Big Italian Salad

Italian Salad 11

I’ve always believed that a good salad is the mark of a good cook. It makes sense: a well-made salad must have a pleasing combination of textures and a perfect balance of salty, sweet, bitter and sour–that’s cooking school 101. So with that in mind, it’s good to have a few standouts in your repertoire. This one is my go-to for Spaghetti and Meatballs, lasagna or anything else in that Italian comfort food realm.

Italian Salad 9

The homemade vinaigrette is what makes it so good; think of it as a much, much improved version of that bottled Italian dressing sitting in your fridge door. It only takes a few minutes to make, yet it’s ten times better and so much healthier for you.

Italian Salad 5

If you’re used to the beige-y bottled stuff, you’ll be surprised to see how fresh herbs make this vinaigrette a beautiful and vibrant green. That’s how it should be!

Italian Salad 4

Romaine is the lettuce to use here; its hearty leaves stand up to the zesty dressing and crunchy vegetables. As a general rule, be sure to dry your greens completely before making your salad, otherwise your dressing will be watery. I’m a big fan of salad spinners for this task, but if you don’t have one, just use a clean kitchen towel or paper towels.

Italian Salad 2

Use any veggies and cheese that you like. I always go for a colorful mix of red peppers, grape tomatoes, carrot ribbons, olives, chopped hothouse cucumbers and a salty, tangy cheese such as ricotta salata or–-if I’m in a Greek mood-–feta.

Italian Salad 1

Pair this salad with a loaf of garlic bread and some Italian comfort food. Or for a main course, top it with grilled chicken.

Italian Salad 14

Either way, sounds like dinner to me.

Big Italian Salad

Printable Recipe

Serves 4 as a starter


For the Dressing
1 cup loosely packed fresh flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped (about one small bunch)
10 big leaves fresh basil
¼ teaspoon dried oregano
2 cloves garlic, peeled
¼ cup red wine vinegar, good quality such as Pompeian Gourmet
¾ cup extra virgin olive oil, good quality such as Lucini or Colavita
¾ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
1 ½ teaspoons honey

For the Salad
1 large (or 2 small) head(s) romaine lettuce, washed, patted dry and cut into large, bite-size pieces
1 large red bell pepper, chopped
1 cup chopped hothouse cucumbers
1 large carrot, peeled into ribbons
Handful grape tomatoes, halved or whole
Handful pitted olives
Ricotta Salata* (or Feta for a Greek twist), crumbled to taste


1. Make the dressing: Combine all dressing ingredients in a food processor and blitz to blend.

2. Place all salad ingredients in a large bowl. Right before serving, add about half of the dressing and toss well. Add more dressing little by little as necessary; be sure to dress greens very generously, otherwise salad will be bland. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Reserve leftover dressing for another use.

*Ricotta salata is an Italian sheep’s milk cheese that has a salty, slightly tangy flavor, almost like a dry Italian feta. It is not the same as the wet ricotta in the tub. You can find it at Whole Foods, gourmet grocers or specialty cheese shops.

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  • Robin S.

    This looks great, although I’m surprised you haven’t included red onion (or scallions) in the salad…??

    Thanks for the site, and the great recipes!

  • E.C.

    This looks great…so colorful! Love all the fresh herbs!

  • Oh super yum! This looks great!

  • I love that you made your own dressing… the bottled stuff is gross after realizing the color change….ewwww! :) As always, wonderful pics!

  • Wow..That looks so yummy and delicious..

  • Maria

    Just tried your salad. That dressing is delicious – so fresh and springy! Thanks!

  • Tashu

    Made this for Easter Sunday. The dressing is fresh and delicious. All the colors and taste–I will definitely be making this over the summer. Thanks!

  • Karen

    Just made this salad to go along with lasagna for my daughter’s 13th birthday family dinner party — it was FANTASTIC and I can’t wait to make it again!!

  • Richard

    Great salad. I too tried the red onion. It took away from the other ingredients. Your way of combinations are on the mark.Thanks

  • Eleen

    Love love love this salad. The dressing is amazing!

  • Karen D.

