Everybody needs a big, fat, juicy Italian Salad recipe in their lives, and this is my favourite. It has croutons, a dusting of parmesan and a homemade Italian dressing I adore. This goes well with all things Italian but especially with cosy foods like pasta, parmigiana, lasagna.
Or, have it as a wholesome but satisfying meal. Move over Caesar salad!
Mega Italian Salad
I christened this a MEGA Italian salad in an effort to catch your attention with an implied promise that it’s better than just your basic everyday Garden Salad. Did it work? If you’re reading this, then hah, it did! 😉
I may be jesting but actually this salad really is mega – both in size and tastiness. If you’re used to bottled Italian dressing you’re going to fall in love with this homemade number which gets a flavour boost from seasonings and the secret ingredient, parmesan.
As for the salad itself, it might look like a jumble of usual salad tidbits. But actually, there’s a very deliberate balance of vegetables in it so it doesn’t taste like any other basic salad, but rather the sort of salad you’d order at your favourite rustic, family-run local Italian restaurant.
For those of you in the States – think the signature Garden Salad at Olive Garden. It tastes like that, except the dressing is better!
What you need for my Mega Italian Salad
Here’s what you need to make my super Italian salad. Yes, there are some very specific “half this” and “half that”, and “big this” and a “whole that” in this. I warned you – I’m very particular about the right balance of ingredients for my favourite Italian salad!
1. The salad stuff
Cos /romaine lettuce – We’re using a whole head for a big salad today. I chop, wash and then spin-dry the leaves in my awesome $5 Ikea salad spinner that I’ve owned for 15 years (here’s the one sold today).
As for what size to chop the pieces, it comes down to eater preference. I like big chunks for a big, voluminous salad. If you’re dealing with smaller or less greedy mouths, you might want to cut the pieces smaller.
Substitute with iceberg or other crunchy lettuce of choice.
Tomatoes – 2 big juicy ones. Or 3 medium ones. Cherry tomatoes are also fine. But for this salad, I prefer the juiciness of larger ones cut up.
Red onion – Just 1/2, finely sliced. For freshness and some bite, littered throughout.
Capsicum / bell pepper – Also just half. I don’t want capsicum to dominate the salad too much and taste like a Greek Salad. We’re making an Italian salad here!
Kalamata olives, pitted, whole – You can use any olives you want here though I personally much prefer the flavour and texture of kalamata olives rather than the generically labelled “black olives”. I like using whole olives because biting into soft, briny olives is part of why I love this salad so much.
Bread for croutons – Honestly, this salad is 100% fine to make without croutons. But with? That’s how I feel justified in calling this a MEGA Italian salad!
Note: the croutons are specifically a little larger than usual, made with stock-standard white sandwich bread. It’s much more satisfying crunching into extra-big golden croutons than delicate little ones (they have their place, just not in this!).
Parmesan – For sprinkling all over the salad, bringing salty umami to the party. It’s the other little thing that gives this salad that extra edge. If you’re new to parmesan in salads, be prepared to be wowed!
2. Italian Dressing
And here’s what you need for the Italian Dressing:
Parmesan – Yep, more. This is the secret ingredient that gives Italian Dressing the edge, yet people rarely pick that it’s in the dressing. They just know it’s darn tasty!
Dried herbs and spices – Basil and garlic powder, plus a touch of red chilli flakes. I specifically choose to use dried basil for the earthy flavour it brings this dressing rather the freshness of raw basil. Plus, it also means I can make this Italian dressing year-round and not just summer.
Extra virgin olive oil – If you’ve every wondered why even simple salads at upmarket restaurants taste so good, the answer is excellent quality oil and vinegar. I keep economical olive oil for cooking, and reserve the good stuff for salads. This salad deserves the good stuff!
Red wine vinegar – Made from wine (really?), this vinegar is milder and has more flavour than your everyday white distilled vinegar. Red or white wine vinegar can be used here, though I particularly like the colour of red wine vinegar in the dressing. Of course, the fun police will always point out that once it’s tossed through the salad you can’t really tell if it’s red or white wine vinegar. 😂
How to make my Mega Italian Salad
I didn’t make a recipe video for this salad because it’s so straightforward.
Shake the dressing in a jar (my preferred method for ease + leftovers storage)
Toss together with all the salad ingredients and serve right away. Nobody likes soggy croutons and wilting lettuce!
MAKE AHEAD – Just keep the salad separate from the vegetables. It’s good for 24 hours, and still acceptable for 48 hours.
What to serve with Mega Italian Salad
This is a salad that’s a natural pairing with all things Italian, such as:
A big pasta bake;
Perennial crowd fav lasagna;
A cosy tray of cannelloni; or
Some reader favourite Italian mains
Really it will work alongside most dishes and cuisines except perhaps Asian food, Middle Eastern, Indian food etc. You know the sort of flavours I mean!
I’d love to know what you serve this with if you make it as a side or as a meal. I really think this salad could give Caesar salad a run for its money. And try adding chicken for an Uber Mega Italian Salad! – Nagi x
PS. No video today, I thought this was a nice and simple recipe that doesn’t need one. But if it will help, drop me a note and I’ll film it when I make it for lunch one day!
Mega Italian Salad
- 3 slices white sandwich bread , ~1.75 cm / 3/4" thick, crust off, cut into cubes (Note 1)
- 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 2 pinches salt
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tbsp red wine vinegar (Note 2)
- 4 tsp freshly grated parmesan (Note 1)
- 2 tsp sugar (any)
- 1/4 tsp each garlic powder
- 1/4 tsp dried basil
- 1/4 tsp chilli flakes (red pepper flakes), optional
- 1/2 tsp cooking/kosher salt
- 1/8 tsp black pepper
- 1 head cos / romaine lettuce , chopped into large or small bite size pieces (Note 3)
- 2 large tomatoes , cut into 6 to 8 wedges, then each wedge in half
- 1/2 green capsicum/bell pepper , 1.5cm / 2/3″ cubes
- 1/2 red onion , finely sliced
- 1 cup whole pitted kalamata olives (Note 4)
- 1/4 cup (tightly packed) finely grated parmesan
- Croutons: Preheat oven to 200°C/390°F (180°C fan). Toss bread with oil and salt. Spread on a tray and bake 15 minutes, stirring twice, until golden and fully crisp. Cool on tray.
- Dressing: Shake ingredients in a jar.
- Make salad: Set aside some parmesan for garnish. Place croutons and all remaining salad ingredients in a large bowl. Pour Dressing over, toss well.
- Serve: Transfer salad into a serving bowl. Sprinkle with reserved parmesan. Serve immediately!
Life of Dozer
Even Dozer eats his greens when it’s littered with croutons and sprinkled with parmesan.