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This classic Italian salad is your soul mate side dish! It features crisp veggies, crunchy croutons, tangy pepperoncini, and a punchy homemade dressing.

Italian salad
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Here’s a great salad that’s simply perfection, in our books. Meet this Italian salad! It’s full of all the right flavors and textures: crisp lettuce, crunchy garlic croutons, and zingy pepperoncini. It’s covered in punchy, herby Italian vinaigrette that makes the flavors sing! And shaved Parmesan seals the deal. It can play sidekick to just about anything. It’s no secret: this recipe is staunchly Italian-American, not a classic Italian recipe. But that’s what we love about this easy salad!

What you need for the best Italian salad

Perhaps you’ve had a salad like this at an Italian American restaurant (the nostalgia factor is one thing Alex and I love about it). Somehow all the components come together into perfect harmony. Here’s what you need to make the best Italian salad…or really, the best salad:

  • Crisp greens: Use contrasting greens for variety: we like crunchy romaine and bright green butter lettuce.
  • Tomato & red onion: The veggies bring color and crunch.
  • Olives & pepperoncini: This is what brings that classic “Italian salad” vibe: tangy, briny, and zingy flavors. Do not omit!
  • Parmesan shavings (optional): Thick slices of Parmesan make a savory counterpoint; they’re easy to omit for a vegan salad.
  • Italian dressing: The dressing brings a punch that only homemade dressing can.
  • Garlic croutons: Crunchy, garlicky and totally worth the time to make!
Italian salad

Tricks for Italian salad dressing

A few tricks for the Italian salad dressing! This dressing is one of our favorites, and it comes together quickly. The only thing you need to know is how to get the perfect emulsion. Emulsion is when the olive oil and vinegar combine into a creamy liquid, versus separating into their separate parts. Here’s what to remember:

  • Use a medium sized bowl. Whisk in too small a bowl, and you won’t be able to get the whisking motion large enough to get an emulsion.
  • Pour the oil in 1 tablespoon at a time. Drizzle in the oil gradually and whisk vigorously before adding more. This makes it combine perfectly!
Italian Dressing Recipe

Why make homemade croutons?

Not everyone has time for homemade croutons. But they only take a few minutes of hands on time, and take this Italian salad to the next level! It’s a great way to use up bread that’s starting to get stale. All you’ll need is 15 minutes to bake (and the oven preheat time). The garlic flavor and the massive crunch is absolutely worth the time. Another reason to make homemade? They have no preservatives, and they don’t overdo it on the salt.

You can also make the croutons in advance. Just store them in a sealed container at room temperature until serving. They last for about 1 week, but are best when fresh. You can absolutely omit for a gluten-free salad and it still tastes great.

Italian salad

Ways to serve Italian salad

This Italian salad is perfect with Mediterranean or Italian-style foods like pizza and pasta. You can even make it into a main dish! Here’s what we recommend:

This Italian salad recipe is…

Vegetarian. For vegan, plant-based, and dairy-free, omit the Parmesan cheese. For gluten-free, omit the croutons.

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Italian salad

Perfect Italian Salad

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5 from 1 review

  • Author: Sonja Overhiser
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cook Time: 0 minutes
  • Total Time: 15 minutes
  • Yield: 4 to 6 1x


This classic Italian salad is your soul mate side dish! It features crisp veggies, crunchy croutons, tangy pepperoncini, and a punchy homemade dressing.


  • 1/2 recipe Homemade Croutons (or use purchased or omit for gluten-free)
  • 1 recipe Homemade Italian Dressing
  • 1 Romaine heart (3 cups)
  • 5 cups butter lettuce
  • 1 handful sliced red onion
  • ½ cup sliced cherry tomatoes
  • ½ cup sliced black olives (or halved olives)
  • ½ cup jarred sliced pepperoncini
  • ¼ cup large Parmesan shavings (omit for vegan)


  1. Make the homemade croutons (or make them in advance). 
  2. Make the Italian dressing.
  3. Chop romaine and lettuce. Thinly slice the red onion. Slice the tomatoes in half. 
  4. Place the greens in bowls, then top with the vegetables, olives, pepperoncini, Parmesan shavings, and croutons, then drizzle with dressing. Or, you can place them all together in a large serving bowl and toss with the dressing. (If making in advance, refrigerate the components separately and keep the croutons at room temperature. Bring the dressing to room temperature before serving.)
  • Category: Salad
  • Method: Raw
  • Cuisine: Italian American
  • Diet: Vegan

More perfect green salads

There are so many tasty green salads to try! Here are some favorites:

About the authors

Sonja & Alex

Hi, we’re Alex and Sonja Overhiser, married cookbook authors, food bloggers, and recipe developers. We founded A Couple Cooks to share fresh, seasonal recipes for memorable kitchen moments! Our recipes are made by two real people and work every time.

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  1. Marsha Peters says:

    Made this salad for pizza night with some friends. It was delicious and perfect with pizza. The combination of veggies, olives, peppers and cheese worked really well. The salad dressing may become our new house Italian dressing?

  2. Helga says:

    Looks fantastic and yummy! )))

  3. Jennifer says:

    Made the dressing tonight for just a tossed salad with what was left in the veggie drawer – it was great!