Scandinavians are avid foragers. From berries to mushrooms to wild greens, foraging is a very popular activity in the Nordic countries. This is partially due to a Scandinavian law known as allemansrätt, which translates to "every man’s right" or "freedom to roam". This means there are no trespassing laws and everyone is free to enjoy the use of the land, including foraging whatever tasty edibles might grow there.
Couple allemansrätt with the fact that the Nordic countries have an ideal habitat for many wild edible foods, and you can understand why there is a long tradition of foraging in Scandinavia. This enduring custom also finds its way into the recipes of the region, many of which call for wild edibles as ingredients.
In the autumn, Nordic foragers turn their attention to mushrooms. While hunting for wild edibles may not be on your agenda for the coming weekend, you can do the next best thing and pick up some mushrooms from the grocery store and make this delicious and easy Mushroom Gratin.
Creamy, thyme-infused mushrooms covered with crispy, buttery bread crumbs and baked until golden brown and bubbly, this dish bring comfort and warmth to the late autumn table. It makes a delicious side dish as part of a cozy supper (think roast chicken or pan-seared steak), or this gratin can easily stand on it's own as a vegetarian main, maybe paired with some sautéed greens and mashed potatoes on the side.
The inspiration for this Mushroom Gratin comes from the recipe for Baked Mushrooms in Beatrice Ojakangas' Scandinavian Cooking. She says that the dish in Finnish in origin, probably intended to be made with something gathered by hand from the forest floor. My version uses easy to find cremini or even white button mushrooms (foraged from my local grocery store), fresh thyme and just enough cream to gently coat the mushrooms in a velvety, savory sauce. Soft white bread crumbs create the buttery, crispy top that so perfectly contrasts with the saucy mushrooms below.
Please give this simple Mushroom Gratin a try! I know you'll love it. It might even find its way on to your Thanksgiving or holiday table over the next couple of months. It makes a delicious Nordic-inspired addition to any festive gathering.
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter divided, plus more for buttering the baking dish
- 1 heaping cup fresh bread crumbs from white sandwich bread, sourdough or a country loaf
- 2 pounds cremini or white button mushrooms washed and quartered
- 2 small shallots minced
- Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
- 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
- 2 tablespoons all-pupose flour
- ½ cup water
- ½ cup heavy whipping cream
- Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Butter a 2 quart baking dish and set aside. Place breadcrumbs in a small bowl and set aside.
- Heat a 12 inch nonstick skillet over medium and add butter. Once butter has melted, transfer one tablespoon to the small bowl with the breadcrumbs. Stir with a fork to combine.
- Add shallot to the remaining butter in the pan and saute until soft and translucent, about 2-3 minutes. Add mushrooms, increase heat to medium high and season with salt and pepper. Saute until mushrooms are browned and tender, about 10 minutes. Add thyme and stir to combine.
- Reduce heat to medium low, add flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Stir in water and cream and bring to a simmer. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste. Transfer mixture to prepared baking dish. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs and bake 10 minutes or until brown and bubbly. Serve.