Dressing an Italian Salad

by Giuliano Hazan on September 1, 2010

“Italian dressing” is about as Italian as spaghetti with meatballs or chicken Tetrazzini.  That is, you won’t find any in Italy.  Italians rarely pre-mix a dressing and usually dress a salad just before serving.  Instead of a recipe, we have a proverb for how to dress a good Italian salad.

Italian Dressing Proverb

Four people are needed:

A wise person for the salt

A generous person for extra virigin olive oil

A stingy person for red wine vinegar

A patient person to toss until every leaf is evenly coated (my father says to toss it at least 34 times)

A good rule of thumb is about three parts olive oil to one part vinegar. Occasionally, we may use lemon instead of vinegar, and sometimes a fifth person, a wealthy person, may add  a small drizzle of  balsamic vinegar. This person doesn’t replace the red wine vinegar, however, because balsamic by itself would be too sweet and cloying.  Of course each person uses only the highest quality ingredient.  Our salt of choice is a sea salt from Cervia, a small town on the Adriatic about 100 miles south of Venice where one of the salt flats can be traced back to Etruscan times.  It is referred to as a “sweet salt” because when the salt is harvested, the more bitter minerals have not crystallized yet. It is also called the salt of the Popes, because this was the private salt flat that provided for the papal table.

When you order a salad in a fine restaurant in Italy, the waiter brings a cart from which you can select which olive oil and vinegar you’d like your salad dressed with. Of course, we’d like you to use the single varietal olive oil we import from Puglia.  We like this one because it is full flavored without being harsh and is versatile enough to use with both meats and vegetables.  We also import a  red wine vinegar because a well-crafted wine vinegar is not always easy to find.  Ours is from Valpolicella and is aged in brandy oak barrels for 2-3 years.

Our salad usually consists of green or red leaf lettuce, strips of red pepper and thinly sliced fennel.  Sometimes we may add some radicchio or arugula, sweet grape tomatoes, cucumber, or a ripe avocado, which partly dissolves when the salad is patiently tossed and becomes part of the dressing.  The salad is an expression of your flavor choices, no one item should overwhelm another, everything should be in balance.  Buon appetito!


Extra Virgin Olive Oil from Apulia by Allegrini and Hazan (Italy)


Red Wine Vinegar Aged in Brandy Oak Barrels by Allegrini and Hazan


Salfiore di Romagna Pope’s Sea Salt (Il Sale dei Papi)