The first time I visited Ben’s hometown, he took me to his favorite neighborhood pizza joint. Anticipating the decadent meal, I ordered the Italian Chopped Salad to start. Boy was I disappointed. Today’s recipe is everything that salad *should* have been and so much more!
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Maybe you know the kind of restaurant Italian chopped “salad” I mean?
Chopped salads are ubiquitous at many Italian American restaurants. I remember a similar one at my own hometown pizza joint.
If you are lucky, you’ll find a few pieces of lettuce (iceberg usually) here and there. They’ll be drowning in Italian dressing.
Mostly, these Italian “salads” are meat, cheese, and more raw onions than a full pack of gum could hope to mitigate.
Still, I see potential.
I love the idea of a fresh but satisfying chopped salad to start off pizza night on a wholesome note.
That’s where today’s homemade Italian chopped salad comes in! It’s exactly what I wish every pizza place would serve.
- In place of ho-hum iceberg lettuce, I swapped a blend of crunchy romaine and nutrient-dense kale.
- The meat (I used salami) is optional, as this salad is bolstered by the addition of filling chickpeas, which offer lean protein and fiber.
- Traditional mozzarella is replaced with creamy provolone. It delivers more taste-per-bite, meaning you can get away with using less.
Despite the lighter ingredient list, this salad tastes BETTER and has MORE flavor than the restaurant variety, thanks to powerhouse flavor ingredients like sun-dried tomatoes, pepperoncini, and a zesty Italian vinaigrette.
Why Chopped Salad
Chopped salad is a general term for a salad in which all of the ingredients are cut uniform in size.
While they take a good amount of up-front prep (so much chopping!), chopped salads yield multiple servings and can last for several days in the refrigerator.
I’ve never been one to subscribe to a specific diet or rule out a particular food (including pizza!). Instead, I look for simple ways to bring balance to my day.
Here are a few of my favorite tips to find balance, and why chopped salad can help you in your day-to-day.
- Meal Prep. This make-ahead Italian chopped salad can be assembled a full day in advance (add the dressing just before serving) and you can enjoy the leftovers throughout the week. Spend some time chopping it up on Sunday, then come Monday through Wednesday, you’ll have a healthy side ready to go.
- Satisfy. No one wants their serving of veggies to taste-ho hum or like “diet” food. If you cut out every bit of fat, you’ll wonder why, no matter how much salad you eat, something still feels “missing.” Be sure to include lots of satisfaction-factor ingredients like the cheese, chickpeas, and olive oil-based dressing you’ll find in this unforgettable Italian chopped salad. Salads (like this Green Goddess Salad) CAN be yummy and satisfying.
- Don’t Give Up the Good Stuff. I like to prep this Italian chopped salad a day ahead, then when dinner time rolls around, I just pop a pizza in the oven to go with it. In a few minutes, our Italian salad + pizza dinner is ready to serve.
How to Make Italian Chopped Salad
This recipe is a triumph of texture, flavor, and ingredients that satisfy. I wish every Italian restaurant would serve it.
In the meantime, I’m happy to have this recipe we can make any night of the week at home.
- Kale + Romaine. I love using two types of greens in this salad for variety. The kale becomes tender once massaged, and the romaine adds a nice crispness.
- Red Onion. Soaking the red onion in water first helps make it less pungent and allows its sweetness to shine.
- Sun-Dried Tomatoes + Cherry Tomatoes. Sun-dried tomatoes provide an intense, sweet tomato flavor that’s ideal in this Italian-inspired salad. The cherry tomatoes add pops of sweet, juicy, fresh tomato flavor (they shine in Burrata Salad too!).
- Chickpeas. Chickpeas not only add a light nutty flavor, but they also pump up the protein and fiber in this salad.
- Pepperoncini Peppers. A sweet Italian pepper that brings crunch and tanginess to this chopped salad. I like to purchase the peppers whole and slice them myself for the best texture.
- Kalamata Olives. Salty, briny, and a can’t-miss addition to this salad.
- Salami. With its rich flavor and subtle spice, salami is a wonderful meat to pair with the sweeter flavors in this salad. You can use dry salami or fresh-cut slices of salami from the deli.
- Italian Vinaigrette. Bright, light, and a little sweet, just like the vinaigrette in my Italian Pasta Salad. This quick and easy Italian dressing perfectly complements the ingredients in this salad.
- Cover the onions with cold water in a bowl.
- Rehydrate the sun-dried tomatoes in hot water in a bowl.
- Stem, chop, and massage the kale.
- Add the remaining salad ingredients to the bowl.
- Whisk the Italian dressing ingredients together. Drain the onions and sun-dried tomatoes, then add them to the salad mixture.
- Drizzle dressing over the salad ingredients, tossing to coat. ENJOY!
Pair this salad with a crisp Sauvignon Blanc, dry Shiraz, or Pinot Noir.
- To Store. Refrigerate leftover salad separately from the leftover dressing. Store each in an airtight storage container for up to 3 days.
