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The Essential Vegetarian

A meeting with Aramark

By Katharyn Jeffreys

Features Editor

In last week’s column, I voiced my displeasure with Network’s menu changes this fall. They had eliminated many vegetarian options without replacing them with other items. Tony Cassesse, Food Service Director of Networks and Beth Emery, District Manager of Aramark, invited me to meet with them regarding the column. I was pleased to find that they both demonstrated a commitment to vegetarian dining options.

Networks, I said, is now trying to incorporate more meatless entrees into their menu. Two new prepared sandwiches are available: one with hummus and roasted vegetables and another with cream cheese and fresh veggies. Additionally, they cited the many vegetarian specials they will be offering. I emphasized that vegetarians, like anyone else, often want a “meal,” not just a salad or some pasta, dishes which can be healthy but are often not particularly hearty. They are working on creating a Pan Geos wrap, which I personally look forward to seeing on the menu.

Aramark’s response to my concerns came as a welcome surprise, and I am pleased that they acted so quickly to rectify the situation at Networks. In addition to menu changes, Cassesse and Emery emphasized that since Networks food is cooked to order, anyone with a dietary restriction can request a menu item cooked a special way. For vegetarians, however, a dish without meat is often less expensive. So to pay for meat in a dish which has none (if no reasonable substitution such as mushrooms or beans are available) seems inappropriate. The gesture is nice, however.

I recently visited Antico Forno in the North End for what I was told would be fabulous gnocchi. This pasta treat is not available in many restaurants, so I was excited. Antico Forno means “ancient furnace” in Italian, and this fire is in fact visible in the back of the small restaurant. The atmosphere is cozy enough to seem romantic, but the tables are close enough together and the noise level loud enough that it is not an intimidatingly formal place. It is clearly aimed at couples, and rightfully so. It makes for a great place for a first date in ambiance, but possibly not in price.

A pasta dish runs about $10-$12. I chose the gnocchi, to satisfy my craving. It was baked, with a crust of smoky, fresh mozzarella cheese on top. It was not the best version of this pasta I have tasted, but I have a preference for versions in which the potato base of the pasta is distinguishable. The menu is small, but there are several vegetarian options, including a vegetarian lasagna, which looked promising.

The restaurant does not serve coffee or dessert, which I found a bit strange. But there is not a shortage of coffee shops and pastry shops in the North End, so enjoy a change of scenery if you have a hankering for sweets after dinner.

The service was very friendly but somewhat sporadic. (I was gleefully offered bread, but not brought any until my entree came.) Additionally, the maitre’d kept me on hold for a long while when a called to make a reservation, leaving me to listen to the chatter of the restaurant patrons as well as the static from his portable phone as he carried it around.

This week’s recipe is for Vegetarian Spring Rolls with Sweet and Sour Sauce. Ingredients can be found at markets in Chinatown, or probably even at the University Park Star Market. These isn’t the healthiest recipe, but spring rolls are a tasty treat. I would enjoy hearing what you think of MIT campus dining, or any other vegetarian issue. I can be reached by e-mail at <>.

Vegetarian Spring Rolls

1 tsp Polyunsaturated oil

1 Clove garlic, crushed

50g Mushrooms, chopped (about 2 oz)

2 Green shallots, chopped

1/4 Red pepper, chopped

2 cups Shredded Chinese cabbage

2 tsp Water

2 tsp Salt-reduced soy sauce

1/4 sm Vegetable stock cube, crumbled

1 Tbsp Cornstarch

6 Spring roll wrappers

1 Egg white, lightly beaten

Heat oil and garlic in a pan, add mushrooms, and cook for 2 minutes. Add shallots, pepper and cabbage. Cook, covered, until cabbage is wilted. Stir in blended water, sauce, stock cube and cornstarch. Divide mixture between wrappers, fold sides in, roll up.

Brush rolls lightly with egg white, place on a baking paper-covered oven tray, bake in moderately hot oven for about 25 minutes or until lightly browned. Yield: 6 rolls.

Serve with sauce:

Sweet and Sour Sauce:

1/2 cup pineapple juice

2 Tbsp white vinegar

1 Tbsp no-added-salt tomato sauce

2 tsp brown sugar

1 tsp cornstarch

1 tsp water

Combine juice, vinegar, sauce, and sugar in pan; blend cornstarch and water, add to pan; stir over heat until sauce boils and thickens slightly.