Bottled Italian salad dressing and I go way back, so much so that I actually named my personal blog, Dixie Caviar, after a dish using the zesty store bought blend. I am still quite attached to that recipe (and yes, I still use the bottle), but for all other purposes, this from-scratch version will blow all other competition out of the water.
I am happy to say that my salad dressing skills have come a long way in the past decade. I can whip up a creamy Caesar or quick vinaigrette in the blink of an eye. But it has always been the classic Italian that I could never get quite right. I must admit it has taken some tweaking, but I am pleased to say that this is it.
So what makes this Italian dressing so good? A mix of red and white white vinegars supply plenty of zing, while shallots, minced garlic, and red pepper add the zip. Dijon adds a tanginess and also helps thicken things up, and a hint of honey balances things out. I prefer a neutral oil in this as opposed to olive oil, which can have tendency to overwhelm the other flavors. And while some folks may not prefer dried herbs, I find they are crucial to getting the desired flavor I want to achieve. A good shake in a tightly sealed jar (or a whiz in the blender) emulsifies the ingredients, yielding a creamy, dreamy Italian vinaigrette.
Don't just keep this zesty dressing around for your side salads though. It also makes a great marinade for fish and chicken, or it can be a delicious dunk for summer veggies. And you know what, it's so good that it just might have to replace the bottle in the famed Dixie Caviar. To be continued...
Italian Salad Dressing
Makes 1 1/2 cups (using 2-4 tablespoons per salad)
1 cup neutral salad oil, such as canola (See Recipe Note)
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 large garlic clove, pressed
2 tablespoons finely chopped shallots
2 tablespoons finely chopped red bell pepper
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon dried marjoram
Pinch of red pepper flakes
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Combine all of the ingredients in a jar with a tight fitting lid. (I love this shaker.) Shake vigorously until the mixture is thickened and well-combined. Alternatively, combine the ingredients in a bowl and whisk until combined.
Taste the dressing using a lettuce leaf and adjust seasonings. The dressing will keep in the refrigerator for several weeks.
Italian Dressing with Olive Oil: Olive oil can be substituted for the neutral oil in this dressing, though I find that olive oil can have tendency to overwhelm the other flavors.
Making More or Less Dressing: This dressing makes enough for several dinner salads over the course of a week or so. To make more for larger salads or less for a single salad, just scale the ingredients to make the amount you need.
(Images: Nealey Dozier)