This classic Italian salad recipe is perfect if you are after a fresh lunch. It’s super easy to make, it’s loaded with crunchy veggies and a simple homemade dressing. Eat it as a main dish, or enjoy it as the perfect side salad!
If I ever want a taste of home, I’ll whip up this salad that’s packed with classic Italian flavors.
It contains healthy ingredients like juicy tomatoes, crisp lettuce, and mozzarella cheese, making it perfect as a side or as a light lunch.
But it’s the perfectly tangy yet simple salad dressing that truly takes the cake!
Plus, it’s an excellent way to get important vitamins, minerals, and unsaturated fats into your diet without sacrificing flavor.
Oh, and did I mention that it’s a quick and easy meal that comes together in minutes and is always met with rave reviews?
What Kind of Salads Do Italians Eat?
Italians keep their salad pretty simple.
I would even say that I often find them a bit boring.
Italians never add parmesan cheese to salads. And only add crunchy croutons made with stale bread on Panzanella!
We also like using crispy lettuce and slightly bitter leaves like radicchio or arugula to balance milder flavors.
When it comes to the dressing, we tend to stick with salt, extra virgin olive oil, and vinegar or lemon juice for tartness.
If we want to jazz things up, we add authentic balsamic vinegar to the mix ( the real deal- not those crazy versions made with added sugar!).
Ingredients You’ll Need
For the salad
- Head of lettuce. You can use virtually any kind of crisp lettuce for this salad. I enjoy using romaine lettuce as it’s easy to find at the grocery store, but little gem, red leaf, frisée, and iceberg lettuce are equally delicious. To add more spice and bitterness to the mix, try Belgian endive or radicchio!
- Small red onion. This ingredient lends the salad a perfect crunch and a light hint of sweetness that balances the sharpness of the arugula.
- Arugula. You’ll be able to add tons of vital nutrients and antioxidants to your Italian salad with a handful of arugula. The high fiber and fluid content are also great for improving digestion!
- Cherry tomatoes. Add juiciness, color, crunch, and a fresh bite to your salad. You can use red or yellow tomatoes depending on your taste (yellow ones are milder and less acidic!). For a summer salad, try sun-dried tomatoes!
- Black olives. Any kind of black olives will work, but I love Kalamata olives for their meaty texture and dose of oleic acid (which is said to improve heart health!).
- Carrots. I usually grate my carrots as it’s the easiest way to add crunch to a simple Italian salad. But don’t be afraid to julienne them if you have more time on your hands.
- Fresh mozzarella. Not only is mozzarella delicious and creamy, but it’s a source of probiotics that should help balance your gut. Make sure to use real fresh mozzarella.
- Dried oregano. Okay, Italians don’t always add oregano to their salad (it’s rare!). But I think it gives this salad an aromatic side that you just can’t beat.
For the dressing
- Balsamic vinegar. Italians adore dressing their salads with balsamic vinegar as it has a distinctive and tart taste with a bit of sweetness that spruces up any leafy greens. If you don’t have it, red wine vinegar with a dash of honey is a decent substitute (although honey is NOT something that Italians will ever use in a salad).
- White wine vinegar. Adds a slightly acidic taste to the dressing, which enhances the other ingredients and makes a big difference to the final flavor.
- Extra-virgin olive oil. For an amazing boost of healthy fats, antioxidants, and vitamins E and K! I recommend using a high-quality oil, as you’ll truly taste the difference.
How to Make the Most Authentic Italian Salad Recipe
- Prepare the leaves: Chop the lettuce and arugula and wash the leaves in icy water to let them crisp up. If you want to prepare this recipe ahead of time, tear the lettuce with your hands instead of cutting it (as it lasts longer!). Or, even better, chop it at the last minute. When you’re done, pat the leaves dry and set them aside in a large bowl.
- Make the homemade dressing: Mix the vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, and salt in a mason jar or small mixing bowl. Just so you know, Italians don’t usually mix their salad dressing and just dump the dressing ingredients on top. But I find that mixing it ahead gives the dressing a creamier and more uniform consistency.
- Put the salad together: Place all the ingredients in a large salad bowl.
- Add the dressing and finishing touches: Drizzle the salad leaves with the dressing and toss everything well to combine. Then, sprinkle it with oregano, serve immediately, and enjoy!
How to Store
This authentic Italian salad recipe tastes best when it’s eaten straight away.
Otherwise, it’ll go soggy in the fridge and lose its structural integrity.
If you’re meal-prepping, I suggest mixing the salad, keeping it in the fridge, and storing the dressing separately.
You can then keep it fresh for 2 days or so.
When you’re ready to eat your salad, remove the dressing from the fridge for around an hour before mixing it with the salad.
Why I Love This Italian Salad Recipe
- It’s packed with fresh veggies and makes the perfect light lunch.
- You can easily add extra protein with garbanzo beans or kidney beans.
- The zesty Italian dressing gives it a real kick (without being difficult to make!)
- It’s a great way to get in your 5-a-day.
- It requires just a handful of ingredients.
More Salad Recipes You’ll Love
- Radicchio Salad
- Simple Lettuce Salad
- Maroulosalata (Greek Lettuce Salad)
- Protein Salad
- Roasted Butternut Squash Salad
- Mediterranean Quinoa Salad
- Refreshing Spring Salad
- Healthy Potato Salad (No Eggs)
If you try this Authentic Italian Salad recipe, please leave a comment and a rating and let me know how much you liked it!
Authentic Italian Salad Recipe
- 1 large head lettuce salad - romaine or butterhead (see note 1)
- 1/2 red onion - thinly sliced
- 2 cups arugula
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes - cut in half
- ½ cup black olives - sliced or whole
- 2 carrots - grated or julienne
- 1 fresh mozzarella - or fresh mozzarella bocconcini or ciliegine, cut into small chunks
- Dried oregano - optional – see note 2
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- ½ teaspoon salt
- Chop the lettuce (note 3) and arugula and wash it in icy water (this will help to crisp them up). Drain very well and pat dry.
- Prepare the dressing: Mix the vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, and salt in a jar or small mixing bowl (note 4).
- Place all the ingredients in a large salad bowl. Drizzle with the dressing and toss well to combine. Sprinkle with oregano and serve immediately.
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