In a visit to Florence last summer, La Raccolta ranked top among most memorable and delicious gastronomical experiences. A lovely vegetarian restaurant tucked away behind a little health food store, from the outside we would have never known a restaurant was even there (thanks, HappyCow). They offer a piatto misto, a combination of everything they're serving that day, and although everything was impressive, the pasticcio di mela e porro (apple leek pasticcio, which is a kind of baked dish covered with béchamel sauce) stole our attention. We raved about it so much that our waiter brought out the chef, who exuberantly explained how he made it, homemade soy béchamel and all. I tried to develop a recipe as soon as I came home, and though this will never be as exquisite as the original, it's pretty good.
Total time: 1.5 hours
2 tablespoons olive oil or coconut oil
2 tablespoons flour (or substitute with 2 tablespoons arrowroot or cornstarch)
1-1/2 cups soy or almond milk
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
In a medium saucepan heat the oil over medium-low heat for a minute or two. Add the flour and stir until smooth, cooking until it turns sandy gold, 5 to 7 minutes. Slowly add the milk to the roux, whisking continuously until smooth. Cook 10 minutes, stirring often, then remove from heat. Stir in the salt and nutmeg and let cool.
2-3 large sweet potatoes (the pale-skinned kind)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon cardamom
1 teaspoon garam masala
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup toasted, unsalted sunflower seeds
Peel the sweet potatoes if the skins don't look good, then chop into slices between 1/4 and 1/3 inch thick. Break the tough green part off of the leeks, then chop the remainders in half. Rinse under water, fanning the layers, then slice thinly. Peel and core the apples, cut into quarters, then chop thinly into slices between 1/4 and 1/8 inch thick.
Preheat the oven to 350F. Heat the oil in a pan and saute the leeks over medium-high heat until nearly translucent. Add the spices and cook for another minute over medium heat. Then add the apple slices and continue cooking for 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, oil a 11 x 7 or 9 x 9 inch baking pan and place the sweet potato slices in one or two layers. When the apple mixture is done, spread over the sweet potatoes. Pour the bechamel on top and sprinkle on the sunflower seeds. Bake for 40-45 minutes, until slightly browned around the edges and the sweet potatoes are soft.
Serve warm, on its own or over rice. It will stay good in the fridge for up to a week or in the freezer for several months.