Looking Backward Into the Present

Using the Popular Culture of the Past to Help Answer Perplexing Questions in the Present

Archive for December, 2008

What is the Shelf Life of Dried Pasta?

My wife and I were waiting to be seated in one of our favorite Little Italy restaurants, when we noticed jars of dried pasta in glass containers on the shelves (for decoration) that looked like they had been there for years.  We wondered out loud to each other if that pasta would still be good.  She said yes…I said no. 


Many experts agree that the normal shelf-life of dried pasta is two years, presuming it is stored in an airtight container.  One of the biggest problems with long-term storage of pasta is that it will become a breeding ground for bacteria or small bugs. 


However, if the pasta on the shelf was perfectly stored could it still be eaten? According to www.shelfreliance.com, spaghetti could be edible for 10 years in a desperate situation.  However, there’s no telling if the nutritional value would still be maintained.  According to www.containerandpackaging.com, “Pasta will store longer than flour if kept dry. Hermetically sealed in the absence of oxygen, plan on a storage life of 10-15 years at a stable temperature of 70°F. Pasta should keep proportionately longer if stored at cooler temperatures.”


However, that is under perfect conditions.  So as much as it hurts me to be right, I would probably say that the pasta on the shelf in that restaurant would probably not be good to eat.

Incidentally, according to the National Pasta Association (www.ilovepasta.org), the American pasta industry was founded in 1848 by Antoine Zerega, a flour miller from Lyon, France. 

Did the Caesar salad originate in Italy?

In the course (no pun intended) of planning Italian themed meals, I have often included the original recipe Caesar salad (with anchovy) as a way to appear more authentic and ethnically correct.  Much to my shock, when watching a Mo Rocca segment called “Hail Caesar!” on CBS Sunday Morning I discovered that the Caesar salad was first popularized in 1920s Tijuana, Mexico by a man named Caesar Cardini.


I, like many Americans, just assumed that the Caesar salad sprung from ancient Roman times when men like Julius Caesar and Augustus Caesar ruled the land.  But Tijuana? I couldn’t believe it. 


According to The Italian-American Cookbook, by Galina Mariani, the creation of the Caesar salad was a happy accident:


At Caesar’s Place [the name of his restaurant], on July Fourth weekend in 1924, Cardini, having run out of ingredients for main courses, concocted the salad as a main course, arranging the lettuce leaves on a plate with the intention that they would be eaten with the fingers. Later Cardini shredded the leaves into bite-size pieces.  It was the first main-course salad in the United States, where salads had previously been served only as a side dish.


But wait, if the salad was borne in Mexico what is it doing in an Italian-American Cookbook?  It is because Caesar Cardini was born in Italy and immigrated to Tijuana (near the border) where he could start a restaurant free of prohibition-era restrictions.  Thus, one could say that even though the Caesar salad was born in Mexico, it is Italian in its origins. 


Incidentally, The Italian-American Cookbook insisted that the original recipe of the salad did not include anchovies.  The original-recipe salad still lives on at Hotel Caesar’s in downtown Tijuana.    

Italian-Mexican restaurateur, chef, and hotel owner Caesar Cardini, originator of the Caesar salad

Italian-Mexican restaurateur, chef, and hotel owner Caesar Cardini, originator of the Caesar salad