This Best Easy Italian Green Salad is my go-to when I crave an easy, nutritious side that complements just about any pasta dish or is great on its own as a light meal.
Lately, I have been thinking about what a huge fan of the salad I am. I wasn’t always that way. I don’t know why — something about them seemed like a lot of effort for some reason. I didn’t mind it if someone else made them or I could order one at a restaurant, however.
I made a lot of pasta salads, but, if I’m being honest, those are totally entrees or easy dishes to bring to a picnic or potluck more than anything that’s really all about the vegetables.
I started experimenting a while back with what a predominantly “green” salad would look like for me, and how it would fit into my repertoire of other dishes. I figured, it had to have that little something, something extra, whether that meant a delicious dressing (for a dressing idea try my Chopped Autumn Salad with Apple Cider Dressing) or whether it was made more unique with the ingredients I chose to mix in.
This Italian Green Salad is the best of both worlds: In this case this salad features mini pepperonis, chunks of delicious mozzarella, and sunflower seeds and a scrumptious Italian dressing made perfect with just the right amount of acid, sweet, salty, and spicy.
HOW CAN I CUSTOMIZE THIS ITALIAN GREEN SALAD?
Salads are great because they are so customizable. A little of this, a little of that, and you make yourself whatever suits your tastes. Plus, other than the dressing, there is really no need to measure the other ingredients, you can “toss” in all sorts of vegetables or take out ones you don’t like, in whatever amounts you see fit.
If pepperoni isn’t your thing, you can skip it entirely, serve it on the side, or use turkey pepperoni if you aren’t a fan of the beef and pork kind.
An easy way to add mozzarella is to purchase the tiny little pearls of buffalo mozzarella in your grocery’s deli area (at least that’s where I usually find mine). They’ll be in amongst the “fancy” cheeses.
If you are watching what you eat, you can skip the cheese altogether, or choose one or the other — cheese in the dressing or cheese in the salad, but not both.
If you’d like to make this low-carb, skip the croutons and instead add roasted chickpeas.
If you don’t like cucumbers, you can skip them or substitute another vegetable you like such as cherry tomatoes (halved), diced peppers, or even thinly sliced zucchini.
For a little bit of tanginess, add in kalamata olives or sliced pepperoncinis.
WHAT IS A GREEN SALAD MADE OF?
A “green” salad is made predominantly with green, leafy vegetables that make up the bulk of the dish. Greens can include lettuces such as romaine, green or red leaf, bibb, Boston, or iceberg, and can also include other non-lettuce greens such as arugula, endive, radicchio, kale, spinach, shaved Brussels sprouts, or cabbage.
It’s almost always served cold (because if it’s warm the greens and other veggies will start to wilt).
There are other types of non-green “salads” like those made of tuna or chicken, or the aforementioned pasta salad, or even ones made out of beans, like my Honey Chipotle Black Bean Salad, or berries, like my Berry Cheesecake Salad.
There are smaller salads you can serve as appetizers or sides, salads (like this one), that are larger and can serve as a meal, and salads are served as desserts and contain sweeter ingredients or fruit.
WHAT IS THE HEALTHIEST LETTUCE FOR SALADS?
All lettuces and greens are good for you, there’s no doubt about that, but a few rise to the top, health-wise. If you’re looking for the most nutritional bang for your salad buck, consider using these greens:
- Swiss chard
- Broccoli leaves
- Green or red leaf
HOW DO YOU MAKE CROUTONS?
I usually cheat and buy pre-packaged croutons. But making your own is easy!
I start with a loaf of Italian bread, but you can use any bread you like. I like to leave my crusts on, but again, cut them off if you’re not into the crusts.
I cut the bread into small (about 1-inch) cubes and put them in a bowl. To the croutons, I add a mixture of olive oil (about ¼ cup), Italian seasoning (or you can just use garlic salt), and give them a toss.
Next, I turn the bread squares out on a rimmed baking sheet, being sure to spread them in one layer for even cooking. I pop them into a preheated oven at 375 and cook for about 15-20 minutes, depending on how thick your croutons are and how well done you like them.
After they have cooled, I put them right on my salad. If you have extras, you can save them in an air-tight container for about 5-7 days, though they will start to get soggy. You can always re-crisp them in the oven if you’ve found they aren’t as crunchy as they once were.
Best Easy Italian Green Salad
- 6 cups lettuce
- ⅓ cup mini pepperonis - OR regular pepperonis, quartered
- ½ cup mozzarella - cubed, or cheese sticks chopped
- ½-1 cup garlic croutons
- 1 cucumber - peeled and chopped
- 3 tablespoons salted sunflower seeds
- 3 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- ¼ cup red or white wine vinegar
- ¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
- 2 tablespoons water
- 1 tablespoon dried Italian seasoning
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 2 teaspoons dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon salt - or to taste
- ½ teaspoon cracked black pepper - or to taste
- pinch of red pepper flakes
- Combine all dressing ingredients in a jar, cover and shake until blended. Set aside until ready to use.
- In a large bowl toss together lettuce, pepperoni, mozzarella, parmesan, cucumbers, and sunflower seeds.
- Just before serving, give the dressing a good shake, then pour over salad and toss. Serve immediately.