Chef Dominique Rizzo. Aussie Queen of the Cucina Rustica

 Dominique Rizzo is a powerhouse of all that is culinary pure and productive. Travel, TV Shows, Books, Food and Wine Tours of Southern Italy, Cooking School and a little time taken for Iconic and Vintage.

Childhood and Travel

My childhood was spent travelling over to see my Sicilian family that is the brothers and sisters of my father who as a young man immigrated to Australia in the late 50s. I quickly became aware that there was more to food that just vegemite sandwiches and peanut butter that all my Australian friends had. I absolutely loved travelling and I loved the food memories that I carry with me after these experiences. My Uncle in Sicily had a farm and we stayed there for months at a time, eating “ Cucina Rustica” and really observing the way my aunts cooked and the beauty that is the simple Sicilian cooking. My mother learnt most of their tricks and brought them back with her to Australia also I feel broadening her expertise in cooking. I then grew in the Australian way of making cakes and biscuits when I was a little girl and have always loved eating everything. I loved being in the kitchen with my mother and loved being creative with food, And I feel that my destiny had already mapped itself out for me I just needed to catch up to it.


There was no one person who influenced me to become a chef, it was myself as I really fell into it because I thought that it was the one thing that I most enjoyed, I knew that I was creative, I loved travelling and I loved doing many different jobs at once, so I decided to give it a go and after I had discovered cheffing it was like I had stumbled into my life. I did complete a Diploma in Business Hospitality beforehand and loved the cooking side of things so I suppose it manoeuvred me a little more to follow that path. At 21 when I first started my apprenticeship I didn’t really know that it was what I wanted to do although when I look back now I was working in restaurants since I was about 8-10 years old so it was really just a natural progression of my life.

Dinner Guests

Well, Sophia Loren would be a first, I have two of her cookbooks, and have idolised her as an Italian screen actress and love her style of cooking, oh and her take on life and men. Jamie Oliver as I feel he has made the most impact on creating an awareness about healthy eating and he also has had an influence on my rustic style of cooking, my mum because she is a very interesting and amazing woman, Ferran Adria, as I never had the chance to dine in his restaurant and I find him and his artistic approach to food and his words on life extremely fascinating,  Dean Martin as I grew up with his music from my father and he could sing through dinner and I love laughing so definitely Robin Williams.


Time Travel and Destination

Through my Food and Wine Tours to Sicily and the surrounding islands and my passion for the food and history that lies in Sicily’s culture, I would have loved to have been in Sicily during the period of the 7th Century.  This was the time when it fell under the ruling of the Arabs which was a period of enlightenment where cultural, social and economic reforms had a profound and long-lasting influence that is still felt today in the Sicilian culture and particularly the food. Sicily prior to this was quite simple in terms of the cooking and also the ingredients.  The Arab world was arguably the most advanced civilisation of the time and Sicily benefitted greatly from becoming part of it. The Arabs brought the food markets or souks to Sicily and with that strongly influenced the Sicilian cuisine introducing almonds, aniseed, apricots, artichokes, cinnamon, oranges, pistachio, pomegranates, saffron, sesame, spinach, sugarcane, watermelon and rice. The term “agro dolce” and the use of sugar in dishes to make them more palatable was introduced as was the art of preserving foods. The introduction of raisins and pine kernels are now a fundamental combination adding a unique flavour and texture to pasta and fish recipes. Many sweets are of obvious Arab extraction with the use of sugar, nuts and flower essences, sorbets and granitas also owe their popularity to North African ingenuity combining the ices of the Etna with syrups made from sugar and natural flavourings. One of the most common dishes in western Sicily is couscous, an obvious reflection of Arab times, and also the Zibbibo grape used to make Passito di Pantelleria, the supreme dessert wine, not to mention that the Arabs were the first to produce pasta to Sicily. For me, this period would have been one of the most exciting, culinary speaking and why I feel that Sicily (albeit slightly underrated in the cuisine factors) had such a huge impact in the birthing of what we now know of as Italian cooking and to be quite honest the root many European cuisines.

Old School

I love making a peasant soup called Spazzatina simply made with onions, meat and potatoes and it was handed down from my nonna to my mother who made it for us as requested by my brothers for their birthdays. It epitomises the essence of simple peasant rustic cooking but has flavour to boot and is a winner dish up to any meat and potato lover.


I have a Mrs Lance Rawsons cookbook from the 19th century it showcases household tips and tricks as well as recipes for outback Australia and is divided into sensible and intriguing topics, she has everything covered: Cookery, The Household, Fancy Work, The Toilet, Medical, Farming, Curing and so on. Each chapter details classic recipes, some well-known and others obscure. For example, she has two cures for freckles (cucumber and skim milk or horseradish and sour milk! Many of her recipes you can find in the CWA cookbooks which are also some of my favourites.

