Italian chef Stefano de Pieri talks cucina rustica

Ready for a mouth-watering meander? Italian chef Stefano de Pieri whisks us down the Murray River to share his fresh and flavoursome food in LifeStyle Food’s Stefano’s Cooking Paradiso – and he spills the beans on the ultimate cheat’s chocolate cake recipe, too.

You’ve been living in Mildura in Victoria for close to 20 years, what do you love about the place?

This place is an inland oasis of great beauty. We have the most extraordinary sunsets, and sunrises that take your breath away.

The region is renowned for its produce, what are some of your favourites?

I’m a big fan of our Murray River salt flakes. They look fantastic and turn eating a simple ripe tomato into a memorable experience. I also enjoy the wide variety of citrus that comes out of our area. I’m fond of blood oranges and mandarins.

What kind of cooking will you be sharing in Stefano’s Cooking Paradiso?

My food’s what I’d call “cucina rustica” [simple, country cooking]. It makes the most of good ingredients and doesn’t play with them too much. Most dishes viewers can do at home, even though I’ll be cooking a lot of them in a very romantic wood-fired oven.

Do you have any simple tips for home cooks?

I find that in general, Australians haven’t quite grasped how wonderful it is to cook with extra virgin olive oil. So, get hold of the best olive oil from your local producer and don’t be shy when pouring it over your food, even after the food has been cooked.

Stefano de Pieri’s Olive Oil Chocolate Cake

This is an amazing cake for cheats. The oil keeps it moist, but instead of real chocolate you use drinking chocolate. Preparation time: 15 minutes Cooking time: 20-30 minutes Serves10


7 eggs, separated 1 cup castor (superfine) sugar 125ml extra virgin olive oil 1 cup self-raising flour, sifted 1 3/4 cups drinking chocolate (not cocoa), sifted 125ml (1/2 cup) warm water 1/4 cup sugar when beating egg whites


Preheat the oven to 180o C (350o f) Beat egg yolks with castor sugar until fluffy. If the mixture tends to be thick, add 1 tablespoon of warm water. This will help the mixture turn fluffy again. With the beater on medium speed add the olive oil, bit by bit, like making mayonnaise. Add dry ingredients to the mixture on low speed and beat until all combined. Add the water. Whip the egg whites until thick, add the sugar and beat until it dissolves. Pour chocolate mixture into a large bowl and gently but swiftly fold in the egg whites. When well combined pour into a greased 23cm cake tin and bake for 1 hour or until cooked.

This article first appeared in OPTUS magazine, October 2009