While veal provides a classic component in Bolognese sauce that adds mild and sweet flavors, you can easily substitute other ground meats without changing the essential nature of your pasta dish. In fact, outside of the Bologna region of Northern Italy where Bolognese sauce originated, Italians regularly change the proportions of the veal, other meat and other ingredients in their sauces. Although your sauce won't be classic Bolognese without ground veal, it will still be delicious.
The Value of Veal
Whatever meat you substitute for veal should share some of its qualities, such as a mild and delicate texture and flavor. Prior to the 1990s, veal calves were raised in extremely confined areas and their meat was bland to some palates. Since then, growers allow the calves more space and many of the animals are grass-fed as well. The meat from these calves has a light beef taste but is still very tender.
Ground Pork, Chicken or Turkey
Ground pork, chicken or turkey are all mild-tasting and tender meats that you can substitute for ground veal. With any of these meats, drain off excess fats before using the meat in your Bolognese recipe so the sauce isn't overly fatty. Because much of the pork in the U.S. is lean and comes from young hogs that are six to seven months old, ground pork bears a close resemblance to ground veal.
Getting Your Proportions Right
A classic pasta Bolognese sauce for eight to 10 people contains about 3 ounces of meat per person, along with an onion, carrot and celery rib cooked in olive oil, a large can of diced tomatoes and about 2 cups of liquid, which might be equal parts chicken stock and white wine. One option for substituting veal includes using equal parts ground beef and ground pork with a smaller amount of ground chicken or turkey. Or, simply use half ground beef and half ground pork.
Highlighting Alternative Ingredients
Instead of finding a substitute meat for ground veal, you can copy the sauce popular in the south of Italy, where Sicilians add more tomatoes to their ragu sauces and less meat overall. They also add pork sausage which gives the sauce lots of flavor with a small amount of meat. In the Emilia-Romagna area of Northern Italy, which includes Bologna, milk and cream are added to the sauce, which will give your sauce richness even if you leave out the veal, and rely on ground beef alone.