Strange and Odd

The strangest thing when I first ate it was STIGGHIUOLA O STIGGHIOLE PALERMITANE which is lamb or sheep intestine, cleaned and wrapped around sticks of green shallots then barbecued seasoned with salt and pepper and, of course loads of lemon juice, they are delicious and I tried them when I was a little girl of about 4 or 5 years old and have loved them ever since. They are a Sicilian delicacy especially found as street food in Palermo.

Best Restaurant

Mamma Santina on Salina Island in the Aeolian Islands, I had the most amazing spaghetti dish there with a pesto made from 14 different wild island herbs, capers, tomatoes and olive oil, it was one of the most delicious plates of food I have ever eaten.


I have been working with Lindeman’s Wines for 4 years now and I love the Lindeman’s Early Harvest lighter style range of wines.  They match perfectly to my food, my philosophy of light, healthy cooking and are the perfect everyday and special occasion wines. The Pinot Grigio is delicious and I enjoyed it with a Crusted Pork Loin with Grapes, Walnuts and Quinoa, a recipe I wrote to enjoy with the wine.


My lemon zester/micro plane…. I am addicted to lemons and love the zest in just about everything.

Down Time

I usually spend my days off writing recipes, cooking and working on my business, it’s not really work but something that I love doing every day, I enjoy eating, cooking, going to the beach and just relaxing, although it usually has something to do with food.


“Through the sharing of food we share life and one is never lonely or hungry” is my moto philosophy – I feel passionately about my influence on people and being able to pass on my love for easy healthy cooking. I am passionate about helping others and giving people the opportunity to improve their health, to be inspired and work as a community. I love to cook for people and help with charities and using food as a medium to connect people from all walks of life and cultures.

 If I wasn’t a chef I would be ………a gipsy traveller

3 Recipes from Dominique. I think I died and went to heaven.

Dominique's Sicilian Style Lamb Shanks with Buttered Parmesan Gnocchi
Dominique’s Sicilian Style Lamb Shanks with Buttered Parmesan Gnocchi

Sicilian lamb shanks with green olives and spinach parmesan gnocchi

Serves 4

Nothing beats gnawing on a bone with the meat just falling off. I love a hearty dish like this when the weather is cool, full of flavour, simple to put together and always a family favourite.

4 lamb shanks ( grab these from your local butcher, you could also use sliced shin bone or Osso Bucco)

2 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp plain flour

Salt and pepper

1 brown onion diced

2 cloves garlic smashed

120g Italian sopressa salami, diced (Optional, you can also use, ham, bacon or pepperoni)

2 x 400g diced tomatoes

2 tbsp tomato paste

150g Sicilian green olives

Sprig of thyme

1 tsp fresh rosemary or a small sprig

Salt and pepper

1 500g packet of Angelo’s Pasta frozen gnocchi ( I think these are some of the best pre-made gnocchi on the market but you can also make your own if you like)

1 tbsp butter

1 tbsp water

80g baby spinach

Salt and pepper

3 tbsp grated parmesan

For the shanks, heat the oil in a large casserole dish or pot on the stove. Combine the seasoning with

the flour and dust the shanks all over. Brown the shanks for 3-4 minutes on each side until golden,

remove from the pot and set aside. Add in the diced onion, garlic, sopressa and sauté for 3 minutes,

pour in the diced tomatoes and refill one tin with water, give it a good stir, add this to the sauce

with the tomato paste and the herbs. Replace the shanks into the sauce and bring to a boil. Reduce

the heat to a simmer and replace the lid. Cook for 1 hour, add the olives remove the lid and cook

for a further hour or until the meat is tender and falling off the bone. Adjust the seasoning and set

aside. For the gnocchi, follow instructions on the pack, heat the butter and water in a large frypan

and add the spinach, toss in the cooked gnocchi and season with a little salt and pepper. Stir through the parmesan and serve with the shanks.

Something for Spring….

 Soft tortillas with grilled, spiced sirloin, lime slaw salad and ale and onion jam.

Soft Tortillas with grilled, spiced, sirloin and ale and onion jam.
Soft Tortillas with grilled, spiced, sirloin and ale and onion jam.

Preparation time 20 minutes / Cooking Time 15 minutes /

Serves 6

This is a fantastic way to enjoy really good quality meat as you

don’t need much to fill out the tortillas. So pick up the best

quality you can buy and afford. I love these quick recipes that

are inexpensive and fun to put together. I usually have

cabbages in my fridge so I love to throw together coleslaw, but

feel free to use what salad vegetables you have. The ale jam

was something I made off the cuff, and is a perfect

accompaniment to a dish like this. If you can’t find a dark ale

beer, you can use half apple juice and half red wine vinegar.