Meal Plan Tip
- To Prep Ingredients Ahead. Chop the onion, sun-dried tomatoes, romaine, cherry tomatoes, Provolone cheese, salami (if using), pepperoncini peppers, and olives up to 1 day in advance. Store each ingredient in a separate airtight storage container in the refrigerator.
- To Prep Salad Ahead. Prepare the salad (minus the dressing) up to 3 days in advance, and refrigerate it in an airtight storage container. Mix the dressing together, and refrigerate it in a separate airtight storage container. Portion out the salad and dressing as desired over the next 3 days for easy meals and sides.
Serve leftover salad inside a wrap for a tasty on-the-go lunch, or mix in cooked, cooled pasta with leftover salad to turn it into a hearty pasta salad.
Recommended Tools to Make this Recipe
- Mixing Bowls. Perfect sizes for mixing the salad ingredients together.
- Extra Large Cutting Board. With extra space, you can chop multiple ingredients on the same board.
- Storage Jars. Ideal for storing leftover salad dressing.
I hope this Italian salad brings a little red-and-white checkered tablecloth nostalgia to your table the way it does ours. Make it ahead tonight, then reap the rewards in the days to come!
Italian Chopped Salad
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FOR THE SALAD:
- 1/2 medium red onion very thinly sliced
- 1/2 cup chopped dry-packed sun-dried tomatoes
- 1 small bunch kale about 8 ounces, curly or Lacinato kale
- Pinch kosher salt
- 1 large head romaine chopped (about 4 cups)
- 1 pint cherry tomatoes halved
- 1 15-ounce can chickpeas rinsed and drained
- 4 ounces Provolone cheese cut into 1/4-inch cubes (about 1 cup)
- 4 ounces salami cut into bite-size pieces*
- 1/2 cup stemmed and thinly sliced pepperoncini peppers for the best taste/texture I like to purchase the peppers whole and slice them myself
- 1/2 cup thinly sliced kalamata olives
FOR THE DRESSING:
- 1/3 cup red wine vinegar
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 2 cloves garlic minced (about 1 teaspoon)
- 1/2 teaspoon honey
- 2 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- Place the red onion in a small bowl and cover with cold water (this step keeps the onion's flavor but removes some of its harsh aftertaste). Let sit while you prepare the rest of the salad.
- Place the sun-dried tomatoes in a separate bowl and cover with hot water to rehydrate. Let sit while you prepare the rest of the salad.
- Peel the kale leaves off of the stems and discard the stems. Chop the leaves into very thin ribbons. You will have about 6 cups. Place in a very large mixing bowl and sprinkle with a pinch of kosher salt. Grab the kale by big handfuls, massaging it with your hands until it turns dark green in color, feels softer, and is fragrant. Don’t skip this step! It makes the kale tender and delicious.
- To the bowl, add the romaine, cherry tomatoes, chickpeas, cheese, salami (if using), pepperoncini, and olives.
- Mix up the dressing: in a large liquid measuring cup or small mixing bowl, whisk together all of the ingredients—olive oil, vinegar, mustard, garlic, honey, oregano, salt, and pepper. Alternatively, you can shake all of the ingredients together in a mason jar with a tight-fitting lid.
- Drain the red onion and sun-dried tomatoes. Add to the bowl with the romaine mixture.
- If serving the salad all at once, drizzle enough dressing on to lightly coat it, then toss to combine (when in doubt, start with less dressing. It’s easy to over dress a salad!). Or, if you are serving the salad over a series of days, toss the salad without the dressing to combine, then dress only the portion you plan to eat right away. Taste and add extra salt or pepper as desired.
- *You can purchase dry salami (which will be long and cylindrical in shape) or fresh-cut slices of salami from the deli. If it’s a thinner cylinder, cut it crosswise into thin coins, then cut the coins into halves or quarters depending upon size. If using larger, deli-style sliced salami, cut it into small strips that are roughly 1/8 x 1/2-inch. The idea of a chopped salad is for all of the ingredients to be roughly the same size, so use your judgment.
- *For a satisfying vegetarian version, omit the salami.
- TO STORE: Refrigerate leftover salad separately from the leftover dressing. Store each in an airtight storage container for up to 3 days.
- TO PREP INGREDIENTS AHEAD: Chop the onion, sun-dried tomatoes, romaine, cherry tomatoes, Provolone cheese, salami (if using), pepperoncini peppers, and olives up to 1 day in advance. Store each ingredient in a separate airtight storage container in the refrigerator.
- TO PREP SALAD AHEAD: Prepare the salad (minus the dressing) up to 3 days in advance, and refrigerate it in an airtight storage container. Mix the dressing together, and refrigerate it in a separate airtight storage container. Portion out the salad and dressing as desired over the next 3 days for easy meals and sides.
- TO MAKE IN A MASON JAR: I love meal-prepping this salad in large mason jars. I start with the dressing at the bottom, then pile the tomatoes, olives, onions, kale, and other ingredients on top. I finish my jar with a handful of romaine lettuce for crunch and freshness. Mine kept well in the refrigerator for 3 days.
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