A few weeks ago, a challenge was floating around in the blog world: to go a week without grocery shopping to use up whatever you had on hand in the refrigerator, freezer and pantry. It was a great idea.

Did you know that making salad from scratch at home can cost far less than buying a bag of greens and a bottle of salad dressing? Making a pint of dressing costs about $1, while buying it can cost $2 to $4. And when you make your own, you also can control the amount of fat, calories and sodium.

Below is a recipe for Italian romaine salad that is every bit as good as you would get at a restaurant. It's an excellent dish to add to just about any meal: grilled chicken, steak, lasagna, or spaghetti and meatballs. With croutons and parmesan cheese, it's sure to be a hit with kids, too. If your kids don't like olives, you can leave them out or replace them with halved cherry or grape tomatoes.


ITALIAN ROMAINE SALAD
Makes 8 servings

Vinaigrette:
1 to 2 lemons
2 garlic cloves
2 tablespoons olive oil or vegetable oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper

Salad:
1 large bunch or 2 small bunches romaine lettuce
1 small red onion
1 cup pitted kalamata olives
1 jar (6 ounces) marinated artichoke hearts with liquid
1/2 cup seasoned croutons
1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese

To make vinaigrette: Roll each lemon on the countertop with the palm of your hand, using gentle pressure (this will help release the juices). Cut lemon in half. Squeeze out juice.

Peel the garlic. Place it in a blender. Chop finely. Add lemon juice, oil, salt and pepper. Process to blend.
To make the salad: Remove any limp outer leaves from lettuce and discard. Break remaining leaves off at core. Rinse leaves with cool water. Shake off excess water and blot dry. Tear into bite-sized pieces.

Peel onion. Slice onion thinly and separate into rings. In a large glass bowl, place romaine, onion, olives and artichoke hearts with liquid. Add dressing and toss to coat.

Sprinkle salad with croutons and cheese.