The Incompetent Cook Road Tests… Bill’s Italian Food by Bill Granger

by |August 28, 2013

Every couple of weeks Booktopia’s Andrew Cattanach reviews a cookbook. He is an Incompetent cook. He is The Incompetent Cook.

Bill’s Italian Food
by Bill Granger

The meals:

Mozzarella, Roasted Capsicum and Caper Pizza

Artichoke and Ham Lasagne

Pistachio and Orange Loaf Cake

It’s time for another instalment of The Incompetent Cook. It’s great to hear news of the blog has spread. I’ve received two letters from fans this week alone, three if you count the Debt Recovery Service, who say they’ve been following me for months.


Mozzarella, Roasted Capsicum and Caper Pizza

Channeling my inner Bill, I drifted to the local supermarket and picked up the ingredients for my pizza, which would serve as my makeshift entree for the evening. Flour, yep, salt, yep, yeast, yep, honey…

Honey? On a pizza?

Bill, you just blew my mind.

My usual order at the deli of 3 Kilos of Chicken Wings was replaced with capers and roasted capsicum, and I was also the official owner of more Mozzarella Cheese than I thought existed in mainland Australia. And it made me happy.

What also made me happy was I was able to do the majority of my cooking in front of the TV when I got home, and I slowly combined the ingredients and begin to knead the dough on a floured coffee table in front of dulcet tones of Antiques Roadshow. After some pummeling, punching and massaging my pizza base was stringy and had a license to rise.

The only warm parts of my house are the oven and… actually, let me rephrase that. The only warm part of my house is the oven. But the oven is too hot. Ah, but le Incompetent Cook is crafty, and has time on his hands. So for a an hour, I turned the oven on for a few seconds, then off again, then on again, then off again.

I think I need a hobby.

After the hour of low to moderate power my dough had risen to satisfaction and was ready for a roll.

Rolling a pizza is always easy with a rolling pin. Finding myself without a rolling pin, I experimented with a cup, the end of a ladle, another cup, and pure unadulterated anger. Eventually it was flattened, although tonight’s pizza would be decidedly oblongian.

If the pizza looked beautiful going in, it looked even better coming out, after turning the heat up to 250 degrees and cooking for just 15 minutes.

And I say this much. The base was phenomenal. Light, fluffy, and a little bit sweet. Even before I tried other recipes, the promise of making more pizzas with that base was worth the book alone.


Artichoke and Ham Lasagne

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I eat Artichoke. I find myself drawn to it by both its peculiar name and its hideous appearance, much like my uncle Gareth Tightjunk.

The striking thing about the recipes in Bill’s Italian Food is how easy they are. The book itself is something of a coffee table book in its own right, with beautiful pictures of Italy and rural cooking settings. Usually you would expect a book like this to be filled with obscure quail recipes using 78 different spices, but not Bill. Even his Artichoke and Ham Lasagne had but a few choice elements, nearly half of which were in the title.

imageAgain, just salt a little puree, and there’s your base. And mountains of mozzarella.


Puree, lasagna sheet, ham, cheese, puree, lasagna sheet, ham, answer a phone call from mum and tell her I am cooking lasagna, cheese, puree, lasagna sheet, answer a phone call from dad asking why I am cooking a lasagna, ham, answer a phone call from mum saying she’s so proud of me for cooking a lasagne, artichoke, cheese.

I lament, fair readers, that I did not take a before picture. But I think the after picture does it justice.

A rich, tomatoey lasagna with beautiful smoky flavours. 2/2 Bill!


Pistachio and Orange Loaf Cake

Be careful what you wish for. Because the point of this blog is to show my journey from being an incompetent cook to being a great good okay competent one. And I’ve had some successes, and few failures.

That was until recently.

You see, I’m your typical knockabout guy. I like long walks, Arnold Schwarzenegger movies and Pluka Duck. I also like my cricket.

So when the final Ashes Test was on TV when I was meant to be making Bill Granger’s Orange and Pistachio Loaf, I thought, should I really be cooking and watching cricket at the same time? And when I didn’t have baking paper, should I have worried about the cake sticking to the tin? What about when I didn’t have a loaf tin and only had a bread tin?

But of course I should! I’m in the cooking form of my life. I can do anything!

But folks, I was wrong. I flew too close to the sun. After all, I am the same man who once made pasta using tomato and BBQ sauce. I am the same man who once experimented with fried rice pudding (don’t). The same man who put a roast in on Sunday morning and forgot to take it out until Monday night.

So as I made a delicious cake, full of orange juice, zest, flour, eggs, sugar and ground pistachios (which may actually be Fairy Dust), I watched the Australian Cricket Team slowly fall away yet again. And as I put the cake mixture into the inadequately shaped, ungreased, tin, and put it into my gas oven for 45 minutes.

What happened next was like a car crash. A flash of noise and metal, and it was over.

But enough about the cricket, let’s talk about my cooking.

I took the cake out and shook the tin. I shook it again. Nothing. I smacked it and I heard a give.

And as I turned up the tin, and stared at the mess that lay before me, I was reminded of what my motto was.

Always follow the recipe.

Use the right tin.

Use baking paper when baking.

I fashioned the crumbs into small clumps of cake and ate them which made it even worse, because this is an amazing cake. Somehow still moist. Somehow still delicious, even if I had let it down. I will be using this recipe again, and one day, I will get it right, as Bill would have wanted it.


Bill’s Italian Food is the first book I’ve used that was as much a pictorial as a cookbook. Usually I’m skeptical of such pretty things, but the asthetics were only matched by the ease of the recipes.

With loads of tomato, cheese, herbs and an endless array of meat and veggies, Bill’s Italian Food is a beauty. And something that might be under my family’s tree come this December.

The Orange and Pistachio Loaf Incident showed me how important, when in the wrong hands, instructions are in cookbooks. And Bill is clear as day, and if I listened to him I’d have a lovely loaf, not a tin of crumbs.

So listen to Bill, and grab a copy of Bill’s Italian Food today

Click here to buy Bill’s Italian Food from Booktopia,
Australia’s Local Bookstore


Andrew Cattanach is a regular contributor to The Booktopia Blog. His hobbies include not knowing there’s a hole in his pants and making inappropriate gestures in public places. One day, he will be a better cook.

You can follow his ramblings on twitter at @andrew__cat

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About the Contributor

Andrew Cattanach is a regular contributor to The Booktopia Blog. He has been shortlisted for The Age Short Story Prize and was named a finalist for the 2015 Young Bookseller of the Year Award. He enjoys reading, writing and sleeping, though finds it difficult to do them all at once.

Follow Andrew: Twitter


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