Americanized Italian Dressing? If you live in the states, this dressing will be familiar to you and the name will make sense. Just like a James Bond martini, it’s always shaken, not stirred. Read on…
If there can be only one dressing you keep in the fridge, it should be this Americanized Italian Dressing. Why, you ask, did I give it this name? Because it’s American and not Italian. Italians dress their salads simply with oil, salt, vinegar, and maybe pepper. Actually, pepper is that family member you don’t want to invite over but feel you have to. My Aunt Julia would never add pepper to a salad. Her husband Tony, would sometimes add it only to infuriate her. Therefore, depending on if they were arguing about food and who made what better, pepper would be added.
I grew up confused – yes, those of you who know me must be chuckling right now because you know I’m always confused. Confused because when I visited my Italian side of the family, the Italian way of dressing the salad was always made pouring the ingredients over the salad. In other words, it was made fresh every single time. It was never made in a bottle or a cruet shaken or stirred. Nope, it was poured over the salad which only consisted of lettuce and tomatoes from the garden, and maybe some sliced onion. The onion was added by my Aunt only if my Uncle added pepper (see the conflicts?). And, salad was served after the meal along with a plate of fruit which consisted of oranges, fresh peaches from my uncle’s tree, figs, and/or grapes.
My Mom, who is 100% Peruvian, would make her dressing fresh every single time as well. People dive for her salad and I have to hold them back like a guard protecting the President. That is, until I get my portion. Then they can have at it. That dressing will be a future post once I get the okay from the “familia” to share it. I got a lot of flack from my sister sharing my version of Peruvian Hot Chocolate, but the story is so funny, I was quickly forgiven.
Back to being confused…growing up, there was always a bottle of Italian Dressing around in someone’s fridge. Whenever I visited friends or went to parties, that bottle was poured over salads loaded with iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, onions, cucumbers, etc. we all know the famous brands of Italian Dressing I’m talking about. If you look at the ingredients, it’s made with soybean or vegetable oil, vinegar, spices, and maybe a touch of lemon and/or some extra virgin olive oil. Actually, many aren’t even made with extra virgin olive oil.
When I questioned my Uncle why his Italian dressing didn’t include the same ingredients as the bottled stuff, he yelled in is irritated voice,
“Ah come on-ah Natalina, you know that is American and not Italian! Come on-ah now!”
If my great aunts were present when I asked that question, it would have started an hour long, loud, animated discussion with hands and arms waving in the air that sounded like this…”BAH bah BAH bah bah BAH!” followed by “Mama Mia!” or “testa di rapa!” (figuratively meaning idiot).
So why, you may be thinking, am I writing a post of this Americanized Italian Dressing when it’s not really Italian? Because it’s popular, it’s delicious, and it’s familiar. There’s no reason not to make and enjoy this dressing. I’m just properly naming it to make my Uncle smile from heaven. Want to know what’s funny? I had originally named this Homemade Italian Dressing and I had such problems with this post. Now that I changed the name, it’s going smoothly!
It only takes a few minutes to create this dressing and when you make it, you know exactly what’s in there. No additives, no corn syrup, nothing you can’t pronounce. All the ingredients are likely in your cabinets already, and they are all pronounceable. You only deserve the best, right? Because this dressing is made with dry spices, it will have a long shelf life in your fridge. That’s assuming it lasts that long.
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Let’s talk about the oil. You would think I would recommend extra virgin olive oil (evoo), but that’s not the case. I find using all evoo is heavy and a little overpowering in this dressing. I recommend using a neutral oil such as vegetable or safflower oil and if you like evoo, mix it in. I bet you’ll find that is similar to any bottled you have enjoyed. If you look at the ingredients of the popular brands, evoo isn’t even added! Now, If you buy a good tasting evoo, one that you could taste alone and enjoy, then use it. If you want to replicate “Americanized“ Italian Dressing, use all or mostly a neutral oil.
As for adding Parmesan cheese to the dressing, I don’t. I feel if I wanted Parmesan added to the dressing, I can mix it in with the salad. I don’t want anything to compromise the dressing. I never knew it to be an Italian thing – at least not in my family who all came here straight from Italy. I have to admit though, it is good when added to a salad. Also, mixing the cheese with the dressing limits the shelf life.
Let’s talk about the added sugar. If you want a no sugar dressing then omit the sugar. It will be a little tart without it but still delicious. I’ll be honest, my family doesn’t use sugar. I add it in because it tastes more like the familiar brand out on the market. I feel it balances out the flavors better for this particular dressing. I use plain sugar and not honey, but I see no harm if honey is the sweetener of your choice.
The vinegar used is red wine vinegar although using white wine vinegar is fine too. Most bottled brands would use plain white vinegar but to me it’s too harsh. Using balsamic isn’t recommended for this dressing as it would change the entire characteristic of the dressing and make a balsamic dressing, not an Americanized Italian Dressing. That’s a vinegar for another time.
Why do dressings add water? I don’t know. I figured the water clinging to the salad after rinsing is sufficient enough. That’s assuming you want water added. But why???
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This is so simple to make there’s no excuse not to make it yourself. There are so many applications to use this dressing. You can use it on salad (of course), use it on vegetables like asparagus or zucchini to add flavor, you can marinate meats, or you can even use it as a dressing for sandwiches instead of mayonnaise. Speaking of mayonnaise, try my recipe for Homemade Mayonnaise – it’s so delicious you can it eat it with a spoon! Seriously.
Go ahead and experiment. I’m sure you have wonderful ideas how to incorporate this dressing to make delicious meals. Make your salads shine. I think I just made my Uncle Tony smile for changing the title. I feel better now. Miss you Zio…
Be happy, eat well…
- ½ cup neutral oil - vegetable or safflower
- ¼ extra virgin or regular olive oil see Note
- ¼ cup red wine vinegar
- 2 teaspoons sugar optional
- 1 teaspoon granulated garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon dried minced onion
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon oregano
- ½ teaspoon pepper
- ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper
Add all ingredients in a cruet or a mason jar, cover, and shake to combine.
Can be kept in the refrigerator for weeks.
Note: You can use all extra virgin olive oil, olive oil, or a neutral oil such as vegetable or safflower oil. Using all extra virgin olive oil can give a heavy taste depending on the quality of the oil. You can experiment to your liking.