Italian Chopped Salad

A good chopped salad is one of my very favorite things to eat year-round. In the summer it's fantastic on its own, and, as fall then winter approach, it is delicious paired with a hearty soup. I'm a Chicago native, so I'm naturally a huge fan of Portillo's famous chopped salad. Because I live hours away now, it's up to me to make my own when the craving hits! 
Feel free to play around with your ingredients. I usually start with the basics: tomatoes, pasta, red onion, bleu cheese and bacon then add anything else that I have on hand. Grilled asparagus, red peppers, artichoke hearts, dried cranberries and pecans are just a few of the different ingredients I've played around with on my quest for the perfect chopped salad.
For this salad, I used two heads of romaine lettuce, cucumbers, bacon, bleu cheese, dried cranberries, ditalini pasta and red onions. I really liked the contrast of the salty cheese against the sweetness of the berries. 

The most tedious part of this recipe is the chopping. Once you've taken care of that, you're ready to toss everything together in a bowl. Tip: use a bigger bowl than you think you need! I am always regretting my bowl size once I start tossing the salad ingredients and end up with half on the counter!
 For the dressing, I made a simple red wine vinaigrette. The flavors are clean and fresh, coating the salad nicely and letting the ingredients shine. If you're not up for making your own dressing, definitely take the shortcut and use your favorite store brand.

To make my dressing, I mixed 1/4 cup of olive oil with 3 tbsp. red wine vinegar. I added 2 tbsp. honey and 1 tsp. sugar, a sprig of fresh oregano, 1/2 tsp. dijon mustard along Kosher salt and pepper to taste. I used an immersion blender, but you can always shake it up in a mason jar if you're in the mood!
 I had enough salad for a few lunches this week and packaged everything up so that I can just grab them and go. I'm finding that after packing kiddo lunches, I sometimes just grab desserts whatever is closest when it's time for lunch. 
 Happy chopping!

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