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!
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).
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).
- 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
- 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)
- 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.
- 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).
- In a large bowl, toss together the lettuce, cabbage, tomatoes, and green onions. Add the cooled pasta, bacon, gorgonzola cheese, and chicken.
- 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.
Recipe Source: adapted a bit from Christy at The Girl Who Ate Everything