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Basic Italian Dressing

I’m willing to bet that many of us have made an Italian dressing from a packaged seasoning mix. It’s a staple in many American grocery stores and a convenience food, no doubt.

Add the powder dressing mix to oil and vinegar, and in some cases shake it up in a glass bottle that comes with the seasoning mix, and you get a yellow dressing that’s flecked with various red, black and green herb and pepper bits.

Sounding familiar? Bringing back some memories of either loving (or loathing) salad in years past?

I thought so… and I know I’ve personally poured it over plenty bowls of green salads made with romaine or Iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, and sometimes black olives growing up.

For me, it has been a while since I’ve made Italian dressing with a mix. I can’t remember exactly how long, since high school at least. This was about the time I was actively trying to lose weight and following a stricter vegetarian diet; not vegan, but ovo-lacto vegetarian, before I changed to a more flexible pescatarian diet. In my splurge on salad and use of various vinaigrette-style dressings at this point, I was becoming more conscious of ingredients in packaged foods and, ultimately, realized a few things.

One, the amount of salt in dressings, nine out of ten times, is shocking. Yes, salt is a necessary preservative in packaged foods and in many cases makes things taste better, but it can add up quick—especially if you’re not measuring what you’re pouring on, as many of us tend to do when using a salad dressing.

Two, the ingredients in dressings are usually simple. We’re talking many shelf-stable pantry items—salt, pepper, and dried herbs (could substitute for fresh, of course) as well as oil and vinegar—and maybe a few things from the fridge—like mayo, sour cream or mustard, depending on the dressing.

Not to say that I have entirely ditched bottled or packaged dressings since this epiphany, but I do use them way less often to this day. This basic Italian dressing is great on simple green salad as an accompaniment to a baked penne pasta, a hearty vegetable soup, or other Italian-American style dish—but you don’t have to stop at green salad.

This is a standard dressing I use on a variety of pasta salads. One favorite of mine is cooked bowtie pasta tossed with this dressing, fresh torn basil, small hunks of mozzarella, and cherry tomatoes sliced in half, seasoned with additional salt and pepper to taste. Eat it hot or cold; it’s simple and can be made year-round, but it’s especially wonderful in the summer when tomatoes and basil are in season. I also like this dressing as a marinade for chicken or fish before grilling or broiling, or as a light sauce to accompany the same with some grilled or steamed vegetables, like green beans or asparagus, for a simple and healthy meal.

Basic Italian Dressing

A simple, fresh Italian dressing. 

I added approximately 3 tablespoons of garlic oil (purchased from a specialty store, or homemade) to a glass liquid measuring cup and filled the rest of the way with canola oil to reach 1/3 cup total for the recipe. For this reason, I omitted adding extra garlic, fresh or granulated.

If you don't have garlic oil, use canola or vegetable oil and add 1 small clove of smashed and chopped garlic. Chop the garlic as fine as you can so nobody bites into a large piece. Alternatively, press the garlic through a metal garlic press, or grate the clove on a Microplane grater. 

  • 1 1/2 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 1/3 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/8 cup lemon juice or juice from about 1 lemon
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp Italian dried seasoning blend of oregano, parsley, marjoram, thyme, and rosemary
  • 1/2 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1/3 cup oil see note above
  1. Add mustard, sugar, seasoning, salt and pepper, lemon juice, and vinegar into a small bowl. Whisk to combine.
  2. Slowly add oil while whisking to emulsify dressing

  3. Use immediately, or cover and refrigerate until ready to use.