This Copycat Olive Garden Salad recipe maybe inspired by the popular restaurant chain, but is packed with fresh flavors and ingredients, making it better!
Grab the recipe for this Copycat Olive Garden Salad below!
In high school, since my birthday was early in the school year, I was the first of my friends to get my driver’s license and since I was the oldest child of a full time working Mom, I was lucky enough to be gifted a car when I turned 16. This came with a lot of responsibilities, and well, meant I was the designated chauffeur for EVERYONE. From taking my siblings to school and soccer practice; to being the official driver for my friends and I; I was always driving around the busy and highly congested freeways of my hometown.
Of course, I didn’t mind. I loved the freedom. I loved blaring my favorite 90’s music and feeling the wind in my hair as I drove with my windows down. I loved having a Nokia cell phone that was “just for emergencies”. And I loved that a tank of gas cost me less than ten bucks.
For my friends and I, being able to drive to school and not have to take the bus and then to be able to go out on a Friday night, was a huge right of passage. This meant making sure to be seen at the Friday night football games (#Texasforever) and going out to eat often, whether to grab a Route 44 at the Sonic down the street from our high school as soon as the 2:30 bell rang, or going to dinner at some popular restaurant chain.
In addition to Sonic our favorite hang out spots as high school kids, was Chili’s, Starbucks, Olive Garden, Bennigans and a local “ice house”. I have very fond memories of dining at these *fine* establishments with my friends and younger sisters, and thinking we were so cool and day dreaming of all the amazing things life had to offer after we graduated.
Since I didn’t have a lot of spare cash in high school and didn’t have quite the refined palate that I have now, that bottomless soup, salad and breadsticks at Olive Garden was a top choice of my friends and I when we went out. Not only was it bottomless for like only six bucks, we thought we were eating healthy and eating at a nice place. LOL!
It’s been years since I’ve dined at Olive Garden, but every time I have minestrone soup or an Italian salad, I can’t help but think back to those lunches and dinners I had with old friends.
Ahh… the memories.
To this day, I still LOVE a good side salad. In fact, I’ll often get on a side salad kick and make the same side salad several times a week for several months until the season changes (or we get sick of it) and we move on to the next side salad. Some of our favorite side salad recipes are this Spinach Berry Salad with Creamy Balsamic Dressing, and this Pear and Pomegranate Salad with Maple Vinaigrette and of course this Corn, Avocado and Tomato Salad with Roasted Red Bell Pepper Vinaigrette.
But this past winter and spring, when soup season was in full swing, I started whipping up this Copycat Olive Garden Salad recipe; and served it pretty much twice a week with dinner.
Now, I’m using the term “copycat” lightly, as the actual salad is inspired by the ingredients found in the “Olive Garden Salad”, but this homemade creamy Italian dressing is better than the restaurant version (in my opinion), since it uses fresh, wholesome ingredients. See more below and let me know what you think!
Olive Garden Salad Ingredients
Like I said, the Copycat Olive Garden Salad recipe that I am sharing today is inspired by the popular salad found at this restaurant chain. The ingredients in the salad include basic salad ingredients like lettuce, croutons, cheese, tomatoes and red onions. Then to give it more of an Italian flair Olive Garden adds black olives and pepperoncini peppers to the mix.
Olive Garden Salad Dressing Recipe
Now if you look at the ingredients in the Olive Garden Salad Dressing Recipe below, you might ask if it is worth the time and effort to make, and I will tell you a firm YES! Most of these ingredients (olive oil, mayo, Parmesan cheese, dried herbs, sugar, white wine vinegar, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, garlic and lemon juice) are pantry staples and to make the dressing you simply dump everything in the blender and puree into a creamy Italian salad dressing.
FYI, since I use fresh Italian parsley, my dressing has a greenish hue, but if you use dried herbs you will have a white/pale yellow dressing.
How to make Olive Garden Salad
Once you make the Olive Garden Salad Dressing recipe by blending all the ingredients in a food processor, to make the Olive Garden Salad you simply toss the creamy Italian dressing with the lettuce, tomatoes, black olives and red onions, and top with the croutons, pepperoncini peppers and Parmesan cheese.
What to serve with this Copycat Olive Garden Salad recipe?
This salad recipe could be served on it’s own as a vegetarian main dish; but for us it was a staple all during soup season and went great with some of our favorite soups like this Zuppa Toscana, Lentil Bean Soup and Pasta e Fagioli.
You could, of course, also serve this Copycat Olive Garden Salad recipe with some of our other favorite Italian recipes like our favorite Spaghetti and Meatballs, Pasta Puttanesca or this lighter twist on a classic Italian dish, Zucchini Lasagna!
What were your favorite restaurants as a kid? Do you still eat there? Please share in the comments below!
- Copycat Olive Garden Salad Dressing:
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1/4 cup mayonnaise or Greek yogurt
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
- 2 tablespoons fresh flat leaf parsley (or 2 teaspoon dried parsley flakes*)
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoon white wine vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon each kosher salt and black pepper
- ¼ -½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1-2 cloves garlic, minced (or 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder)
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- Copycat Olive Garden Salad:
- 1/2 (9-ounce) bag Italian blend lettuce**
- 1/2 (9-ounce) bag Garden salad blend lettuce**
- 1/2 medium red onion, thinly sliced
- 1/2 cup sliced black olives
- 2-3 Roma tomatoes, quartered
- 1/2 cup seasoned croutons
- 6-7 pepperoncini peppers
- Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for garnish
To make the Copycat Olive Garden Salad Dressing: Combine all the salad dressing ingredients in large blender. Puree until smooth and creamy; scraping down the sides of the blender with a rubber spatula half way through blending, if needed.
Serve salad dressing immediately or store in a glass jar with a lid in the refrigerator for one week.
To make the Copycat Olive Garden Salad: In a large salad bowl toss together both salad lettuce blends, sliced red onions, black olives, tomatoes and about 3-4 tablespoons prepared creamy Italian dressing; adding more dressing if desired.
Serve prepared salad immediately, topped with croutons and parmesan cheese.
*Fresh Italian parsley will make your salad dressing greener in color (as seen in my photos). Dried parsley flakes will keep your dressing white or yellow in color.
**You can use just one entire bag of the Italian blend lettuce, if desired. OR use the entire 9-ounce bag of each lettuce and double the rest of the salad ingredients to feed more people.