This Italian Toasted Sesame Salad is the salad that accompanied my Mom’s famous spaghetti sauce and for that reason alone I have a deep nostalgia for it. Back then iceberg lettuce was usually the only variety available, so I’ve upgraded the greens to add a bit more sophisticated dimension to it but kept the key elements that make it unique.
Key Ingredients and Substitutions
This recipe doesn’t have that many ingredients, but if you just don’t like bitter greens it would still be a great side for pasta with just romaine lettuce.
The complete ingredient list and measurements are listed in the printable recipe below.
- Romaine lettuce provides the crunch factor for this salad, but it was originally made with iceberg which still can work in a pinch.
- Radicchio, arugula, and flat-leaf parsley are the upgraded greens that elevate this 1980’s recipe into this century, but if you don’t have them available, or just don’t like the taste, some finely shredded purple cabbage, baby spinach, or curly parsley will help with the overall texture and flavor.
- Parmigiano Reggiano is the certified hard cheese from the provinces of Parma and Reggio Emilia in north central Italy, but you can substitute Pecorino Romano for a slightly more intense flavor, or use parmesan, which is in the same style but aged less and with lower quality standards.
- Toasted sesame seeds are the ‘secret’ ingredient that makes this salad unique so I highly encourage buying some and toasting them in a dry pan; however, in a pinch, you could add a drop of sesame oil to your salad dressing to still get that flavor note in the mix.
- Italian dressing is about as ubiquitous as it gets, so use your favorite. We make ours ‘fresh’ with Good Seasons Italian Dressing mix, subbing out half of the oil with olive oil, but also use Trader Joe’s in a pinch.
How to Make Italian Toasted Sesame Salad
Here are the quick step-by-step instructions with visuals; you can find the full instructions with the exact ingredients in the recipe card below.
Pro-tip: Wait until 10-15 minutes before serving to dress this salad as the greens can become soggy if you dress it too far in advance.
1. Prepare the Greens: Remove the very bottom by the core and then chop the romaine into 1 by 2-3 inch pieces. Rinse the baby arugula and remove any discolored pieces. Cut the radicchio in half and then half again, removing the white core. Carefully slice them into ribbons less than a ¼ inch thick. Sort through the parsley, pulling off complete leaves that are dark green in color.
2. Toast the Sesame Seeds: Heat up a small frying pan or shallow skillet on medium-high, and add your sesame seeds. You can try shuffling the pan back and forth to keep them moving or use a heat-resistant spatula. You’re looking for a golden brown color, and don’t leave the sesame seeds unattended as they can go from toasted to burned in under 20 seconds.
3. Grate or Shave the Parm: Using a cheese slicer, shave the narrow edge of a wedge of Parmigiano Reggiano. Some grocery stores now have Parmesan cheese in tubs already shaved, so it is a convenient option, but the flavor of true Parmigiano Reggiano can’t be beaten. If you don’t have a cheese slicer, use the largest hole in a cheese grater or whatever pre-grated cheese you bought at the store.
3. Assemble the Salad: Using your hands or salad tongs, toss the salad to evenly distribute the different greens. Lifting half the salad with one hand, sprinkle some of the cheese, then replace the greens and sprinkle the rest on top. Sprinkle the toasted sesame seeds then toss the salad one more time to evenly distribute. Finally, add your favorite Italian dressing and toss with salad tongs.
4. Serve: This Italian Toasted Sesame Salad should be served immediately after dressing with dressing. Serve with your favorite pasta dish.
Recipe Tips and Notes
- If prepping this salad ahead of time, wait to add the dressing until it is ready to be served.
- To turn this salad into a complete meal, add some protein like baked chicken, sauteed shrimp, or grilled pork.
- This salad is the perfect side to a plate of pasta. Check out some of our faves – Cacio e Pepe, Gnocchi with Lemon Cream Sauce, Pasta Carbonara.
Let’s Connect! If you make our Italian Toasted Sesame Salad or any other recipe on Casual Epicure, please don’t forget to rate the recipe and leave a comment below. It helps others who are considering making our recipes and we love hearing about your cooking experiences. And if you snapped some shots, share them on Instagram, and be sure to tag @casual.epicure so we can feature them in our stories.
Other Recipes to Try
If you enjoy this recipe, we recommend checking out some of these:
- Kale Caesar Salad with Salmon
- Grilled Pork and Peach Salad
- BLT Pasta Salad with Creamy Avocado Ranch Dressing
Italian Toasted Sesame Salad
- Salad Bowl
- Cheese Slicer optional
- 1 head romaine lettuce, with outer leaves removed
- 2 cups baby arugula,
- ¼ head of radicchio,
- 1 ½ cups Italian parsley,
- 3 ounces Parmigiano Reggiano, shaved
- 1 ⅓ tablespoons white sesame seeds, toasted
- Italian dressing, to taste
- Remove the bottom core and chop the romaine into 1 by 2-3 inch pieces.
- Sort through the baby arugula, removing any discolored pieces; rinse if necessary.
- Cut the radicchio in half and then half again, removing the white core. Carefully slice ¼ of the head into ribbons less than a ¼ inch thick.
- Sort through the parsley, pulling off complete leaves that are dark green in color.
- Using your hands or salad tongs, toss the salad to evenly distribute the different greens.
- Heat up a small frying pan or shallow skillet on medium-high, and add your sesame seeds. Use a heat-resistant spatula to move the sesame seeds back and forth to keep them moving. Once they have changed to a golden brown color remove them from the heat. Don't leave the sesame seeds unattended as they can go from toasted to burned in under 20 seconds.
- Using a cheese slicer, shave the narrow edge of a wedge of Parmigiano Reggiano.
- Lifting half the salad with one hand, sprinkle some of the cheese, then replace the greens and sprinkle the rest on top. Sprinkle the toasted sesame seeds then toss the salad to evenly distribute.
- Add your favorite Italian dressing and toss with salad tongs.