The key to the delicious salad dressing from the hills of Tuscany is the high quality ingredients that must be minced and blended by hand. In the years that I spent traveling and studying in Italy, every time I tasted this delicious dressing, it was prepared in the most simple way with simple tools. Grab a bowl, wooden cutting board, and a chef’s knife. Nothing else. Get rid of the fancy cruets that mix the balsamic and oil for you. I also never saw anyone measure the ingredients. It is made to suit your taste. Simple and delicious. Every time.
Basic Italian Salad Dressing
flavorful extra-virgin olive oil
fresh lemon juice
fresh minced garlic
fresh cracked black pepper
sea salt (optional)
minced Italian parsley (optional)
Take a bowl and pour some oil into it. Estimate how much oil you will need for your salad. For two people, I use about 1/2 cup or more. I like to have some left over oil for other dishes. Next, take your chef’s knife and mince a clove or two of garlic, adding it to the oil as you go. Stir it in. Squeeze in a bit of fresh lemon juice (a teaspoon or so for 1/2 cup of oil). Stir and taste. If the lemon is too strong, just add more oil, and if the lemon is too weak, add more lemon. Take your pepper grinder and crack some back pepper into the dressing to suit your taste. Add some sea salt. If you have a handful of Italian parsley leaves, wash and dry them. Mince only the leaves with your chef’s knife.
Take a fork and stir the mixture several times to distribute the flavors evenly. Taste it by putting a bit on a cracker of small piece of bread. Add more pepper or salt if you would like, or more oil if the flavors are too strong. Now, you can toss it with your salad OR you can let it stand so the garlic infuses the olive oil. I recommend making the salad dressing in the morning so it infuses for a few hours before lunch. If you do not digest garlic well, just strain the garlic pieces out and the flavor will remain. Store in a simple glass jar. The Italians leave it in the bowl overnight on the kitchen counter and then pour more oil on it the next day. Always stir the dressing before tossing with greens, grilled vegetables, or seafood.
Try these variations, as well -
- Herb Salad Dressing
Add a variety of chopped fresh herbs. My favorite blend is parsley and tarragon.
- Balsamic Salad Dressing
Substitute a tiny bit of balsamic vinegar in place of the lemon juice and parsley. By “tiny bit,” I mean just a few drops. Balsamic dressing in the United States contains far more balsamic vinegar than the same dressing in Italy.
- Basic Salad Dressing
Remember that if you are missing ingredients, it is okay. Sometimes, all I have in my cupboards is the oil, so I use that ingredient alone. I often omit the salt because I am allergic to it. Many times I forget to buy the lemons, so I combine just the oil, garlic, and pepper.
- Italian Marinade
Use the basic Italian dressing as an excellent marinade. I clearly remember grilled squid marinated in this delicious oil. The Italians call this salad dressing mixture “oil” because it is used for more dishes than just salads. The fish or other dish is covered in the oil and refrigerated to marinate before grilling.
- Salad Dressing as a Cold Remedy
We all know the health benefits of fresh garlic, especially if we have a cold. This is an easy way to add some extra garlic into your diet during the cold and flu season to boost your immune system. You may even make the oil and enjoy it on some toast when you have a cold.
How to Choose a Delicious Olive Oil
Take some time to discover a delicious olive oil that you will use primarily for salad dressings. It will cost a bit more, but it is worth it. Usually, the more flavorful oils are darker green in color and are from Spain or Italy. Some chain stores such as Williams-Sonoma or Sur La Table carry a variety of delicious olive oils and sometimes have a station where you can taste the oils on tiny cubes of bread to choose the one you like best. Another excellent source of quality imported olive oils is your local gourmet cheese shop, restaurant supply, or authentic Italian restaurants. Markets carry some brands that are good options such as Colavita, Lucini, and Napa Valley. The truth is that once you taste a high quality, delicious olive oil, you never go back.