Simple Italian Salad

Story by Holly
Italian Salad with romaine lettuce, croutons, tomatoes, pepperoncini, black olives, parmesan cheese and red onions in a bowl.
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This simple Italian salad is the perfect sidekick to any pasta dish and finds good company with a whole roasted chicken or delicate fish dinner. In other words, it plays nice and makes friends real easily.

The Classic Italian Side Salad: A Love Story.

You will never make a more gorgeous side salad than this stunner right here. It’s so simple, but so absolutely delicious and completely craveable. If you’ve just discovered this Italian salad recipe for the first time, congratulations! You’ve finally found that perfect side salad to accompany all your Italian pasta, chicken or fish dinners! 

Read on to discover for yourself how quickly this salad comes together and how to make our super simple homemade Italian salad dressing that you’re going to want to put on everything!

Ingredients laid out for Italian salad parmesan cheese, red onions, black olives, tomatoes and lettuce.

What Goes Into This Glorious Italian Salad? 

I’m not gonna lie, I grew up going to Olive Garden and have always had a special place in my heart for that Olive Garden salad. So, when I was on the hunt for the perfect Italian salad recipe, naturally I looked to that copycat Olive Garden recipe for inspiration.  

Our Version of the Copycat Olive Garden Salad Recipe Has:

  • Bright, leafy, green romaine. We love its crunch. 
  • Red onions and cherry tomatoes. Both optional, but highly recommended! 
  • Pepperoncinis and olives (an absolute must IMHO for that authentic Italian salad taste).  
  • Grated much as you want, of course!  (Just like with the Olive Garden salad.) 
  • Croutons for extra crunch. Keep it simple with store bought or go all the way with homemade if you have the time! 
Italian salad in a bowl with small bowls of parmesan cheese, red onions, black olives and tomatoes around it.

What is Italian Salad Dressing Made Of?

Have you ever looked up the ingredient list of one of your favorite products and immediately wished you hadn’t? Been there, done that. I hate to ruin it for you, but I thought you should see a comparison of what’s in Olive Garden’s Italian dressing verses our own version of the beloved Italian vinaigrette. 

From the Olive Garden Website:

Olive Garden salad dressing ingredients: Water, Soybean Oil, Distilled Vinegar, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Salt, Egg, Romano Cheese (Milk, Salt, Cultures, Enzymes), Dehydrated Garlic, Sugar, Spices, Xanthan Gum, Dextrose, Calcium Disodium EDTA added to protect flavor, Annatto Color, Natural Flavors.

Our Cleaned-Up Italian Salad Dressing Ingredients:

  • Garlic powder
  • Dried oregano
  • Dried basil
  • Salt 
  • Olive oil 
  • Red wine vinegar
  • ...and that’s it! 
Italian salad parmesan cheese, red onions, black olives, tomatoes and lettuce in a bowl with serving spoons.

What Kind of Salads Do Italians Eat? 

I’m no expert when it comes to Italian cuisine, but with a little research I’ve put together a short list of popular “Italian” salad styles. 

And they are.... 

1. Chopped: This is our favorite version of Chopped Italian Salad...we love that it’s full of so many goodies!
2. Pasta: We first had this Summer Tortelloni Pasta Salad while vacationing in Italy and have loved it ever since.  
3. Tossed: This is a classic for good reason and what the Italian salad recipe we’re sharing today is all about.  

Italian salad parmesan cheese, red onions, black olives, tomatoes and lettuce in a bowl with serving spoons.

How To Make The Best Italian Salad Recipe: 

This simple Italian salad recipe comes together quickly and is the perfect copycat Olive Garden recipe (for when you’re craving it, but can’t possibly leave your house, or are just looking for a healthier option)! 

  1. Grab a jar. Add the dressing ingredients, secure the lid, and shake away! Congratulations you just made homemade Italian salad dressing!
  2. Roughly chop the romaine lettuce and throw it in a nice big bowl. 
  3. Add the olives, pepperoncinis, onions, and tomatoes.
  4. Toss the salad with the dressing! You’re almost done. 
  5. Put as much parmesan cheese and as many croutons as you’d like on your perfect Italian side salad! No skimping please. 

Tools You Will Need:

Looking For More Things To Serve This Salad With?

Make, Post, Eat, Repeat!

Did you try out this simple Italian salad and love it as much as we do? The next time you make it, snap a pic before gobbling it all down and post it to Instagram tagging @themodernproper and #themodernproper so we can admire your handiwork. Happy eating!

Simple Italian Salad

Serves 6

Italian Dressing

1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup olive oil
2 tbsp red wine vinegar


1 head leafy romaine lettuce or 2 romaine hearts, roughly chopped
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated
1 cup peperoncini, whole or sliced
1/2 cup black olives, sliced or whole
1 pint cherry tomatoes
freshly ground pepper, to taste
croutons, store bought or homemade


  1. To make the dressing place all the ingredients in a jar with a tight fitting lid. Shake vigorously until all ingredients are combined. Store in refrigerator for a week. Shake before each use.
  2. To make the salad, place all ingredients in a large salad bowl. Drizzle with Italian dressing and toss to combine.