This simple Italian Salad recipe is quick and easy to make, tossed with a zesty Italian vinaigrette, and can easily double as a side salad or main dish.
Our week of easy side salad recipes continues today with the very first salad I ever learned how to like…
…a classic Italian salad. ♡
Specifically, this classic Italian side salad, inspired by none other than the Olive Garden. ♡♡♡
Back in my picky-eating days, I used to avoid salads like the plague. But that all changed my freshman year of college when a group of friends squeezed into my old VW bug one night for a road trip to have dinner in the “big city” at — yes — the Olive Garden. It was the hot new restaurant in Wichita circa the early 2000s, and their famous unlimited soup, salad and breadsticks combo was every broke college student’s dream come true. I remember becoming an instant fan of their creamy Zuppa Toscana soup, and went big on those hot and soft breadsticks each time they were passed around. Then — probably to impress some boy in the group — I remember impulsively following suit and adding some of their famous Italian green salad to my plate as well. And 100% to my surprise, I loved it!!!
Ever since, I’ve been a huge fan of Italian salads and love experimenting with different ways to make them. But I have to admit there will always be a special spot in my heart for my first love — that dreamy throwback Olive Garden-style Italian salad. Fresh greens, zesty croutons, crisp red onions, juicy tomatoes, mild pepperoncini peppers and freshly-grated Parmesan are just an unbeatable combination every time! Especially when made with this super-simple Italian vinaigrette. And especially when you go big on the Parmesan (which I wholeheartedly recommend you do).
That said — like all of the side salad recipes that I’m sharing this week — this Italian salad is 100% customizable with whatever ingredients you love best. So feel free to get creative and clean out the fridge and make this recipe your own! I’ve also included tips below for how to make it gluten-free or vegan, if you would like. And if you feel like adding in some extra protein (such as chicken, steak, shrimp) or beans (such as chickpeas), this side salad can easily transform into a hearty entree too.
We make some version of this salad pretty much every time we make Italian food in our house, and it always hits the spot. So if you were also a fan of the OG back in the day, or if you’re just looking for a tried-and-true Italian salad recipe to add to your repertoire, bookmark this one and give it a try!
Everyday Italian Salad Ingredients:
To make this easy salad recipe, you will need:
Greens: I typically use a bag of mixed spring greens for this salad, but any favorite greens will do.
Veggies: I kept things simple with just red onion and sliced pepperoncini peppers. But feel free to add in extra salad veggies that you have on hand!
Tomatoes: Any kind of fresh tomatoes would be great, or feel free to add some sun-dried tomatoes instead.
Croutons: Feel free to use any leftover bread that you have on hand to make a batch of homemade croutons. Or you can totally use store-bought croutons as well.
Parmesan: The more the merrier in this salad, if you ask me! I love tossing some into the big bowl of salad, plus grating extra on top of the individual salad servings as well.
(Optional) Nuts: We love adding a handful of toasted pine nuts into this salad too.
Italian Vinaigrette: A pantry-friendly combo of olive oil, red wine vinegar, Dijon, garlic (or garlic powder), dried oregano, salt and pepper.
How To Make This Salad:
To make this Italian salad recipe, simply…
Make your dressing. Whisk all of the ingredients together in a small bowl until combined. Or — my preferred method — just add them to a mason jar and shake-shake-shake until the dressing is ready to go.
Mix the salad. Then combine all of your salad ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Drizzle evenly with the dressing and toss until combined.
Serve! And serve it up right away while it’s nice and fresh!
There are about a million ways that you can customize this salad. So feel free to get creative and use what ingredients you love most (or need to use up in your kitchen!) and make this one your own. For example, feel free to:
1/2 cup freshly-grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for topping
1/3 cup sliced pepperoncini peppers
Italian Vinaigrette Ingredients:
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly-cracked black pepper
1 small clove garlic, pressed or minced (or 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder)
To Make The Vinaigrette: Whisk all ingredients together in a bowl (or shake together in a mason jar) until combined. Taste and add additional sweetener if desired. Use immediately or refrigerate in a sealed container for up to 3 days.
