This Ricotta Gnocchi with Veal Ragu is the ultimate comfort food for chilly weather. Packed with layers upon layers of flavor, this recipe is definitely a keeper!
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My family didn’t grow up eating veal. In reality, veal is most common in large dairy states, and the South is not particularly known for dairy. The majority of US veal farms are located in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana and Wisconsin. I honestly can’t say I even saw veal in the grocery store until we moved up here to upstate New York. Occasionally, I’d see veal on a restaurant menu (typically Veal Parmesan), but I never ordered it. I didn’t know much about veal. Moreover, I’d heard that veal was just baby cows, and most of these cows were neglected.
So when the opportunity to visit a veal farm arose earlier this year, I seriously debated it. I’ve worked quite a bit with the beef industry, but I still wasn’t sure about veal. After much internal debate, I decided to go along on the tour just to get a better understanding.
One of the biggest things I’d heard about the veal industry was that veal calves were kept in confined crates where they couldn’t move or see other animals. Back in 2007, the veal industry in the US made a commitment to move to group pens rather than individual crates. This commitment was phased in over a 10-year period, and today all milk-fed veal calves are raised in group pens. I saw these pens with my own eyes. Sure enough, the calves have plenty of room to move about.
We’ve chatted before about technology in the beef industry, but I saw one of the coolest things at the veal farm. Just as the name suggests, milk-fed veal calves are fed milk. The calves are able to feed whenever they’d like, but this presents a unique problem in itself. Since the calves are kept in a group pen, it’s a bit difficult to ensure that all calves are getting enough milk. Here’s where the technology comes in!
Each calf has an electronic sensor that communicates with the milk feeding machine. Each time the calf drinks, that data is recorded. If a certain calf isn’t getting enough milk, then the farmer is alerted, and he or she can intervene to make sure that calf remains healthy. And all of this can be monitored via the farmer’s smart phone. Kinda crazy, huh?
What is veal?
Veal is meat that is produced from the male offspring of dairy cows. Cows give birth once a year. Female offspring of dairy cows typically remain in the herd, but male offspring are often sold to either veal farmers or beef farmers. Milk-fed veal calves are raised for about 6 months, or to an average weight of about 500 pounds. (For reference, beef cows are raised to an average of 1200 pounds.)
Veal is quite popular in Europe, and when veal farming came to the US in the mid-1900’s, the thought was that confinement and an all-milk diet were needed to produce tender meat. That thought process has changed dramatically, and veal production is quite different today than it was 75 years ago. Veal calves are tether-free, and they are raised in group-pens with plenty of room to move around. (Cows are herd animals, though. No matter the amount of space, you typically find them all huddled up together.)
What does veal taste like?
While veal is technically considered a red meat, raw veal is much paler in color than traditional beef. When cooking, veal will more readily absorb the flavors of the various herbs and seasonings in the recipe. Garlic, lemon and Italian seasonings are some of the more common ingredients used in many veal recipes. Veal is often found as cutlets which are then used to make classic dishes like Veal Parmesan or Wiener Schnitzel.
Ricotta Gnocchi with Veal Ragu
For today’s recipe, I stuck with the Italian theme. (Have you met me? We love Italian food around here!) Instead of Veal Parmesan, though, I opted for Veal Ragu. Ragu is a meat sauce which develops layers of flavor thanks to simmering on the stovetop for several hours. Ragu is a relatively easy recipe to make as most of the cooking time is inactive. All you need to do is walk by the stove occasionally and give the pot a stir. Then just let that ragu keep on simmerin’ away.
Ragu is often served with pasta. For this Ricotta Gnocchi with Veal Ragu, I chose to make ricotta gnocchi. I absolutely love potato gnocchi, but those can be a labor of love to make. Ricotta gnocchi on the other hand couldn’t be easier. Seriously! You simply mix up the ingredients into a “dough,” and then roll that dough into a log. Cut off 1″ pieces of that log and gently cook them in a pot of boiling water. 2-3 minutes later, the cooked gnocchi will float to the top, and that’s your cue that dinner is almost done!
This Ricotta Gnocchi with Veal Ragu was a huge hit in our house. The ground veal was tender, and it absorbed so much flavor from the other ingredients in the pot. Add in those ricotta gnocchi, and we had one heck of a delicious dinner. (And this recipe makes excellent leftovers as the flavors meld overnight!)
If you’re still curious about the veal industry, hop over and check out VealFarm.com. Veal farming has changed dramatically in the past several decades, and this site is full of excellent info. In the meantime, though, pick up some ground veal at the store and make this Ricotta Gnocchi with Veal Ragu. Enjoy!
Did you make this Ricotta Gnocchi with Veal Ragu at home? Leave a comment. Or snap a photo and tag me on Instagram (@Spicedblog)!
Ricotta Gnocchi with Veal Ragu
For the Veal Ragu
- 1 Tbsp olive oil plus more for finishing
- 1 large yellow onion diced
- 2 carrots peeled and diced
- 2 stalks celery diced
- ¼ cup fresh Italian parsley chopped, plus more for garnishing
- 2 tsp minced garlic
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- ½ tsp black pepper
- 1 tsp dried thyme
- 1 tsp dried rosemary
- 2 pounds ground veal
- ½ cup dry red wine can substitute with beef stock
- 3 Tbsp tomato paste
- 2½ cups beef stock
- 1 28-oz. can plum tomatoes (preferably San Marzano style)
- Parmesan cheese grated
For the Veal Ragu
- Using a large stock pot or Dutch oven, add olive oil and place over medium heat. Once hot, add onion, carrots, celery, parsley, garlic, salt, pepper, thyme and rosemary; stir until well combined.
- Sauté for 6-7 minutes, or until onions have softened.
- Add veal; stir until well combined.
- Continue sautéing for 12-15 more minutes, or until veal has browned slightly.
- Add wine and stock. Bring mixture to a boil; boil for 1-2 minutes.
- Add tomato paste and tomatoes; stir until well combined. Reduce heat to low and let simmer uncovered for 2-2½ hours, stirring occasionally.
For the Gnocchi
- Using a medium mixing bowl, add all gnocchi ingredients; stir until well combined.
- Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let rest for ~30 minutes.
- While dough is resting, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
- Roll dough into a log approximately 1" thick. (Tip: Roll log in extra semolina flour to keep it from sticking.) Slice log into ~1" pieces.
- Add gnocchi to boiling water; cook until gnocchi float (~1-2 minutes).
- Using a slotted spoon, transfer the cooked gnocchi onto plates. Top with Veal Ragu.
- Before serving, drizzle top of dish with olive oil. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and freshly chopped Italian parsley.
Looking for more delicious recipes? Check out some of these other favorite cold-weather comfort foods: