Portillo's Chopped Salad with Sweet Italian Dressing

This salad! I love it so much. I’ve long thought pasta and lettuce salads should be combined somehow and this salad proves me right. I feel I must disclose that I have never eaten at a real, live Portillo’s restaurant (apparently they are a’plenty in the Illinois area?) but knock-offs of their ever-popular Italian chopped salad abound on the internet and the pretty little salad calls to me every time I see it. Being that I have about a million other recipes that shout my name, too, I didn’t actually try the famed salad until I saw Christy (a.k.a. The Girl Who Ate Everything) post about it on Instagram. Since I have long loved many of her recipes, her rave reviews put it on the “to-try” list immediately.

Sidenote: sometimes I wonder how I’ll ever try all the recipes that speak to me and find themselves jotted down on random post-it notes and catalogued in my brain and Pinterest (my brain is not as organized as Pinterest, btw). The worry keeps me awake at night. So many recipes, so little time. So.little.time!

Portillo's Chopped Salad with Sweet Italian Dressing

And. Moving on.

This chopped salad did not disappoint. I ate the leftovers for two days and nearly wept on that third day when I excitedly opened the refrigerator for lunch only to remember that I had overeaten the last bit of it the day before. Day = ruined (but quickly remedied by a little handful or three of dark chocolate).

Really, the recipe is quite simple. Chopped lettuce, tomatoes, chicken, tomatoes, bacon, Gorgonzola (my love) are tossed with the tender pasta and a tangy, lightly sweet vinaigrette. And the combination is magic. Perfect for a potluck side dish (you can easily leave out the chicken) or a simple but filling family dinner, this salad has skyrocketed to one of my favorites.

I’ve included some notes below the recipe title – check them out for info about how to store the leftovers and a few optional variations (for those folks that may not adore Gorgonzola cheese like I do – don’t worry, I still love you).

Portillo's Chopped Salad with Sweet Italian Dressing

One Year Ago: Peanut Butter Granola
Two Years Ago: Thai Green Curry Meatballs
Three Years Ago: Succulent Grilled Pork Tenderloin

Portillo’s Chopped Salad with Sweet Italian Dressing

Yield: Serves 8 as a main dish (more as a side dish)

Portillo’s Chopped Salad with Sweet Italian Dressing

Ditalini pasta is a tiny tube-shaped pasta. If you can't find it, you can easily sub in another little pasta shape. Even small elbow macaroni would work. You're looking for about 3 cups cooked pasta when it's all said and done. The lettuce is really customizable here. If you buy bagged lettuce that already has red cabbage or radicchio in it, you could omit or cut down the chopped cabbage. I believe the original Portillo's salad is a combination of iceberg, romaine and red cabbage.

For the chicken, a rotisserie chicken works great here, as well as any other kind of leftover cooked/grilled chicken (the more flavorful, the better!). Keep in mind you could leave the chicken out completely for more of a side dish salad. You could sub in another kind of cheese (experiment with varieties you like) if you aren't a fan of the Gorgonzola. About the vinegar, I like the taste and color of white balsamic vinegar here but regular dark balsamic will work, too, just keep in mind that the dressing will color the salad a bit. I think you could easily use red or white wine vinegar, too.

This salad makes the best leftovers. I eat it for days and it makes me so very happy. When I've made it for large group gatherings (entertaining, potlucks, etc), I always toss the entire salad with the dressing, which is ok because there are rarely leftovers. But if it's just for our family, I add dressing to each portion so that I can store the dressing and salad separately (keeps the leftovers fresh and non-soggy).

Ingredients

    Sweet Italian Dressing:
  • 1/3 cup white or regular balsamic vinegar
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 2 teaspoons sugar, honey or maple syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • Salad:
  • 8 ounces (about 1 cup or so) uncooked Ditalini pasta (see note above)
  • 5 cups chopped lettuce (use what you like: romaine, spring mix, iceberg or a combo)
  • 1 cup chopped red cabbage (see note above)
  • 1 cup chopped tomatoes
  • 3 green onions, chopped
  • 1/2 - 1 cup cooked and crumbled bacon
  • 1/4 - 1/2 cup crumbled Gorgonzola cheese
  • 2 cups cooked, diced chicken (see note above)

