'If you’re a bung-it-in-the-oven cook, these recipes are for you': exclusive video dishes from Diana Henry's new cookbook

From left: Diana Henry; baked rice with green olives, orange, feta and dill
From the Oven to the Table is all about sitting back and letting the oven do the work Credit: Chris Terry; Laura Edwards

Closing the oven door and swinging a tea towel over my shoulder is one of the most satisfying movements I make in the kitchen. I love the alchemy that takes place behind that door. It’s astonishing how heat, on its own – without you directing it or supervising it very much – can turn simple ingredients into a meal.

Because I love cooking, I’m happy to make complicated food; I know that some dishes can only be achieved by browning the constituent elements and slowly building layers of flavour. There will never come a time when I don’t want to cook and eat boeuf bourguignon, a dish that needs this kind of attention.

But I can’t cook food like this from Monday to Thursday; I just don’t have the time. If you’re a bung-it-in-the-oven kind of cook, whether by necessity or desire, then the recipe videos on this page are for you.

The dish that introduced me to this laid-back oven-loving approach was an Antonio Carluccio recipe for chicken thighs cooked with little potatoes, red onion wedges, garlic, rosemary and olive oil. When I discovered it – it’s in his book An Invitation to Italian Cooking – I silently mouthed the word “genius” and knew that I had stumbled across something life-changing.

For that dish, you don’t brown anything, you just put the ingredients in a roasting tin, season them, put them in the oven and wait for 45 minutes. Then you eat. It’s still the meal I have cooked more than any other over the last 20 years.

In that time, I’ve built up a repertoire of dishes on this theme, some with a layer of stock poured underneath the meat; as the dish cooks the top becomes golden and a sauce develops below. I worked out how to apply this approach to rice instead of potatoes, the stock reducing and being absorbed as the grains cook to tenderness. I roast foods that are more usually done in a pan on the hob – sausages, broccoli and salmon fillets – just because I think it’s easier. It is literally ‘hands off’ cooking.

Why is it important, when I know that cooking does take effort, to offer you dishes that, while requiring attention, are relatively easy to achieve? Because I believe that the table is important. I wouldn’t have managed to feed my children well and share food with friends (on a Wednesday as well as on a Saturday night) without finding simple ways to do things.

Because I roast and bake so much, I’ve amassed loads of roasting tins, baking sheets, gratin dishes and two broad shallow casseroles (though, truthfully, you only need one.) I’m not the only person who likes this kind of cooking. There are scores of American books devoted to “sheet pan cooking’” We’re not so familiar with sheet pans in the UK, but they’re a great invention: heavy-gauge baking sheets with a lip around them. If you have sheet pans, you can use them instead of roasting tins or trays for many dishes.

You don’t just roast in the oven, of course, you also pot-roast, bake and do what Americans call “wet roast”. I do love what the application of dry heat – proper roasting – does to food, though, the way it caramelises the surface of meat and the edges of vegetables.

This heat can even help a batch of under-ripe and woolly apricots: roasted with a light dusting of sugar, the heat intensifies everything that is hidden when they’re raw, it finds their sweetness, chars spots on their flesh, makes them tender and mouth-puckeringly tart (look out for this, and other sweet recipes from my book in Stella next Sunsday.)

Ovens used to have more of a physical presence in the home. Roasting and baking was done on an open hearth, not in a closed box with a glass front. Snowed in one year in Friuli in Northern Italy, I discovered the fogolar, a raised cooking area in the middle of the kitchen or living room with a chimney above it. Everyone gathered round this to get warm while the snow kept us prisoner, but it also provided many of our meals. It’s convenient to have the oven against the wall in modern kitchens, tucked away, closed off, slick with dials. But it doesn’t give it the status it deserves. In my mind, and in my cooking, the oven is central.

More one-pot Diana Henry recipes

Baked sea bass with raisins, preserved lemons and ginger

From the Oven to the Table: Simple dishes that look after themselves, by Diana Henry, is published by Mitchell Beazley. Order your copy for £20 from books.telegraph.co.uk