I grew up in the middle of the city in Copenhagen, but I found peace in nature. From as early as I can remember, I spent time in the woods and ocean, visiting my grandmother and other relatives on the islands of Fyn, in the Southern part of Denmark. I’d pick herbs from her garden or fish with my uncle and grandfather, the sight and scent and sounds showing me the way.
As a kid, I struggled in school; the more traditional side of academia collided with my energetic, restless boyhood. But in the ever-changing forests or the icy waters of Denmark’s archipelago, I found another type of education. Less theoretical, more tactile. I swore that when I became a father, I would bring my kids into nature. I wanted to instill in them the same type of curiosity and reverence for the land that I was fortunate enough to experience.
As a chef, food plays an integral part in my family’s life. The corners and cupboards of our kitchen are usually filled with jars of preserved apple cores or pickled spruce tops. My kids have grown up seeing and tasting a bounty beyond the city’s commotion. Indeed, there’s a delicious thrill foraging for edible ingredients hidden along the forest carpet or beachside jetties. And through countless excursions, my kids have grown to know the taste of the seasons—spring brings sweet spruce, berries come in summer, mushrooms mark the arrival of fall. We see and savor these fleeting flavors.
But just as important as the edible is the quietude that the outdoors offers. In a world where stimulation is constant and even kids feel an urgency to be “on” endlessly, finding a sense of calm beneath a canopy of leaves or rippling eddies brings another type of nourishment. I hope nature helps them disconnect from the frenetic and reconnect with a peacefulness and a playfulness.
Of course, with kids and adolescents, there isn’t always an enthusiasm to leave behind the digital in favor of woodlands. In these times, I find gentle coercion is usually key. “Let’s go and see what we find,” a common response of mine, is usually, ultimately, met with happy faces. I notice a shift in my children’s energy when we reach our outdoor destination.
Now, in autumn, the forests are teeming with mushrooms. We forage for chanterelles and ceps, only plucking the varieties we know, leaving many behind. But even with those we don’t touch, we talk about how they look—some comically whimsical—or laugh over their silly names. After collection, we go home to clean and discuss how we’d like to prepare our finds. Other times, we cook in the forest.
Here, simplicity is paramount. Without a full kitchen, it’s important to not be overly ambitious, a sure way to drain time, energy, and, ultimately, connection to your whereabouts. A simple flatbread with grilled mushrooms and melted mozzarella is a family favorite. Rich and earthy with bright notes from lemon zest and mustard, it somehow tastes best when eaten under fall’s foliage with family.
In autumn, the Danish forests are full of wild mushrooms. A seemingly endless range of varieties dot the forest floor. It’s then when I take my kids into the woods to forage for chanterelles, ceps, and whatever else we can (safely) find. With a basket of mushrooms, we’ll often make this flatbread, an earthy taste of the season and a simple recipe to make outdoors. With minimal ingredients, a pan, and a fire, it comes together quite quickly, especially if you boil the potatoes ahead of time or make the dough at home. And while of course you don’t have to make the flatbread with wild mushrooms or beneath a forest canopy, I urge you to try it. There’s something indescribable about cooking and eating outside.
Reprinted from Nordic Family Kitchen. Copyright © 2021 by Mikkel Karstad. Photographs copyright © 2021 by Anders Schønnemann. Published by Prestel.
- 5 ounces (150 grams) creamy white potatoes (like Yukon Golds), boiled and sliced into thin rounds
- 9 ounces (250 grams) mixed wild mushrooms (such a chanterelles, porcini, or similar), cleaned well and cut into small pieces
- 2 tablespoons (35 milliliters) extra-virgin olive oil
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- 5 sprigs fresh thyme
- Juice and zest of ½ an organic lemon
- 4 ounces fresh mozzarella, sliced into thin rounds
- 4 flatbreads (large flour tortillas, naans, pitas, or lavash work well here)
- 2 tablespoons mustard
- 1 ounce (30 grams) freshly grated Parmesan
In a medium skillet over medium heat, add the olive oil and let heat for a minute. Place the mushrooms into the oil and fry for 2 to 3 minutes until soft and brown. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper and stir; then add the finely chopped thyme and the lemon juice and zest. Transfer to a plate and set aside.
Spread mustard on one half of a piece of flatbread, add a thin layer of sliced potato and mozzarella, then the mushrooms, and finally a generous amount of grated parmesan. Season with a little extra salt and freshly ground pepper. Place the other half of the flatbread onto the garnished half and press lightly to make a sandwich.
Heat a griddle, grill pan, or sandwich press until hot. Toast the flatbread for 2 to 3 minutes until it is charred on the outside and warmed through. If using a grill pan or griddle, turn the bread halfway through toasting.
Cut the flatbread in half and eat straight away.