Directions

  1. For the dressing, combine all the ingredients in a blender or jar. Process or shake until well-combined. Add additional salt and pepper to taste, if needed. You can make and refrigerate the dressing a week or two in advance.
  2. In a pot of salted, boiling water, cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain and rinse quickly with cool water so it doesn't stick together while it cools. Pour a few tablespoons of the dressing over the pasta and stir lightly. Set aside to cool to room temperature (spreading it into a flatter layer - versus mounded in a bowl - will speed up the cooling process).
  3. In a large bowl, toss together the lettuce, cabbage, tomatoes, and green onions. Add the cooled pasta, bacon, gorgonzola cheese, and chicken.
  4. To serve, you can toss the salad with the dressing before serving - or, if you anticipate leftovers, add dressing only to the portions of salad served and then store the dressing and salad separately for fabulous leftovers.
http://www.melskitchencafe.com/portillos-chopped-salad-with-sweet-italian-dressing/

Recipe Source: adapted a bit from Christy at The Girl Who Ate Everything

43 Responses to Portillo’s Chopped Salad with Sweet Italian Dressing

  1. Deb says:

    Best.salad.Ever. I’ve lived in the Chicago area my whole life. Pirtilli’s is an icon of Chicago style food like hot dogs and beef sandwiches but this salad is my favorite thing in their menu! I’ve been making a knock off version for years but I will cheat and buy the dressing they sell by the jar in their restaurants. So excited to make it myself! Love you Mel, we are food soul mates!

  2. Shannon says:

    What Deb said! We loved Portillos when we lived in Chicagoland. It’s fun to recreate things we can’t have if we don’t live in the area, so thanks for posting this. Your blog is full of what you speak of – I feel like I will never get through all of the yummy recipes, but I will die trying!!

  3. Jackie G says:

    Oh my goodness!! You just made an (overdue) pregnant woman VERY happy!! I live in michigan now but I grew up in Chicago and have placed a LARGE order of this salad (and some Lou Malnati’s pizza) with my family when they come to visit after the baby is born. Now I don’t have to wait!! I’m literally putting my shoes on to go to the store and get what I need to have this ASAP! Thank you so much!

  4. mary louise says:

    one question: is the vinegar/oil ratio correct? i usually do a 1 to 3 amount.

    • Mel says:

      Yep, it’s correct for how I made this recipe – I generally do equal amounts to cut down on the oil a bit. You could add more oil if you like though.

    • Liz says:

      mary louise, I usually use the 1 – 3 ration also …except when I use a balsamic vinegar, especially the white. The reason is that they are more syrup-y than other vinegars – at least mine are. I made the dressing exactly as written and it is fairly thick and not vinegar-y at all.

  5. Valerie A. H. says:

    You are always posting such great recipes Mel! Can’t wait to make this one too! Thanks so much!

  6. Renay says:

    I love lettuce and pasta salad together too! I was just thinking that again yesterday as I happily combined my spinach salad and pasta salad together at the Labor Day BBQ.

  7. Liz says:

    I didn’t make the salad yet, but I did make the dressing for a cabbage-chicken salad and it is a winner of a dressing – VERY good.

    I second the vote for using white balsamic – I think it makes this dressing! In my little corner of northwest Montana we have THREE vinegar/olive oil specialty shops and one of them introduced me to white balsamic a bit over a year ago. I love it in salad dressings as well as adding a little to things like chicken “chili”, i.e. spicy chicken or pork dishes.

    • Liz says:

      I’ve been making and loving the dressing since this post, but finally made the complete salad … minus tomatoes and with small elbow macaroni – VERY good. I’ve never been to a Portillo’s so can’t compare but I was surprised how good the pasta in a “lettuce” salad turned out to be. I love gorgonzola so this was right up my alley – thanks, Mel!

  8. Missy says:

    I love love love this salad from Portillos! I’ve only eaten there twice (while visiting Camille) but it is so yummy! Might have to invite some peeps over for a BBQ just so I can make this! Thanks Mel!

  9. Amy says:

    So excited to try this!!!! There was a Portillos across from the hospital where we worked outside of Chicago and I used to eat this salad all the time! I’ve missed it in the last 10 years that we’ve been in MN. Thanks for the recipe!

  10. Kim in MD says:

    I have been wanting to make this recipe for a long time, but haven’t gotten around to it. Now that you have “tested” the recipe and it has your stamp of approval, I am going to make it tomorrow!

