With our family juggling school schedules, extracurriculars, work and my exhausting health issues, complicated homemade meals are reserved for birthdays and weekends.
Diana Henry’s latest, “From the Oven to the Table: Simple Dishes that Look After Themselves” is the perfect cookbook to push me to do that little extra — to take roasted chicken and turn it into roasted chicken plus. It’s a cookbook of tray bakes and one-pot meals, although Henry doesn’t use either of these catchy weeknight recipe nicknames.
Her dishes look beautiful and complex, but require a lot less work than you think. Her pantry list is intriguing and not without a few hard-to-find items, but this isn’t a deterrent. This is a cookbook for home cooks who love cooking, love eating but also love not going crazy every night to get dinner on.
It’s a book for a life like mine. One that seeks the perfection of a meal that looks like the cover of Bon Appetit magazine, but has the reality of McDonalds drive-thrus and Costco rotisserie chicken.
Take Henry’s Persian-spiced spatchcock chicken with quick-pickled red onions and dill yogurt. You grind fresh spices, shred garlic cloves, perform a minor amount of butchery on a whole chicken and make a couple “extras” while it roasts. It’s just enough activity for me to feel chefy, without the strain. Plus, the meal is a welcome change from said Costco rotisserie — no matter how many meals that it may have saved.
The baked rice with green olives, orange, feta cheese and dill is a one-pan meal. It starts on the stove, moves to oven, then finishes at the table with a flourish of dill, orange zest and sheep’s milk feta. It’s a deceptively simple recipe that yields a risotto-type dish with the flair of complex flavors. And the kids loved it.
We ate the rice alongside our spatchcock chicken, smothering both in the accoutrements from the chicken recipe — garlic dill yogurt dip and quick-pickled red onion.
To round out the meal, I opted for Henry’s roasted radishes with honey, mint and preserved lemon as the salad/vegetable course. There’s no doubt the dish would shine its best with garden-fresh radishes and a light summer meal, but our late October rendition brought a much needed zing to the table.
Most effective in Henry’s cookbook is the adaptive nature of her recipes. The radishes included preserved lemon and white balsamic, yet she writes, just roasting with butter and lemon juice or vinegar can do the trick. It’s as if she’s encouraging us to do that something extra, but not necessarily at the cost of running out to grab an ingredient only to get dinner on the table two hours late — I’m very much guilty of this.
Instead of preserved lemon, we could try lemon zest. Instead of white balsamic, our favorite white wine vinegar will do. You can make these small changes while not ruining the spirit of her dishes.
You can keep your sanity and your cooking flair — while promising to pick up those preserved lemons next time you’re at Whole Foods.
Baked rice with green olives, orange, feta cheese & dill
Henry invites us to use this recipe as a blueprint for baked rice: “Just stick to the same quantities of rice and liquid, the same size of pan, and the same oven temperature and you can produce endless variations. Change the herbs, use spices or add nuts and dried fruit.”
1¾ cups basmati rice
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more to serve
2 large onions, roughly chopped
4 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tablespoon ground cumin
Finely grated zest and juice of 1 orange
3½ cups boiling chicken or vegetable stock
Sea salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper
½ cup green olives, preferably pitted, roughly chopped or left whole
1 cup crumbled feta cheese
½ cup roughly chopped dill
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Put the rice in a sieve and run cold water through it until the water runs clear to remove the excess starch, then leave it in the sieve to drain.
In a 12-inch ovenproof saute pan or shallow casserole, heat the olive oil and saute the onions over medium-low heat until they’re soft and pale gold. Add the garlic and cumin and cook for another 2 minutes, then add the rinsed and drained rice, the orange juice, and the boiling stock. Season.
Bring to a boil on the stovetop, then transfer immediately to the oven. Bake, uncovered, for 1 hour.
When there are 10 minutes to go, break up the crust that has formed on the top and stir in the olives. By the end of cooking time, the rice should be tender and all the stock absorbed.
Scatter the orange zest, feta and dill over the top, drizzle with olive oil, and serve. You will find that the rice has formed a delicious crust on the bottom of the pan. Serves 8.
