Slow-cooked Zucchini & Tomato Ragu

The key with this sauce is a low heat to soften and caramelise the zucchini with the onions and olive oil until they virtually melt when the tomatoes are added. Because we were surrounded by native bush the first time I made this I added a sprinkling of manuka leaves for a little zing to the sauce, back home I use my home-dried oregano.
Servings 4


  • 1 red or brown onion finely chopped
  • good glug / 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 medium-sized zucchini grated
  • 2 - 3 cloves garlic chopped
  • approx. 8 vine-ripened tomatoes I used a combination of my favourite Isle of Capri, Russian red and yellow cherry tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano or small sprig of manuka leaves
  • salt and cracked pepper
  • cooked pasta of choice shaved parmesan and good-quality olive oil to serve


  • Place the onions and oil into a heavy cast iron skillet and cook slowly over a low heat for 10 minutes until the onions are softened but not coloured. Add the grated zucchini and garlic and continue to cook for another 10 or so minutes until the zucchini reduces in bulk by at least half. Add the tomatoes and oregano/manuka, turn up the heat (move to a hotter spot on the campfire) and cook for 10-15 minutes until the tomatoes reduce into a thick pulpy sauce. If you have access to power at this stage use a blender or immersion blender to puree until smooth. Reheat, season to taste and serve hot with cooked pasta, parmesan and a drizzle of olive oil. Delicious!

2016 was a full year. In part this was self-induced by taking on the mammoth task of writing a new cookbook when my oldest child had just started school and youngest still at part-time pre-school. But, for reasons unbeknownst to me, sometimes these projects simply need to be brought to fruition, and you just make it happen. With the help of endless lists, meals prepared in bulk and enlisting the help of amazing family and friends (that I am forever grateful), I made it through the year mostly unscathed. Needless to say, I was very happy to check off the final book design a week before Christmas and truly slowdown over summer while the book is printing.

Very soon I will share more details about ‘the book’ (it is so so close now!). This week I saw the first printed advance copy and it is everything I hoped it would be, in fact so much more. But I don’t want to get ahead of myself (believe me book publishing takes MUCH longer than you can imagine, especially when we add over 50 extra pages!)… So today I share a moment of pause my little family took this summer completely unplugged and off the grid, which is something I feel in this fast-paced-world we all need to schedule into our lives.

I have traveled a fair amount, and seen and lived in some beautiful countries, but the native New Zealand bush is something truly special. It envelops every cell of your body, gently massaging away the stress and tension leaving you feeling alive and nourished from the inside out. On our pause we went remote, no mobile reception for 30 minutes drive, no power, no screens, only a cabin in the bush with crystal clear water to drink and bathe in. I must admit for the first day I kept reaching for my phone, making me realise how attached I have become to this device. But that urge, or habit, passed and with little else to do but walk, swim, build fires and read books, soon we slipped into a simple daily rhythm. My only complaint was that it was too short – and maybe a few too many sandflies!

Although we had a gas stove many meals were cooked on the open fire – much to the children’s delight. Before we left I had harvested all I could from the garden to shape our meals, including a small basket of tomatoes from the glasshouse and the first of the zucchini. Pasta is an easy camping meal so on the second night I made a simple vegetable ragu sauce. Suspecting whole pieces of zucchini wouldn’t be eaten by the little folk (they hadn’t tasted it since last season so I couldn’t be sure) I took a different tack and grated the zucchini then slowly sautéed it with the onions over the hot embers of the campfire before adding the tomatoes. The result, the most flavoursome vegetable ragu I’ve eaten. It has since been replicated at home many times (minus the campfire) where I puree the sauce once it is thick to toss through pasta, spread on pizza bases and add to slow-cooked stews. I guarantee you will love this too, give it go with all the beautiful summer bounty now available.

*This little Toutouwai – New Zealand Robin – visited us most mornings coming right up to our feet while we sat on the front steps of the cabin. Check out the DOC website to learn more about native New Zealand flora and fauna.










Join the Conversation

  1. Hi Nicola, how many people does this recipe feed? Were the zucchinis standard supermarket size, or bigger, and how much pasta did you cook to go with it? Sorry that’s a lot of questions … I’m looking forward to making it – it looks delicious!

    1. Hi Anna, all good questions 🙂 As I usually make this with what I have from the garden it is sort of a bit of this and bit of that meal. So yes, I used medium-sized zucchini – that would be standard supermarket size. This made enough for my family of four and I cooked 250g quinoa and rice pasta for the photo and there was enough to go around (3 full size meals and one smaller meal). I hope that helps! You can always freeze any extra sauce or save it for pizza sauce another night. Enjoy 🙂

  2. Peat has decided he doesn’t like zuchinni so I will give this a go and see if I can slip it past him. Xt

    1. What? I remember you weaning him on marrow!
      I think this might just work, especially if you puree before serving. The zucchini adds a lovely creamy sweetness to the sauce.
      Enjoy xx

  3. I have never heard of eating manuka leaves, am going to try that – thanks! Beautiful photos too.

    1. They have a little bite to them so I added a small sprinkling that was cooked into the sauce. Quite delicious, enjoy!

  4. I made this tonight and it is really delicious! To answer the previous question, I cooked enough penne pasta for myself and 2 kids and I stirred through some enough of the ragu to coat the pasta. There’s plenty left over – enough to make some
    Pizzas with tomorrow! I used 2 large-ish zucchini, but not so big that they’re losing their flavour.

    1. Thanks Mel, I am glad you enjoyed the sauce and have enough for pizza too. That is how much we end up with too but all depends on the size of the zuccs and toms 🙂

  5. Hi Nicola,
    If this sauce were put in sterilised jars whilst hot, how long do you think it would store please?
    We still have a glut of tomatoes and zucchini left over despite making 2l of tomato relish, 3l of picalilli, 1l of zucchini chutney and 2l of pickled zucchini!!

    1. Hi Tasha, in theory, yes but you need to increase the acidity by either adding 2 tbsp lemon juice or 1/2 tsp citric acid per liter of sauce. In my new cookbook, The Homemade Table, I explain how to preserve a sauce like this safely to keep it shelf stable for up to 6 months. Also, find some basic preserving info here.
      Enjoy you harvest, it sounds like a bumper crop this year!

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