very few calories, and hey, it’s better for you than pasta. I eat it raw with hot sauce over it, but you can saute the noodles in a bit of oil or butter to caramelize them a bit. If I still haven’t coaxed you into the zucchini noodle craze, there are healthier versions of traditional wheat-made pasta. I’ve made the quinoa pasta before and recently tried the Banza pasta that’s made from garbanzo beans. I thought it was pretty good and it has a lot of protein and quite a bit of fiber, too. Banza pasta can be purchased at places like Sprouts and Whole Foods.

Enough about which version of noodles you’re eating because this is all about the sauce. This recipe makes enough for a good sized dinner party, or plenty to freeze the leftovers. I enjoy batch cooking in the winter, but I don’t want to eat the same thing for dinner all week. Be prepared to either feed a crowd or have some freezer containers ready to save this delectable sauce for a comforting meal another time. When you first see the list of ingredients, it might be a turn off because there are quite a few. Don’t let that deter you from trying this sauce. It’s worth every moment of ingredient gathering and chopping.

I’ve adapted this recipe to my own palate and liking from a recipe in Heather Cristo’s “Generous Table” cookbook. I increased the Italian sausage because I don’t eat veal for ethical reasons and also because Italian sausage is a favorite around my house. I also ditched the bay leaf because sometimes I forget to dig them out and then someone gets a mouthful of bay leaf. Not a delightful surprise. I also omitted the Parmesan rind cooking in the sauce because you get that sprinkled on top of your sauce and because I might forget that in the sauce, too. This recipe calls for an immersion blender puree the sauce, but I really enjoy biting into the hunks of sausage and veggies, too.

You might think this week’s recipe doesn’t fit into clean eating, but it does. Clean eating to me means fresh, wholesome ingredients and sometimes substituting ingredients for healthier ones – in this case, subbing the pasta for zucchini noodles. If you’re doing Whole30 or Paleo diets, you can substitute coconut cream – only the solid part for the heavy cream and an approved sweetener for the 2 tablespoons of sugar. Do a bit of research on the sweetener thing though because, for example, stevia is much, much sweeter than sugar, so it’s not a 1:1 ratio.

I have this handy kitchen gadget called a spiralizer. I purchased the Paderno brand after trying out a cheaper handheld version that was a real pain to operate. In seconds, you can take a veggie and make it into noodles. It would be a fun activity for a kid to help with because it’s safe once it’s set up to just crank the handle round-and-round, and voila, beautiful, uniform noodles adorn your plate just begging for this Bolognese sauce. Whether you decide if you want to make the sauce or skip over it, I do recommend trying spiralized zucchini for a pasta replacement for cleaner eating this month. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Adriene Rathbun is an enthusiastic Wichita cook who offers cooking classes through her business, Social. Reach her at or

Bolognese Sauce

4 ounces pancetta, chopped

1 pound Italian sausage, mild or spicy, or a mix

½ pound ground pork

1 ½ cups yellow onion, chopped

2/3 cup carrot, chopped

2/3 cup zucchini, chopped

2/3 cup mushrooms, chopped

4 garlic cloves, minced

2 tablespoons fresh basil, julienned

2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves

1 tablespoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

½ teaspoon ground nutmeg

¼ teaspoon ground allspice

3 ounces tomato paste

¼ cup water

¾ cup red wine

2 28 ounce cans crushed tomatoes

4 tablespoons salted butter

¼ cup heavy cream

2 tablespoons sugar

Kosher salt, to taste

1 zucchini, spiralized, per serving

2-3 cups freshly grated Parmesan

In a large heavy pot, crisp the pancetta over medium heat, rendering the fat, 7 to 8 minutes. Add the sausage (squeezed out of casing, if purchased that way) and lightly brown. Add the ground pork and cook until lightly browned, stirring frequently, about 10 minutes. Add chopped vegetables, herbs and spices, and then sweat for about 10 minutes.

Stir in tomato paste and water, then stir in the wine. Stir in crushed tomatoes and let the sauce simmer and flavors blend for 5 to 10 minutes. Add butter and turn the heat down to low. Simmer the sauce, stirring occasionally, for about an hour, or even more.

Stir in cream and season with sugar and salt. Spiralize zucchini and serve either lightly sautéed, steamed or even raw with a plentiful serving of Bolognese sauce and lots of freshly grated Parmesan cheese.