Now that summer is approaching and the weather is warming, my mind is quickly shifting from planning soups to fun Italian summer salads. I’m excited to share with you a number of different salads full of Italian flavor that will get everyone at the table excited. Let’s get started!
Italian Summer Salads
Unfortunately, so many people think salads are boring and bland; well not if they’re Italian salads!
There is no one single type of salad that would fit the category of an Italian summer salad. So let’s break it down into a few different salad categories: Italian garden salads, tomato salads, and pasta salads.
Italian Summer Garden Salads
These salads use fresh seasonal ingredients, specifically vegetables. Many of these vegetables can be easily grown in our own backyards. But for those who aren’t able to have a garden, local grocery stores are sure to have them in plentiful supply during the summer months.
Italian Summer Vegetables
Here are some vegetables that are frequently used in standard summer Italian salads.
- Lettuce – different types, not just romaine.
Pro Tip: Slice the garlic in half and run the inside of the garlic clove around the inside of the serving bowl. This gives a subtle hint of the garlic on the other ingredients as you mix everything together.
If you’re thinking of a regular simple salad with chopped up vegetables tossed in, that’s great, but try to think of ways you can change things up a bit. Here are some ideas.
- Use grilled vegetables by using a grill or broiling them in the oven to roast.
- Marinate the vegetables overnight in an Italian marinade.
- Blend some of the vegetables such as the red peppers to make a red pepper dressing.
Italians also enjoy beans or legumes such as chickpeas and cannellini beans. These are very popular in Italian cooking throughout the year, but in different dishes. In the summer we use them in salads and in the winter we use them in soups.
Here are a few salads that uses these ingredients.
Italian Cannellini Bean Salad
Delicious Italian Cannellini Bean Salads are refreshing and very healthy. I love this salad during the warmer seasons .
Try loading up on protein with this Italian chickpea salad. It uses spring onion and vegetables. It’s a very flexible recipe which makes it even easier to make.
Other Italian Salad Ingredients
The list doesn’t stop there, we’ve also got lots of other Italian toppings you can incorporate into your summer salads.
- Olives – use a mix of olives and try to buy pitted olives.
- Pepperoncini – leave whole or cut into slices
- Cheeses such as Parmesan, Romano, or fresh mozzarella (yum!)
- Anchovies (for the brave)
A quick note about using cheese in salads. Shaved Parmesan cheese is very popular and it looks great in food photos, but I’ve often just used my grated Romano cheese to top a salad and it transforms the dish.
Italian Summer Salads with Fresh Tomatoes
You may be surprised to know that tomatoes were originally thought to be poisonous by the Italians. Plants were often used for decoration, not for eating. But the Italians eventually wised up and made up for lost time by incorporating tomatoes into their many dishes, especially in Central and Southern Italy.
Fortunately, tomatoes are not only safe to eat, but they are healthy too. The National Library of Medicine has a great article about the health benefits of tomato lycopene, which is what gives them their appealing red color.
Here are some tomato-centric salads that I love every summer that are Italian and are very easy to make.
This refreshing and healthy caprese salad uses fresh mozzarella cheese, fresh tomatoes and basil with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar. A few notes however about this salad.
Fresh buffalo mozzarella isn’t always available. But I’ve seen brands start to package their mozzarella into small mozzarella balls that are vacuum sealed.
At first, I wasn’t thrilled about this when I had no choice but to buy them where I shop. Ends up they’ve grown on me and I’m finding more and more uses for them.
They still aren’t the same as a fresh ball of mozzarella packed in water, but we can only do so much with what we have available.
I mentioned that the best are Roma and San Marzano tomatoes. That’s because these are meaty tomatoes unlike slicing tomatoes. When they are at the peak of perfection during the summer months, especially if you grow your own. They are so good you want to just bite right into them like an apple!
But I know these tomatoes aren’t always available. For example, I shop at BJs Wholesale and the only organic tomatoes they offer are grape or cherry tomatoes.This is how I actually started making my caprese salad with cherry tomatoes recipe!. If I go to Meijer they might have some organic Roma tomatoes.
So as with all my recipes, I encourage you to use what you have available. If you can grow them, do so!
