Certain phrases are so catchy, they get etched into our brains. Finger lickin' good? KFC for sure. Better ingredients, better pizza? Oh yeah, I'm thinking about Papa Johns. When you're here, you're family? That one's definitely Olive Garden. But another phrase makes me think of this classic family-style Italian restaurant more: Soup, salad, and bread sticks. They're famous for promoting the combo, and it's fantastic for lunch or a light dinner.
What I love about Olive Garden's salad is that it isn't wimpy. Most restaurant side salads are a pile of lettuce with a few sliced tomatoes and cucumbers. Olive Garden, on the other hand, loads theirs up with goodness in every bite--juicy tomatoes, salty black olives, tangy pepperoncinis, nutty Parmesan cheese, and crunchy, seasoned croutons. Finish it off with a crave-worthy creamy Italian dressing, and this salad is good enough to eat as a main dish.
If you don't feel like going out, we have great news. Our copycat Olive Garden Salad recipe is super simple to make at home. You can make it with store-bought dressing and croutons to get it on the table in 5 minutes, or you can spend an extra 20 minutes making it all from scratch. Your choice!
What is Olive Garden Salad Made Of?
Olive Garden's website isn't saying much about the ingredients used in each dish, other than publishing an allergen guide that tells us the salad (with signature Italian dressing) contains dairy, eggs, wheat, gluten, soy, and sulfites. Luckily, this one wasn't hard to figure out with a little taste test.
We start with a bag of American blend salad mix, which contains a mix of iceberg lettuc, green lettuce, red cabbage, shredded carrots, and radish. It looks closest to the mix used at Olive Garden, but you can use any type of lettuce if you're not concerned about authenticity.
From there, you'll want to thinly slice a red onion and a couple Roma tomatoes. Add them to a large bowl with the lettuce, a few pitted black olives, mild pepperoncini peppers, and croutons. You can find Olive Garden Garlic Romano Seasoned Croutons at most grocery stores, or you can use your favorite brand. If you're feeling fancy, whip up a batch of homemade croutons by tossing one-inch cubes of bread with a little olive oil, Italian seasoning, garlic powder, and Romano cheese. Bake them for 10 to 15 minutes in a 400°F oven, until they're toasted and golden brown.
Finish the salad by tossing it with Olive Garden's signature Italian dressing. Serve each bowl with freshly grated Parmesan cheese and freshly ground black pepper. It makes an excellent side salad for about six people, or you can serve it as a main dish for four people and top each salad with a protein like grilled chicken or shrimp.
What Dressing Does Olive Garden Use?
Olive Garden's signature Italian dressing is so popular, they started bottling it. For the most authentic at-home Olive Garden Salad experience, use the purchase locator and pick up their dressing to make this copycat recipe. Of course, it wouldn't be a copycat recipe without a homemade version, so we took a peek at the ingredients and made our own salad dressing.
Most of the ingredients found in the label can be found in a packet of Italian Dressing: salt, sugar, and dehydrated garlic, to name a few. There are a few extra ingredients in these packets, but they get the closest to Olive Garden's flavor profile. Whisk that packet together with a neutral oil (like canola oil or vegetable oil), white vinegar, water, Romano cheese, and mayonnaise. The mayonnaise might seem strange, but it's what gives the dressing its creamy backbone. Feel free to use olive oil instead of the neutral oil, but keep in mind it will solidify in the refrigerator and will have a stronger, more vegetal flavor.
Is Olive Garden Salad Healthy?
According to Olive Garden's nutrition guide, their salad (with dressing) has 150 calories, 10 grams of fat, 13 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, and 770 milligrams of sodium. If you're looking to slash carbohydrates, make the salad without the croutons. A low-fat version of the salad dressing would reduce calories and fat, and a homemade dressing will help reduce the sodium levels.
Copycat Olive Garden Salad Recipe
- 1 12-oz bag American blend salad mix
- 1/4 red onion thinly sliced
- 2 small Roma tomatoes sliced
- 12 pitted black olives
- 6 mild pepperoncini peppers
- 1 cup croutons homemade* or store-bought
- 1/2 cup creamy Italian dressing homemade** or store-bought
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- ground black pepper
- In a large bowl, combine the salad mix, sliced onions, tomatoes, olives, pepperoncini peppers, and croutons. Add the dressing and toss to coat.
- Finish the salad with the Parmesan cheese and ground black pepper.