We’re not going to dance around it; it’s very cool to hate on Olive Garden. Outside of a sanguine review from the Grand Forks Herald, the only thing anyone not in Grand Forks will say positively about Olive Garden is the salad. We’re not here to judge, nor dwell on the negative, but rather give credit where credit is due; Olive Garden’s Signature Italian dressing is great. And the best part about it is you can make it at home, with a few simple steps you probably didn’t see coming.
Here’s what you need to make your own perfect Olive Garden Italian dressing: White vinegar, tarragon vinegar, garlic powder, Romano cheese, corn syrup or sugar, eggs, Italian seasoning, parsley, xanthan gum, and safflower oil (or some light oil). You’ll get the full list of ingredients and step-by-step instructions at the end of this article.
What is this dressing?
This delectable starter dish wows the Olive Garden crowd. What is that tasty sauce they put on their never ending salad? It’s Italian, but Olive Garden gives it a twist that brings that tart, smooth flavor which makes even the staunchest OG snob admit defeat.
As you can see, there are some flakes of spice — parsley and some Italian stuff, and the overall texture looks Italian, but the taste is closer to a creamy Italian. Let’s break down the ingredients and figure out what we need and don’t need to get this rolling.
What is “Calcium Disodium EDTA added to protect flavor”?
If you ask your local grocer to point you to the Calcium Disodium EDTA, they’ll look at you like you asked to have a T-bone ground up. It’s a preservative that helps salad dressings not spoil when they’re sitting on shelves. Since we’re not going to bottle any of this, we’re pretty okay leaving it out of the recipe.
Miracle Whip or mayonnaise?
As a seasoned vet, you know that distilled vinegar, high fructose corn syrup, salt, egg is just mayonnaise. Or is it Miracle Whip? And what’s the difference? Here’s a real quick lesson on mayo vs. Miracle Whip. Kraft’s 1933 invention has less than 65 percent oil in it — which the FDA therefore doesn’t classify as a mayonnaise. If you look at the ingredients of the Olive Garden Signature Italian dressing, it errs on the the “not mayonnaise” side. So it’s Miracle Whip, right?
Would you believe neither? Mayonnaise has both mustard and lemon juice in it, and Miracle Whip has a bunch of spices. Olive Garden has none of those in their dressing. That means in order to get this right, we have to create an amateur cooks worst fear — homemade mayonnaise. Bear with me. This won’t be as painful as you think.
Let’s make a mayo
Wait! Come back! It’s easy! Look, I’m not going to kid you, there’s nothing more intimidating than making a homemade mayo — especially when we’re technically not making a mayonnaise. We’re making an “almost mayo” — with a few things left out.
Since we’re not going to cook these, it’s best to buy pasteurized eggs. That’s your best best as far as avoiding salmonella, which no one wants. Crack two eggs and separate the yolk — that’s the part we need. Add a half teaspoon of corn syrup (or sugar if you’re deathly afraid of corn syrup), a tablespoon of tarragon vinegar, and a pinch of salt, and beat that with a whisk for about two minutes. You don’t need a mixer to do this. It should look more like a custard, but certainly not anything that looks like mayo. Slowly (and I mean slowly) drizzle in ¾ cup of a light oil, canola or safflower, and whisk that until it looks like mayonnaise. You’ll know when it’s there. It won’t be white, but it’ll start to cream up. That’s what we’re looking for.
You may have noticed that a preponderance of recipes include garlic powder. It’s basically a subtle binder; you don’t taste garlic but if it’s not present there’s something missing that you can’t put your finger on. Garlic powder is just dehydrated garlic, and in many dishes where fresh garlic is too overpowering, it’s the perfect ingredient. We only need a half teaspoon of garlic powder; that’ll be plenty.
That secret “other” dry cheese, Romano cheese is often mistaken for Parmesan cheese. There’s a difference; Romano is stronger in flavor and a bit saltier; the flavorful dairy you taste in the Olive Garden dressing is the Romano, so it does make a difference. Because of its strong flavor, we only need a half teaspoon of Romano.
