With all the cookbooks that come out each year, repeating volumes filled with market-driven dishes prettily photographed in vintage cookwear on hardwood tabletops, it’s easy to overlook some of the best examples of the genre. This would be a shame, not least because in the rush for more exotic culinary locales or flashier titles you might miss “Simple: Effortless Food, Big Flavors.” This is the 10th cookbook from Northern Ireland-born, London-based cookbook author Diana Henry, who won a James Beard Award for her 2015 cookbook “A Bird in the Hand.”
Henry, a prolific writer who is also a longtime food columnist for the Sunday Telegraph, has collected more than 150 recipes in her latest book, which she describes as a follow-up to her 12-year-old cookbook “Pure Simple Cooking,” calibrated for the wider array of ingredients now available online and with a shift toward cooking that’s more grain- and vegetable-focused. Thus there are recipes for everyday sorts of things, divided up by headings as simple as the conceit of the book: eggs and roasts, vegetables and toasts. All this happy simplicity isn’t deceptive as it is with some cookbooks engineered by lesser writers. Rather, the forthright recipes and chatty asides are plain in the way that Jane Grigson and Richard Olney were plain, which is to say that these writers share a lovely economy both of language and of the cooking itself.
But don’t think that “Simple” is a simple book in scope, as Henry’s recipes include a pantheon of flavors (Middle Eastern, Moroccan, Nordic, Indian), along with techniques and ingredients (‘Nduja, salmon roe, harissa) pulled from other cultures. The first recipe in the book is for a donburi, or Japanese rice bowl, that Henry says she stole from Nobu; the last is for a Turkish coffee pudding. In between are pages loaded with Laura Edwards’ appealing photography (ceramics, jam-filled spoons), Henry’s cheerful commentary (the joys of canned food) and of course, a lot of truly wonderful recipes. We made her orange-oregano roast chicken in the Test Kitchen, and there is no greater recommendation than four people gathered around a hot All-Clad sauté pan, the air perfumed with oranges and herbs, the only sound one of spoons against metal.
On a board, combine the olives, garlic, chiles, zest and oregano and finely chop them. Place the mixture in a bowl along with the oil, orange juice, vinegar and lemon juice. Set aside to give the flavors time to infuse. This makes about 1 ½ cups gremolata.
Orange-oregano roast chicken
Trim the chicken thighs of scraggy bits of skin. Pierce the undersides with a sharp knife and put in a non-reactive dish. Add the oregano, garlic, orange juice and zest, ¼ cup of oil and the pepper. Mix with your hands, cover, and put in the fridge for a few hours (overnight is even better).
Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Remove the chicken from the marinade, shaking off any excess. Heat the remaining oil in a large ovenproof sauté pan or shallow cast-iron casserole large enough to fit the chicken in a single layer. Brown the chicken, in batches, on both sides, finishing skin-side up. Scatter with sea salt flakes and roast for 20 minutes.
Lay some of the orange slices under the chicken and the rest on top. Spoon the cooking juices over the oranges, then sprinkle a little sugar over the slices. Roast until the chicken and oranges are fully cooked, about 20 minutes more. Scatter the gremolata on top. Serve straight from the sauté pan or casserole.
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