At one time in my life, I wore a lot of Ann Taylor. It fit me well. The colors complemented my skin. The prices were reasonable, and the clothing was classic with just the right degree of dressy to suit my life as a professional in Manhattan.

Photo by Laura Edwards/courtesy of Octopus Books

I feel a similar way today about the cookbooks of British writer/cook Diana Henry. Her recipes, which sit at the intersection of modern and comfort, appeal to me. They hold my interest without requiring that I spend hours at either the grocery store or the stove. Most important, they are delicious.

Henry’s relaxed approach in the kitchen, as described in part here in her 12th cookbook, “From the Oven to the Table: Simple Dishes that Look After Themselves,” mirrors mine. “I hate being didactic,” she writes,” – many recipes are just blueprints on which you can put your own stamp. “From the Oven to the Table,” especially, suits my life nowadays as your average overloaded, stressed-out 21st century person. The fact that I live in wintry Maine – an oven warms the house, actually and psychically – makes Henry’s latest cookbook singularly inviting.

The book is divided into seven chapters, including the idiosyncratic “My Favorite Ingredient” – “chicken thighs forever,” and who can argue with that? Other chapters include “Asparagus to Zucchini” (“spring & summer vegetables”), “Cook until Tender” (“grains & legumes”) and “Simple Suppers” (“sausages, chops, fish fillets, & the like”). Henry breaks the recipe rhythm on occasion with an essay or two, musing on subjects like life “At the Table” and a brief history of the oven. In 18th-century Holland, close friends were called “table friends,” readers learn. Isn’t that lovely? I intend to revive the term.

“From the Oven to the Table” is not a cookbook for the meat- or poultry-averse. Setting that population aside, the recipes tempt mightily. The elegant, unfussy photos by Laura Edwards suit the food – and also tempt mightily. And if the five recipes I tested are any indication of the rest of them, they live up to their promise.

Given the five minutes of hands-on prep time, Chicken & Cauliflower with ‘Nduja offered outsize bang for the buck. The Oven-Baked Beans with Rosemary & Chili were insanely flavorful, even though they simmered in water (not stock) and included no meat; the two entire heads of garlic no doubt helped. Baked Sweet Potatoes with Avocado & Chimichurri had lively flavors and made for a fast, satisfying supper. Roasted Squash & Tofu with Soy, Honey, Chili & Ginger was equally simple to make, as well as healthful and tasty (though I’d reduce the 1/2 cup peanut oil called for next time I make the recipe). The Chocolate & Red Wine Cake was not in the least healthful, but ask me if that would stop me from eating it again. And again.


Henry’s always nice writing is the cherry on top. I was not surprised to read in her bio that she studied English literature at Oxford. “As with the novel, the demise of the potato is much discussed but never actually materializes, at least not in my house,” she writes.

And Henry could write a treatise on recipe titles. Though, yeah, they are just simple lists of ingredients, they drive me powerfully – seemingly magically – into the kitchen: Chicken with Plums, Honey & Pomegranates. Rhubarb with Sloe Gin, Orange & Rosemary. Baked Sausages, Apples & Blackberries with Mustard and Maple Syrup. I suspect she could make tuna-noodle casserole with canned mushroom soup sound good.

Smart writing, of course, starts with smart thinking, and Henry’s reflections on cooking reveal plenty of that.

“Cooking food in the oven is easy, but it brings another pleasure, too,” she writes in “From the Oven to the Table.” “Although I know I’m the one who has smeared the bird with butter, mixed the crumble with my fingers or halved the peppers and turned them over in olive oil, I always feel, when I take the food out of the oven, that someone else has cooked it. I’ve basically been drinking wine and enjoying the smell as it starts to permeate the kitchen; the cooking has done itself.”

Chicken & Cauliflower with ‘Nduja

Recipe from “From the Oven to the Table” by Diana Henry. She suggests the possible addition of red onion wedges. ‘Nduja is a spicy, spreadable Calabrian sausage.


Serves 4

8 good-sized, skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs, excess skin neatly trimmed

1 (1-pound) head cauliflower, broken into florets

1 pound baby wax potatoes, scrubbed, then halved or quartered depending on size

2 3/4 ounces ‘nduja, broken into nuggets

6 thyme sprigs


3 tablespoons olive oil

Sea salt flakes and freshly ground pepper

Green salad, or bitter greens to serve

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Put all the ingredients in a roasting pan or a broad, shallow casserole about 12 inches across, season and toss around with your hands. The chicken should end up skin-side up. Make sure the nuggets of ‘nduja aren’t lying on top or they’ll burn.

Roast for 40-45 minutes, turning everything over about three times during the cooking. The ‘ndjua partly melts, and you need to ensure it gets well mixed in.

Toward the end of the cooking time, it’s good to spoon the bits of ‘nduja over the chicken, as it gives it a lovely color. The potatoes should be tender when pierced with a sharp knife and the chicken cooked through. Serve with a green salad or bitter greens.

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