There needs to be some sweetness to this. Olive Garden uses high fructose corn syrup — also known as the most evil ingredient ever. A nice, simple corn syrup, the kind you might use when making a pie, will work here. The syrupy form will mix better than sugar, and give the final product a smoother taste. We’re not making a dessert, so just a half teaspoon will suffice.
Spicing it up
Spices are great — individual spices, that is. I’m not a fan of “catch all” spices, and the emperor of generic-land is Italian seasoning. It’s a blend of a few different seasonings that are commonly found in Italian dishes. I’d prefer to add them separately, but I’m also realistic enough to know that you’re not going to add tiny little amounts just to get to a tablespoon. We can just suck it up and get some Italian seasoning. And just to give it a little extra, add a half tablespoon of parsley to the party.
Here we go again with Xanthan gum. Do we really need it? There are two schools of thought. No, you don’t really need it, because you don’t really need this to bind anymore than it will naturally. But yes, you do need it because without it the sauce is a bit runny. If you have it, drop in a an eighth teaspoon. If you don’t, don’t sweat it.
Putting in the oil
Italian dressing is oil and vinegar, with “Italian” flavors added. If you’re thinking “olive oil, Olive Garden,” think again. You need a very light, neutral flavored oil, and olive will overpower it. Olive Garden uses soybean oil, and we don’t have to relive my failures in finding it, so I’m using safflower.
Remember that part right up there about oil and vinegar? Well, here’s the vinegar. A lot of traditional Italian dressings will use red wine vinegar or something a bit more fancy, but there’s nothing traditional about Olive Garden. Just go with a distilled white vinegar. A quarter cup will bring the tang.
However, there is a sneaky flavor in the Olive Garden Italian; it’s almost a pickle flavor, but more subtle. I believe it’s tarragon, and the easiest way to incorporate it in is in the form of tarragon vinegar. Two tablespoons will give it the punch we need.
It’s time to bring everything together! Take a half tablespoon of the homemade “mayo-like product” and combine it with light oil, white vinegar, tarragon vinegar, Italian seasoning, parsley, corn syrup (or sugar), salt, black pepper, dry Romano cheese, xanthan gum, and garlic powder. Whisk the living daylights out of that and then transfer it to something you can shake up — like a salad dressing dispenser — and shake it all about.
What happens if you use mayonnaise?
You don’t want to make a mayo? Fine. Use the store bought stuff, but it will finish much thicker, or clumpy, and the taste won’t be close. Trust me, I tried it. It’ll be white, obviously, and look more like chipped beef, but whatever, you can do it, it’s fine.
How close are we?
Grab your favorite salad — Olive Garden’s is lettuce, red onion, carrots, and tomatoes, along with croutons and pepperoncinis — and apply your dressing. This took a few tries, but we are very close. The first version didn’t have the tarragon and it’s still close without it, but the tarragon really brought this in right at it. The other helpful ingredient was the homemade mayo — the regular mayo gave it more of a kick that’s not there in the Olive Garden version.
Total time: 15 minutes
Makes: 8-10 servings
- 2 egg yolks
- 3 tablespoons tarragon vinegar, divided
- 1 teaspoon corn syrup (or sugar), divided
- 1 1/4 cup light oil (safflower or soybean), divided
- ¼ cup of white vinegar
- 1 tablespoon of Italian seasoning
- ½ tablespoon of parsley
- A pinch of salt
- A grind of black pepper
- ½ teaspoon of dry Romano cheese
- ⅛ teaspoon of xanthan gum
- ½ teaspoon of garlic powder
- Combine egg yolks, 1 tablespoon tarragon vinegar, and a half teaspoon corn syrup in a small bowl. Whisk by hand until smooth.
- Slowly incorporate ¾ cup light oil into mix while whisking. Set this “homemade mayo” mixture aside.
- Combine 3/4 light oil, 1/4 cup light vinegar, two tablespoons of tarragon vinegar, and the remaining ingredients in a medium sized bowl. Add a half tablespoon of the “homemade mayo” mixture.
- Stir to combine
- Shake and refrigerate for at least 10 minutes.
- Serve on a fresh salad, and enjoy!