6 x Small Corn or wheat tortillas

2 x 200g wagyu sirloin steaks, you could also use tenderloin

but buy the best you can get ( you can also use fish, chicken

or a vegetarian substitute)

A good pinch salt

1⁄4 tsp course ground pepper

1⁄4 tsp cumin seeds

Olive oil

Slaw salad

1⁄4 head green cabbage, cored

1⁄4 head red cabbage, cored

1 carrot, peeled and shredded

1⁄2 cup coriander leaves and stalks roughly chopped

1⁄2 lime, juiced ( the remainder of the lime you can slice and

serve with the beef)

1 tablespoon olive oil

Shred the cabbages and the carrot using mandolin, food

processor or with a knife . Toss them together and then mix

with the coriander and the combined lime juice, olive oil and

seasoning. Set the salad aside.

For the sirloin, combine the salt, pepper and the cumin seeds

in a grinder and crush. Sprinkle this over the steaks and then

rub in a small amount of oil.

Heat a frypan over moderate heat and sear off the steaks for 4

minutes on each side. Remove the steaks to a plate and allow

them to rest for 5­10 minutes covered with foil. To serve, slice

the meat thinly across the steaks and lay it onto the tortillas,

top with the dressed salad and some of the onion jam.

Garnish with more coriander and a squeeze of lime.

For the ale and onion jam

Makes about 2 cups

1kg onions

3 garlic cloves

60g butter

2 tablespoons olive oil

80g brown sugar

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaf

pinch of chilli flakes

300ml dark ale

140ml red wine vinegar

80ml maple syrup ( you can also use golden syrup)

Halve and thinly slice the onions, then thinly slice the garlic.

Melt the butter with the oil in a large, heavy­based saucepan

over a high heat. Tip in the onions and garlic and give them a

good stir so they are glossed with butter. Sprinkle over the

sugar, thyme leaves, chilli flakes and salt and pepper. Give

everything another really good stir and reduce the heat

slightly. Cook uncovered for about an hour, stirring

occasionally. The onions are ready when all their juices have

evaporated; they’re really soft and sticky and the smell of sugar

caramelising. They should be so soft that they break when

pressed against the side of the pan with a wooden spoon.

Pour in the ale, vinegar and maple syrup and simmer

everything, still uncovered, over a high heat for 25­-30 minutes,

stirring every so often until the onions are a deep mahogany

colour and the liquid has reduced by about two­thirds and the

syrup has thickened. Cool in the pot before using. Use this to

accompany cheese, meats, on sandwiches, stirred through

pasta, where ever you want a bit of a tang, sweetness and

that beautifully caramelised onion flavour.

One slice would never be enough….

 Gluten Free Rhubarb and Almond Pudding Cake

Dominique's Gluten Free Rhubarb and Almond Cake
Dominique’s Gluten Free Rhubarb and Almond Cake

Preparation Time 20 Minutes. Cooking Time 60 Minutes. Serves 12

When rhubarb it’s in season, it’s hard not to use it in a gorgeous dessert.

Poached, stewed, caramelised, pureed, there is no chance that rhubarb will go out of fashion, it’s sour tang and wonderful colour keeps reminding us why this wonderful plant is so versatile.

The easiest aspect of this pudding style cake is that the fresh, chopped rhubarb simply gets mixed into the raw batter. Such a delicious, moist cake, perfectly heated with ice cream, dusted with icing sugar or served with a dollop of fresh cream.

It’s an old-fashioned, simple recipe that I adapted from a coverless, hand written book from a friend’s mother. This is a timeless favourite that everyone will love.

1/2 cup butter

1 1/2 cup coconut sugar

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla

Good pinch of salt

1 cup fresh drained ricotta (you can also use yoghurt or butter milk)

1 cup gluten free flour

1 cup almond meal

1 teaspoon baking powder

3 cups trimmed rhubarb stalks, cut into 1 1/2 pieces

1/4 cup pecan nuts, chopped

1/4 cup flaked almonds

1/2 cup coconut sugar

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 170c

Grease and line a 20cm cake tin

Cream the butter and sugar until fluffy, add the egg, vanilla and salt, mix well.

Add the ricotta and the combined almond meal, gluten free flour and baking powder and mix well. Stir in the rhubarb then pour batter into the cake tin. Mix together the nuts with the remaining sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle this evenly over the unbaked cake batter. Bake for about 60 minutes until a skewer comes out clean from the centre of the cake. Serve warm.


Dominique Rizzo

 Many thanks to Dominique Rizzo and Jenni Regnart

Photo credits to follow.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.