Balsamic Vinegar in Salads
Most restaurants and recipes will use balsamic vinegar with their caprese recipe. I think it’s optional and I often omit it from my salad. If you like it, use it!
Italian Tomato Salad
Italian tomato salads are slices of fresh tomato seasoned with extra virgin olive oil, a dash of course salt like kosher salt, and some chopped basil.
Tomato and Bread Salad
This salad is known by a few names such as the Peasant’s Salad, or Panzanella Salad. It was literally considered a poor man’s salad because it uses old stale bread. It is believed to have originated from the Tuscany region of Italy.
When I first made this salad many years ago when my mother in-law gave me the recipe, I was floored at how good it actually tasted and am happy to share it with you.
It consists of chopped up pieces of stale bread soaked in the juices of freshly chopped tomatoes. It is topped with thin slices of red onion, some fresh basil, and seasoned with a dash of salt and black pepper, extra virgin olive oil, and white wine vinegar. You can grab the full recipe here.
Pasta Salads For the Summer
The next type of salad you can serve in the summer are Italian pasta salads. You don’t need separate dressings for these particular recipes which make them perfect candidates for Italian picnic food! Don’t expect to bring home any leftovers.
Cold Tortellini Pasta Salad
This delicious tortellini pasta salad is a great Italian summer salad. It’s served cold and is full of summer flavors.
Cold Ravioli Pasta Salad
Ravioli is just as good cold when served as a ravioli pasta salad. Many people aren’t aware you can serve ravioli cold. It’s one of my favorite refreshing salads.
Italian Tuna Pasta Salad
Pasta salad with tuna is not only delicious but very simple to make. We use canned tuna to make it easy. Make sure to use a good quality albacore so you get the chunks of tuna.
You can also rinse it well before adding to the salad to get rid of some of the excess sodium.
Italian Salad Herbs
For a garden salad the herbs would typically be added in the dressing, not tossed in the salad. I see lots of people quickly adding basil to their salads thinking it will transform it into an Italian salad. I disagree – strongly.
Basil is a strong herb and while it’s tempting to use in a garden salad, it really doesn’t fit. With that said, basil does belong to another type of summer salad I’ll share with you next.
Italian Summer Salad Dressings
Not all Italian dressings are the same, so what works for one summer salad, may not work for another. In our house growing up I remember my dad always used olive oil and vinegar on his salads. Okay, we cheated sometimes and used store bought Italian dressing too.
Even eating out it was always just olive oil and vinegar. Of course this was when it was real olive oil and not a mix of soybean oil. Don’t get me started on the downward spiral of food industry…
That’s why making your own Italian dressings are key to a great Italian summer salad, except for the pasta salads I mentioned. There are so many ways to get creative.
Types of Italian Summer Salad Dressings
The most simple dressings are a blend of extra virgin olive oil and red wine vinegar. Then you can start mixing things up a bit with these suggestions.
- Swap the red wine vinegar for apple cider vinegar. Its health benefits make the switch worth it.
- Add in some herbs, such as finely chopped basil or oregano.
- Use a lemon oregano vinaigrette.
- Mince some garlic and add it to the dressing.
Once you decide which dressing you want, just mix it all together in a mason jar and give it a good shake to emulsify the ingredients. Pour over the salad to your liking. If the olive oil and vinegar separate, just give it another shake!
Regardless of which type of dressing you prefer, I strongly recommend that you only use quality ingredients; go organic and go fresh. Otherwise, your salad just won’t have as much flavor – especially with the olive oil if it’s not a good organic extra virgin olive oil.
Tips for Storing any Italian Summer Salad
You can make any of these salads ahead of time by preparing all the ingredients. For anything that has a lot of liquid such as tomatoes, keep them in their own containers so the other ingredients doesn’t become soggy.
The same applies for the dressing. Make it ahead of time and store it in an air-tight container or jar. Then serve the salad with the dressing when you’re ready to eat. If you’re taking it to a get-together, these salads are perfect as long as the wet ingredients are kept in tightly sealed containers.
I hope you’ve found this article helpful and useful in your search for the perfect Italian summer salad. The good news is that there are many Italian salads you can choose from and with some creativity, the sky is the limit in what you can do!