Italian dressing is a vinaigrette style dressing that is most frequently used on salads, but can also be a valuable addition to a variety of recipes and cooking techniques. Vinaigrettes are typically made by combining three parts oil to one part vinegar and flavoring it with various seasonings. In an Italian style dressing, the vinaigrette is flavored with a number of fresh or dry herbs. While there are no strict rules regarding which herbs must be used, oregano, basil and dill are popular ingredients in this style of dressing.
In addition to fresh herbs, garlic and onion are both frequently used to add an additionally depth of flavor to an Italian dressing. Red pepper, black pepper, and crushed red pepper flakes can also be added to increase the spicy heat of the dressing. Lemon juice can also be added to the dressing in conjunction with, or in place of, the vinegar.
Italian dressing can be purchased in most grocery stores and is generally available in reduced fat and reduced sodium versions. Regular Italian dressing has approximately 70 calories per tablespoon (about 14 ml) and accounts for about five percent of the daily allotment of fat and six percent of the daily allotment of sodium. Reduced fat and reduced sodium versions, however, may decrease the amounts to two percent and zero percent, respectively. It is important to note that when made with olive oil, the fat is a monounsaturated fat and, as such, actually has many added health benefits.
Italian dressing can also be made quickly and easily at home, often in less than five minutes. Though many recipes call for white wine vinegar and olive oil, the type of oil and vinegar used can vary based on individual taste. Replacing the white wine vinegar with red wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar can significantly alter the flavor, and replacing the olive oil with a lower calorie oil, such as vegetable or canola oil, can reduce the fat and calories. Dairy products such as mayonnaise or buttermilk can be added to create a creamy Italian dressing with a richer texture and consistency as well. This tends to increase the fat and calories, however.
Though most frequently used on salads, Italian dressing can also make an excellent sauce or marinade for meats. Additionally, it can be used to moisten and flavor a burger when preparing it for the grill. It is also a delicious addition to a stir-fry and can be brushed on bread to add a unique flair and flavor to sandwiches. It can also be an excellent addition to a pasta salad.