Friday, August 31, 2012

Copy Cat Olive Garden Italian Salad

Again, my suburban past rears it's ugly head. I could do without any of the mediocre pastas at the Olive Garden and I really don't even obsess over the breadsticks like some people do, but I do find myself craving the giant italian salad every once in a blue moon. I haven't set foot in one of their establishments in years, so I combed through copycat recipes to bring you the best of the best.

The recipe below serves 4 as a side.

For the dressing, you'll need:

  • 1/2 cup olive oil based mayo
  • 1/3 white vinegar (white balsamic preferred)
  • 2 tbs sugar
  • 1 tbs water
  • 4 tbs grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tbs italian seasoning
Whisk everything above together. Place in fridge to keep cold.

For the salad you'll need:
  • 2 heads of romaine
  • 1/3 red onion
  • 12 black olives
  • 10 peperoncini peppers
  • 3 roma tomatoes
  • homemade croutons (see below)
  • parmesan cheese
  • cracked pepper
Place a salad bowl, preferably glass, in the fridge so it chills. Meanwhile, chop the romaine roughly. Slice the red onion into thin slices. Quarter the roma tomatoes, removing the seeds. Throw this all in the salad bowl with the olives, peperoncini peppers and homemade croutons. Toss with about half the dressing you made, adding more or less as you'd like. Place the bowl in the fridge while you make your main dish to keep the salad chilled. When serving, grate parmesan and crack fresh pepper on top to taste, restaurant style.

OPTIONAL - you could add shaved carrots and chopped red cabbage to this recipe. I just like to keep ingredients to a minimum on principal.

Homemade croutons
  • 3 slices italian or sourdough bread (just make it good and crusty)
  • 1.5 tbs olive oil
  • 1 tbs italian seasoning
  • 1 tbs garlic salt
Line a cookie sheet with tin foil. Set oven to broil on high. Cube the bread slices into your preferred crouton size. In a small bowl, mix the olive oil, italian seasoning and garlic salt. (Sub the garlic salt for freshly minced garlic and cracked sea salt if you're feeling particularly fancy.) In a medium size bowl, toss the bread cubes with the olive oil and seasoning mix until all are evenly coated. Place under the broiler for about 1-2 minutes or until they just start to brown. Remove them from the oven and flip them, placing them back under the broiler for another 1-2 minutes. 

I can't emphasize this enough - you HAVE to keep a really close eye on these because they can go from perfectly brown to burned in 30 seconds, especially if your broiler is really intense. Know thine oven.

You can also use this same recipe to make your own garlic bread by brushing the olive oil and seasoning mix on full slices of bread or on halved baguettes. I would recommend adding parmesan or mozzarella cheese due to the principles of the cheesiness theorem, wherein all edible things on this earth are better with cheese.

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