  11. Gina says:

    Mel,
    I had to laugh when I read that you said “So many recipes, so little time”. I am always saying that to my husband. I am like a recipe maniac. I have a recipe software that I try really hard to organize my thousands of recipes in. I spend hours doing this. So many cookbooks, so many bookmarked, and tons on pinterest. Oh how I love pinterest. I will never be able to even get close to making even a small amount of them. It is an obsession, so I can totally relate. Just had to tell you that you gave me a good laugh.

  12. Ha says:

    Love their pasta salad, but their chocolate cake shake is AWESOME!

  13. Can’t wait to make this salad! I’ve never heard of Portillos (I’m on the west coast). Great combo of ingredients!! I honestly could live on salads like this!!

  14. Carrie H. says:

    I made this last night and the whole family loved it! I just moved to Texas from the Chicagoland area and we miss Portillo’s (although I NEVER order a salad from there only Italian Beef!)

  15. Jane dees says:

    I’ve never commented before but had to regarding this salad. I made it for dinner tonight and it was a hit. There was just four of us tonight so I have leftovers. I am planning my day tomorrow around when I get to finish off the remaining salad. While kids are at school and husband at work I get to eat the rest,all by myself! Can’t wait!

  16. So glad you liked it Mel. I need to try white balsamic vinegar. I love the taste of balsamic but not the look. I seriously could eat this salad all day long. Wish we lived closer!

  17. Lisa says:

    This is why I love your site so much! I too have many, many recipes to make and try . . . you do half the work for me when you post the best of the best:0) Thanks for all you do Mel! I don’t remember if I ever told you, but I ran into the ladies form ourbestbites a few months ago . . . I told them that your site and theirs were my favorites to go to for yummy recipes and they raved about your recipes, said if they needed a good recipe for their family they could always count on you. You are loved!

  18. Cassidy says:

    My 7 year old declared this was the best salad he had ever eaten. He loves salad and this made the short list. Thank you for this recipe. Keep them coming. We love them all.

  19. Dorie says:

    Have eaten Portillo’s chopped salad more times than I can count. They are the go-to caterer for nearly every casual social event in the area. Have tried other variations with mixed results, this one was by far the best, my family liked it even better than the original. Did the prep early in the day and stored all ingredients in separate containers, built and tossed the individual salads tableside and everything was so crisp and colorful. Today layered everything into plastic containers for lunches, with a pack of the dressing so they can shake up their salads at lunch. Don’t skimp on the red cabbage, the color is beautiful and adds so much crunch. Another great post, Mel!

  20. Jessica Leavitt says:

    Mel! I LOVED this salad 🙂 I ate it for lunch nearly every day this week!!! Thank you for the AMAZING recipes!

  21. Brillante S. says:

    Tried this tonight and LOVED it. We’ve tried four of your recipes for dinner in the past week and loved all of them. I am so totally and completely in love with your recipes! My husband asked tonight, “Is this another one of Mel’s recipes?” Can’t get enough!

  22. Nicole H says:

    We had this last night, and loved it! My husband and 2 year old can both be a little skeptical about having salad as a main dish, but they both just kept eating and eating. I especially liked the dressing, it was so flavorful! It was so good that my husband and I ended up finishing it off later that night after our kids went to bed, while watching a movie. It was better than popcorn. Haha

  23. Jocelyn says:

    What a fabulous salad! My family loved it. Thanks so much.

  24. Sallie says:

    What wine would you serve with this salad?

  25. Pauline says:

    Holy Smokes! This is FABULOUS!!!! I don’t know why…..basic lettuce/tomato/cheese/bacon/chicken salad. Is it the addition of the ditalini or the sweet Italian salad dressing? Don’t know, don’t care! Oh, this will be on the menu quite frequently.

  26. Mary says:

    Mel, What brand of white balsamic vinegar do you like?

  27. Sue says:

    Being from Dallas, I have never heard of Portillo’s. But imagine my surprise when I brought this gem of a recipe to a recent Fourth of July gathering and a guest remarked, “This salad I so good! It tastes like a salad from Portillo’s!” I about fell over!
    Mel, you did it again! Mel for president! Who’s with me?

  28. Joy Huff says:

    I was craving Portillo’s chopped salad and found this recipe. I followed your recipe to the letter and it’s perfect! Thank you so much for posting the recipe!

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