I realized recently I don’t have many salad recipes on this website, and I decided to change this. I’m making a list of my favorite salads I’ve ever had in my trips around the world, and will try to re-create them. Many years ago when I was living in Bucharest, Romania, my friends and I had a favorite Italian restaurant, and a favorite dish: Insalata di Polo, Italian for Chicken Salad. This Italian Chicken Salad was pretty close to what I experienced in Bucharest, so I’m sharing it here.
Subtle, Italian flavors and a good nutritional profile
When I decided to make this salad I was a little confused about the dressing, I knew it was something creamy but not heavy, and it really gave this chicken salad a unique flavor, but obviously I have no idea what was in that dressing. So I asked my Italian friend, Patrizia, what would an Italian use in a salad like this. And, in true Italian fashion, she said extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar. That was a good reminder to keep it simple.
Two items that were featured in the original salad, and didn’t make this version, are tomatoes and foccacia. If you have succesfully reintroduced tomatoes in your diet, you can add some, peeled and deseeded, preferably organic and heirloom. If not, just do what I did, this salad doesn’t need them (the balsamic adds both acidity and sweetness). And if you have a non-grain, compliant foccacia around, go ahead and serve it with the salad. Obviously, this chicken salad is lectin-free.
For the dressing, I made a balsamic vinaigrette. I am asking the Italian olive oil gods to forgive me, but the olive oil and balsamic I used were Greek :), because that’s what I use at the moment. I started with one tsp Dijon mustard and one tbsp balsamic vinegar, whisk them and added 4 tbsps of extra virgin olive oil, one by one, whisking to emulsify the oil (another tip from my friend Patrizia). It came out incredibly creamy and with an amazing but subtle flavor.
As per the Greek olive oil and balsamic I use, it’s called Kasandrinos and you can find it here and can use code ‘creativeinmykitchen’ for 10% off. The quality of both the oil and the balsamic is amazing.
The rest is pretty simple, you need two pasture raise chicken breasts, cooked. You can cook them any way you like, but I’ll tell you how I did it in case you need help with that. You need some raw mushrooms, one romaine and one Boston lettuce, some black Italian olives – I used the 365 brand from Whole Foods, canned Manzanilla olives (I liked this one because there were brined only in water and sea salt, and they have a nice flavor to them). What you usually find in the olive bar probaby has some vegetable oils in the brine. And although I used Greek olive oil and vinegar, I would advise against Kalamata olives, because they have a strong specific flavor and will take over your salad. But, if you want it to call it a Greek Chicken salad, go ahead and do it, it will still taste amazing.
The cheese I added is Italian Fontina, it’s a creamy cheese, but not too soft, I feel it fits well with this salad, but you can also use Buffallo mozarella if you can’t tolerate cow’s milk or even skip the cheese all together. I only used dry oregano, salt and pepper to taste (also to cook the chicken breasts).
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Italian Chicken Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette
- 1 romaine lettuce, washed and dried
- 1 Boston lettuce, washed and dried
- 2 pasture raised chicken breasts (4oz each)
- one generous handful of pitted, black olives, preferably Italian
- about 4 medium button or crimini mushrooms, sliced with a mandolin
- small handful of Italian Fontina cheese
- 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil for the dressing plus more for cooking the chicken
- 1 tbsp balsamic vinaigrette
- 1 tsp Dijon mustard
- salt and pepper to taste (for both chicken and dressing)
- dry oregano (for both chicken and dressing)
Generously salt your chicken breasts and start cooking them in a frying pan, in a generous amount of extra virgin olive oil, on medium heat. Sprinkle some freshly ground pepper and oregano on top, cover and let it cook on one side for about 10 minutes. Flip them, cover and continue to cook for another 10 minutes or so until the chicken is thoroughly cooked (not pink in the middle). You still want moist chicken though, don't overcook. Alternatively, if you already have cooked chicken, use what you have.
While the chicken is cooking chop your dried lettuce and add it to a mixing bowl. Make the vinaigrette in a small bowl, my whisking the Dijon mustard with the balsamic. Start adding the olive oil bit my bit and continue to whisk until creamy. Add some salt, pepper and oregano (you can later add more when everything is mixed if you feel it needs more seasoning).
When chciken is ready, cut it in cubes, and let is cool before you add it to the salad. Add the olives, the sliced mushrooms and the Fontina cheese, cut in cubes. Add the dressing, mix well, split in between two bowls and serve.