Pros: A good basic primer
Cons: Make sure you read the info before using the recipes; missing details; no photos
Rating: 4 out of 5
Pizza: it’s an incredibly popular food, and panini (rustic grilled sandwiches) aren’t far behind. These are fabulously versatile foods that allow you to combine a wide array of bread products with virtually limitless toppings. You might not be sure where to start, however, if you want to make them at home; many people think they’re limited to takeout, restaurants, and frozen pizzas. Instead, you could pick up Erik Sherman’s The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Pizza & Panini. It’s part how-to guide and part recipe book.
Sherman’s book walks you through from start to finish: equipment, tools, doughs, breads, sauces, and finally, the complete recipes. This isn’t an exhaustive cookbook; it’s meant to give you the how-to and provide a handful of samples in different areas, such as meat pizzas, vegetable pizzas, breakfast and dessert pizzas, and then a similar array of panini.
The directions are quite thorough, and include many little tips along the way. Unfortunately, there are also a few missing bits of information. For example, the section on using a stand mixer to knead your pizza doughs says,
At the end of the kneading, check the texture of the dough. It should appear as it would after hand-kneading (see the preceding “People Who Knead Pizza…” section).
Unfortunately, the closest that afore-mentioned other section comes to providing the necessary info is to tell you to check a certain URL of the author’s website in order to see photos of what the doughs should look like—and that URL no longer exists at the author’s site. That information should have been in the book, and the author shouldn’t have put a URL repeatedly into the book with promises of extra content there if he was going to take it down again before even a single year had passed.
The good news is, the recipes are delicious and easy. I enjoyed the various pizza doughs we made from Sherman’s recipes, as well as the homemade pizza sauce. The Artichoke & Brie Pizza was a nice change of pace, and the homemade version of a Quattro Formaggio (four cheese) Pizza was definitely better than the commercial equivalent. There’s a ‘Tuna Meltdown Panino’ in here that combined such ingredients as tuna salad, gouda, and avocado to wonderful effect (a bit tough to flip thanks to that tuna salad, but so delicious it’s worth it). The recipe instructions are clear and easy to follow, although there are no photos (not a big deal with most parts of making pizza and panini, but I know they’re important to some folks).
Just make sure you read the informational/how-to parts of the book before you dive into the recipes. You’ll want to read through the extended version of the directions for pizza dough and the like at least once. After that, however, I think you’ll find it so surprisingly easy to make your own pizzas that you’ll be tempted to do it every week!
Since I now have a digital camera, I thought it would be fun to start including photos with our cookbook reviews. When I discovered the slideshow feature at photobucket (so I wouldn’t have to choose a single photo or try to awkwardly fit a bunch of them into one review), I knew I was a goner. Here you have it, a few selected photos from our pizza & panini experiments: