"About 150 million people will sit down for dinner at an Olive Garden this year, and here's guessing that 149.9 million of them will gorge on all-you-can-eat-salad and bread sticks before any of the food they ordered actually shows up. The stuff is addictive."-Food Network Magazine
My friend Melissa absolutely loves The Olivia Garden. I used to make fun of her because she would plan her trips to Denver around the restaurant. Her birthday? She wanted to go to The Olive Garden. Anniversary? Olive Garden. Driving to Arizona? We have to time it so we can have dinner in Grand Junction at The Olive Garden. Not that anything is wrong with this obsession, it's just that for a while I didn't quite understand. It's a chain for crying out loud. I shouldn't be surprised. Her husband's ultimate favorite restaurant? Chili's. Did you know I used to work at a Chili's? "Hello, thank you for calling Chili's, great food to go, this is Krysta how can I help you?" Oh, am I off topic again? That happens to me sometimes. My friends used to yell "Hey, look a chicken!" when I did that. Anyway, I think you can understand. I'm a foodie. I can appreciate a chain, sure, but I'm not scheduling my life around it. Then I went there.
It's not like I haven't been to The Olive Garden before. I have, and it was good. But it had been quite a long time. This time, I left with a new perspective of this chain restaurant I had deemed not good enough. That salad and bread sticks were...damn, Gina. They were GOOD. Really, really, good. I now try to hit the Olive Garden up when passing through Grand Junction. I now make copycat recipes in my own kitchen when I can't go to the actual restaurant for the salad and bread sticks. Soft, garlicky, mildly herby, hot from the oven bread sticks which are so easy since they only require one quick rise. Easy enough to make after a days work, as well. And salad that is so crisp and tastes exactly like the real thing. Really, I wouldn't lie to you. The dressing is pretty spot on. Thanks to Food Network magazine for coming up with this winner. The salad isn't the only thing I feel in love with at the OG. I also happen to have a copycat recipe for their delicious minestrone soup as well. Oh, friends. You. Are. Welcome.
after the rise, before baking. Sorry about the totally sucky lighting
The happy campers who got to partake in the Olive Garden Feast. Father-in-law, Jeremy and me, Shawn and Melissa
If you make this salad for the main course, I suggest you double (or tripple) the recipe so it can be "unlimited" just like Olive Garden.
Olive Garden Salad and Breadsticks
adapted from Food Network Magazine, Copy That! Column
Garden Salad: serves 4
FOR THE DRESSING:
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
3 tablespoons miracle whip
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 teaspoon garlic salt
1/2 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
1-2 tablespoons water
FOR THE SALAD
1 10-ounce bag American salad blend
1/4 red onion, thinly sliced
4 small pickled peppers, such as pepperoncini
1 small vine-ripened tomato, quartered
2 tablespoons sliced black olives
1/2 cup large croutons
1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese
Combine all the dressing ingredients and 1 to 2 tablespoons water in a blender or food processor; puree until smooth. Place the salad blend in a large bowl and top with the remaining salad ingredients. Drizzle with the dressing and toss.
Olive Garden Bread sticks
makes 12-16 bread sticks
FOR THE DOUGH
1 package active dry yeast
4 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon fine salt
FOR THE TOPPING
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
Pinch of dried oregano
Make the dough: Place 1/4 cup warm water in the bowl of a mixer; sprinkle in the yeast and set aside until foamy, about 5 minutes. Add the flour, butter, sugar, fine salt and 1 1/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons warm water; mix with the paddle attachment until a slightly sticky dough forms, 5 minutes.
Knead the dough by hand on a floured surface until very smooth and soft, 3 minutes. Roll into a 2-foot-long log (measure). Cut into 16, 1 1/2-inch-long pieces. Knead each piece slightly and shape into a 7-inch-long bread stick; arrange 2 inches apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Cover with a cloth; let rise in a warm spot until almost doubled, about 45 minutes. I set my oven temperature to 250 degrees and let it warm up for 1-2 minutes before I shut it off so that my bread sticks have a warm place to rise. The warmer the environment (but not hot) the quicker it will rise)
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and make the topping: Brush the bread sticks with 1 1/2 tablespoons of the butter and sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt. Bake until lightly golden, about 15 minutes. Mine were done after 12 minutes. Check them and make sure they don't brown or turn golden. Meanwhile, combine the remaining 1/4 teaspoon of salt with the garlic powder and oregano. Brush the warm bread sticks with the remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons melted butter and sprinkle with the flavored salt.