To Make The Salad: Combine all ingredients in a large salad bowl, drizzle evenly with the vinaigrette, and toss until evenly combined. Serve sprinkled with extra Parmesan cheese and enjoy!
Hi. I,m Italian, even though I was born in Australia. I have lived in Italy for the last 38 years. I’m glad you enjoy italian salads but please be aware that Italians never EVER garnish their salads with grated parmesan cheese!! Funny how americans think that adding parmesan to a dish makes it typically italian or like adding garlic or peperoncino! Most italian dishes are quite bland actually…garlic is used sparingly and many italians in fact hate it. Just wanted to point this out. You should come over to Italy and taste the real things!!
As to the “italian vinaigrette”…italians just add a pinch of salt, a swirl of extra virgin olive oil and a splash of vinegar (or lemon juice for some) and that’s it!! Garlic is a definite no-no in salads just like the grated parmesan. Less is definitely more in Italy and so distant from your stereotypes on italian food. Come see how the italians do it and eat in Italy! It’s a completely different story. No meatballs on spaghetti, no “marinara” sauce, ingredients are kept to a minimum….less is definitely more! We don’t like to blend too may flavours together. Simplicity is best at all times! Enjoy…but please do not claim a dish to be italian when it’s a clear american adaptation.
I’m loving these everyday salad recipes! Especially the italian, with a small batch recipe – anytime I try to make italian dressing I end up with way too much, too many ingredients, so I’m looking forward to trying this one!
Thank you so much. This was an amazing salad. Made it for my family and even the little kids liked this.
Is this ‘serves 4’ as a main or side?
I would say as a side dish. :)
Wow, I stumbled upon this and I just read your story about salad. I’m 54 and have never eaten salad. Maybe next time I’m at Olive Garden I’ll try some!
nooooooo!!!! do not go to olive garden!
make ali’s salad instead. infinitely better!!
Loved this salad!! For salad I usually just toss whatever I have in my fridge together – which is ok. But it makes such a difference when you pick a few key ingredients that go well together. Thank you!!
love this salad, I really like garlic and the flavors are very good, thank you for sharing.
We’ve made this several times. All of the “everyday” salads on this blog are amazing!
I really liked the dressing on this salad. So simple!
Very very hood love the origami and peppery taste
Love this salad! It has become my go-to when bringing a dish to potlucks or family dinners as it seems everyone loves the flavors together. We are making a big batch next week to eat for lunch while at home.
One thing we always add to make this a “main” dish and add some protein is the recommended chickpeas. We also add cucumber to it. So good and filling. Thank you for all your “basics” series as they are super helpful in terms of helping out with just making something straightforward and delicious. I tried the baked tofu and baked shrimp and those were both excellent, not to mention easy. Hope you are staying safe and healthy!
This salad dressing is so simple and one of the best I’ve had. The ratios are on point….the garlic just took it to the next level! I doubled the recipe to keep extra in my fridge. I also added some homemade croutons to the salad greens to soak up the delicious vinaigrette! Thank you! I’ll be trying some of your other recipes soon!
I make this salad once or twice a week! So simple and delicious, thank you!
Well thank you for that Teresa, now everybody knows how expert you are on Italian cuisine.
Excellent salad and dressing. Will definitely make this again.
I’m 100% making this
I love this salad and it is a staple in our house. I make it every time we make pizza or pasta and everyone loves it!
My husband and I LOVE this salad. We make it for lunch with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc, or for dinner as a side salad. For those garlic lovers, doubling the garlic gives it an extra zest. It doesn’t matter if it’s authentic Italian or not, it is DELICIOUS!
This salad is outstanding. I brought it to a potluck once and my friends couldn’t get enough. Definitely a go to at our house. Thank you Ali!
My favorite salad for when I need something beautiful and delicious when guests are coming for dinner.
Omg, I made the Vinaigrette salad dressing. I love it. I’ve never been an oil and vinegar dressing person, but I thought I would give this a try. I’m hooked on this dressing. I’ll be doubling this recipe for my salads. Thank you😊 🥗