Recipes » Easy Weeknight Dinners » Classic Italian Salad

Classic Italian Salad

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5 from 6 votes

Made with classic ingredients, this Italian salad only takes 20 minutes to make, can be made ahead, and is a celebration of fresh, bright, and simple Italian flavors.

This recipe is for an Italian table salad, also known as “Insalata all’Italiana” or “Italian family-style salad”. It’s a traditional Italian salad that serves as a centerpiece on the family table during meals. It is versatile and colorful and typically includes a variety of fresh vegetables, greens, and other ingredients that are readily available. The exact ingredients in an Italian salad may vary depending on the region and the chef’s preferences, but this recipe highlights my favorites!

Italian table salads are a celebration of fresh, seasonal ingredients and are often served as a starter or side dish, but I love serving this Italian salad as a main dish with warm focaccia, ciabatta, Garlic Bread, or even homemade Baguette (despite being French!).

If you’re obsessed with Italian salads like me, try this Italian Fennel Salad (With Oranges), too!

Italian Salad Ingredients

  • Arugula – arugula is an excellent base for a classic, simple Italian salad.
  • Cannellini beans – cannellini beans can be found in a can! They’re creamy and mildly nutty in flavor.
  • Cherry tomatoes – tomatoes add a burst of juiciness and sweetness. You can also use grape tomatoes!
  • Castelvetrano olives – Castelvetrano olives are slightly sweet, slightly briny, buttery and delicate. They’re so delicious! You can use other Italian green olives if you prefer or Frescatrano olives which are a Greek equivalent.
  • Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese – you can’t beat nutty, salty grated Parmigiano-Reggiano! You can also use regular parmesan for a less pricey option.
  • Roasted red pepper strips – you can buy roasted red pepper strips in the grocery store, drain them well, and enjoy! If you prefer to make your own, here’s an easy Roasted Red Pepper recipe.
  • English cucumber – English cucumber is extra crunchy!
  • Sweet onion – sweet onion, like a Vidalia onion, adds crunch and, of course, a touch of sweetness and mild onion flavor.
  • Lemons – fresh lemons will flavor a simple Italian dressing!
  • Extra virgin olive oil – good-quality extra virgin olive, preferably from Italy, will help us make our 2-ingredient lemon dressing.
Italian salad recipe ingredients

Variations

Change up this classic salad with some fun Italian additions and substitutions!

  • A different type of lettuce like romaine, butterhead or green leaf
  • Chickpeas or fava beans instead of cannellini beans
  • Chunked tomatoes instead of cherry tomatoes
  • Pecorino Romano or fresh mozzarella balls instead of parmesan cheese
  • Homemade Roasted Red Peppers instead of jarred – or fresh, diced red peppers!
  • Add a handful fresh basil or oregano
  • Add garlic to the dressing for extra flavor
  • Use white wine vinegar, or white balsamic, instead of lemon juice. You can even had in a little mustard.
  • Other veggies: like shaved fennel, celery, or artichoke hearts
  • More protein: like grilled shrimp, Grilled Chicken Thighs, Hard Boiled Eggs, prosciutto, salami, walnuts or pine nuts

How to Make Italian Salad

Full instructions in the recipe card; this is just an outline!

  1. Layer.

    Place arugula, beans, tomatoes, olives, parmesan cheese, red pepper strips, cucumber, and onion in a big bowl.

  2. Whisk.

    Whisk together olive oil, juice from 1 ½ lemons, salt, and pepper.

  3. Toss.

    Pour the dressing over the salad and toss. Taste and add more lemon juice if desired. Toss again and serve.

What Is This Italian Salad Dressing Made Of?

The dressing that perfectly complements this vibrant Italian salad is a simple combination of freshly squeezed lemon juice and rich extra virgin olive oil. This 2-ingredient dressing brings zesty brightness and the quintessential taste of Italy, capturing the essence of the Mediterranean in a single bite. A true celebration of simplicity and quality ingredients, this lemon and olive oil dressing enriches this classic Italian salad with a burst of fresh, sunny flavor.

Italian Salad Tips

  • For effortless paper-thin onion slices, use a mandoline!
  • Castelvetrano olives, known for their mild, buttery goodness, are an absolute must-try! In case they are unavailable, you can opt for equally delicious Greek Frescatrano olives or any other Italian olive variety. Look for a jar containing approximately 10-12 ounces in net weight and 6-8 ounces in dry weight.
  • Conveniently, you can find roasted red pepper strips pre-packaged in jar at your local grocery store. Remember to drain them first!

What to Serve With Italian Salad

What’s especially awesome about this salad is it can be a full meal for lunch or dinner, or it can be served as a side dish! Here are different ways to serve your Italian salad:

Storage

  • Undressed salad: This salad is wonderful made ahead! Store the salad separately from the dressing, in covered containers, for up to 3 days. Whisk dressing and toss into salad right before serving.
  • Dressed salad: store in a covered container and enjoy same day. The salad will become soggy quickly!

More Italian Recipes You’ll Love!

Classic Italian Salad Recipe

Made with classic ingredients, this Italian salad only takes 20 minutes to make, can be made ahead, and is a celebration of fresh, bright, and simple Italian flavors.
5 from 6 votes
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 20 minutes
Course: Appetizer, Lunch, Main Course, Salad, Side Dish
Cuisine: Italian
Keyword: summer
Servings: 4 servings
Calories: 634kcal
Author: Tastefully Grace

Ingredients

  • 10 ounces arugula
  • 15 ounce can cannellini beans rinsed and drained
  • 12 ounces cherry tomatoes left whole or halved
  • 10 ounce jar pitted Castelvetrano olives or other Italian green olives (drained)
  • 1 ⅓ cups grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese or regular parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup roasted red pepper strips
  • 1 English cucumber sliced into half moons
  • 1 small sweet onion cut into paper thin slices
  • 1-2 lemons juiced
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

  • In a large salad bowl, add arugula, beans, tomatoes, olives, parmesan cheese, red pepper strips, cucumber, and onion.
  • In a separate bowl, whisk together olive oil, the juice of 1 ½ lemons, and salt and pepper. Pour dressing over the salad and toss well until combined. Taste! If not lemony enough, add the juice of the remaining ½ of a lemon. Toss again and serve.

Video

Notes

  • I recommend using a mandoline, if you have it, to cut the onion into paper thin slices.
  • Castelvetrano olives are mild and buttery…and the best! If you can’t find them, you can use Frescatrano olives which are very similar but Greek, or another type of Italian olive. The olive jar’s net weight should be around 10-12 ounces and the dry weight should be around 6-8 ounces.
  • You can buy roasted red pepper strips in a jar in the grocery store. Make sure to drain them before enjoying!
  • This salad can be made ahead, keeping the dressing and salad in separate bowls (covered) up to 3 days prior to serving. Whisk together the dressing and toss into the salad right before serving.
  • This salads serves 2-3 people for dinner, or 4-5 people for an appetizer or side dish.

Nutrition

Serving: 1serving | Calories: 634kcal | Carbohydrates: 39g | Protein: 23g | Fat: 47g | Saturated Fat: 11g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 4g | Monounsaturated Fat: 30g | Cholesterol: 23mg | Sodium: 2385mg | Potassium: 805mg | Fiber: 11g | Sugar: 10g | Vitamin A: 2904IU | Vitamin C: 67mg | Calcium: 668mg | Iron: 6mg
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