Persian-spiced spatchcocked chicken with quick-pickled red onions & dill yogurt
To spatchcock a chicken you flip it back-side up, cut down both sides of the backbone and remove. Find the center breast bone and slice the topmost joint or alternatively flip over the bird and press it flat, breaking this connection with a satisfying “pop.” Remove any excess fat. Tuck the wings under as you would roasting a whole chicken and lay the bird out flat. If you’ve never done this before, it may help to watch a YouTube video on the process. Make the yogurt dip at least half an hour before serving to let the flavors meld. You could definitely make it the night before for an extra garlicky kick.
For the spice mix:
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
seeds from 8 cardamom pods
1 tablespoon edible dried rose petals (optional)
½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
¾ teaspoon ground turmeric
For the chicken:
4-pound whole chicken
5 garlic cloves, finely grated
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more to rub
sea salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper
1¼ cups Greek yogurt
Small bunch of dill, leaves chopped, any thicker stalks discarded
Rice or bulgur wheat, to serve
For the quick-pickled onions
½ cup white wine vinegar
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 red onion, thinly sliced
To make the spice mix, put the peppercorns, coriander seeds, cardamom seeds and rose petals, if using, into a mortar and bash until roughly ground. Add the nutmeg and turmeric.
Spatchcock the chicken. Put it in a large roasting pan.
Mix 4 of the grated garlic cloves with the 2 tablespoons olive oil and some seasoning. Carefully lift the skin on the chicken breast without tearing it, and loosen it so that you can push the garlic and oil paste over the breast. If you can lift the skin enough, push it over the legs, too.
Rub 1 tablespoon of the spice mix all over the bird and season. Smear with olive oil and rub that in, too. Cover and put it into the refrigerator to marinate for up to 6 hours, or you can roast it right away. If you’re cooking it now, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Roast for 1 hour.
For the quick-pickled onions, heat the vinegar with 5 tablespoons of water, the sugar and a pinch of sea salt flakes until the sugar and salt dissolve. Add the onion and remove from the heat. Leave to sit for 1 hour (longer is fine).
Stir the reserved grated garlic clove into the yogurt with the dill. Serve the chicken with the pickled onions, yogurt and a bowl of rice or bulgur wheat. Serves 6.
Roasted radishes with honey, mint & preserved lemon
“I used to think that roasting radishes was done just for the sake of creating something different,” Henry writes.“I couldn’t see how their peppery crunch could be improved upon. But cooked radishes are just different. They retain a little of their heat — though it’s muted — and they don’t soften completely.” White wine vinegar can be substituted for the white balsamic, if necessary. And lemon juice and zest for the preserved lemons. Bonus points for the foresight of brining your own salted lemons.
1 pound 2 ounces radishes, with green leaves attached
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar
1 preserved lemon, flesh discarded, rind cut into shreds, plus 2 tablespoons brine from the jar, plus more if needed
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Sea salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper
1½ tablespoons clear honey
Leaves from 6 mint sprigs, torn
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Wash the radishes well and remove their leaves (keep them fresh by wrapping them in damp paper towels and putting them in the refrigerator).
Halve the radishes lengthwise. Put them in a roasting pan with the olive oil, white balsamic, half the preserved lemon brine, and all the butter. Season. Roast for 7 minutes.
Add the remaining tablespoon of brine and the honey. Shake the pan around and return to the oven for a final 10 minutes.
Transfer to a warmed serving dish and mix in the reserved radish leaves; they will wilt in the heat. Stir in the shredded preserved lemon rind and taste for seasoning (you might want a little more of the brine). Scatter on the mint leaves and serve. Serves 4 as a side dish.
— Reprinted from “From the Oven to the Table” by Diana Henry with permission from Octopus Publishing.
“From the Oven to the Table”
By Diana Henry
Octopus Publishing. 240 pages. $29.99
Who should buy this? Diana Henry fans. Home cooks who want gourmet meals made homey and simplified.