    Thanks for a wonderful looking recipe! I am always looking for new combinations and homemade dressings. My favorite “go to” salad is a BLAT salad – Turkey Bacon, romaine lettuce, avocado, tomato (and usually some cucumber and maybe a tiny bit of red onion) with a dijon mustard homemade vinigrette. I will have to try your italian dressing. It looks like my next “Go To” dressing.

  • Came upon this in a Google search for an Italian salad and it was amazing! It was a great success at my fiance’s birthday dinner party! I look forward to following your site more in depth!

  • Jenn V

    Dressing turned out great! I used it at a dinner party with Chicken Parmesan, and the salad bowl was picked clean. Thanks!

  • Joy

    WoW….this was an AMAZING Salad. We usually eat my version of Greek Salad w/ homemade dressing (to die for), but thought that I’d change it up this time w/ this salad. My entire family LOVED it! It did take some time, but it paid off. I made this with Grilled Mediterranean Open-Faced Sandwiches….Yummm! is all you could hear at the dinner table. Thanks so much for the recipes and I love looking at the recipe step by step (I don’t need it, but it’s nice to see it) along with wonderful photography.

  • J. Lefebvre

    This salad dressing was AMAZING – I brought it to a dinner party on Saturday and I’m still getting requests today for the recipe! Excited that I stumbled upon your blog – thanks for sharing!

  • Rachel Schreiber

    Delicious!! I’ve been meaning to make this recipe for a while. Finally made it tonight for guests, and got rave reviews. This salad is very pretty and very tasty! Excellent combination. Thank you!

  • Kelly D.

    I cannot express how much I loooove this salad! I’ve made it for so many guests and family, and it gets only rave reviews every single time. I enjoy adding cannellini beans, chopped walnuts and almonds to ours. I think next time I make it I’ll add sliced grilled chicken and homemade croutons. The dressing is hands-down my favorite homemade vinaigrette. I just can’t say enough good things about this salad! Thanks for an awesome recipe, Jennifer! Can’t wait to try more recipes from your site.

  • I made this yesterday since I had almost everything in the fridge and added garbanzo beans to turn it into a whole meal. It was very good even though I didn’t have fresh basil or parsley for the dressing, which was probably the whole point of this salad.

  • Jennifer

    This salad and dressing is fabulous! I first made it in December. All of the ingredients complement each other so well (I used feta as the cheese and also added some croutons). I’m making it again today to go along with the buttermilk fried chicken tenders :-) How long will the leftover dressing last in the fridge?

    • Jenn

      Hi Jennifer, It would probably keep well for 3-4 days.

  • Carol

    Made this salad last night. It is absolutely delicious. Followed recipe exactly but also added red onion.

  • Heather

    I made this salad to bring to an Academy Awards watching party with some girlfriends last Sunday. I made a double batch. There ended up only being 4 of us left by the time we finally got around to eating dinner. Still, we polished off the bowl and one the girls asked for the dressing recipe. This was truly delicious. Thanks for the recipe!

  • Melissa Norton

    I took this to a dinner party, and everyone raved about it! The dressing is so delicious and so healthy too! Thanks for all they healthy recipes!

  • Gayle Snyder

    My daughterinlaw hopes that there are leftovers so she can take this salad home. It’s a big hit here.

  • Alison

    A staple in our house, the dressing is just fresh and fabulous. Always as a favorite…I’ve made it for holidays, brought it to dinner parties. The perfect addition to my repertoire. Keep ‘em coming, Jen!

  • Mary

    I can’t get enough of this dressing, it is so fresh and delicious. Makes eating salad fun!

  • Jennifer Smith

    I made this for supper tonight, and we ate it with spaghetti and meatballs. So perfect! I loved every aspect of this salad.

    I used blue cheese, and my husband accidentally bought zucchini instead of cucumber, but it was still great!

  • Pam

    Made this salad for something different for a friend’s birthday dinner. Everyone absolutely LOVED it! Everyone was asking for the recipe, especially the dressing. I did add red onion, and had feta, mozzarella, croutons, artichoke hearts on the side for people to add if they desired. But the dressing was definitely a huge hit! Will definitely be adding this to our favorites list!

  • Heidi

    This salad is so refreshing and full of multiple tastes.
    Super fresh, too. There was enough dressing to last for two salads for two dinners – which is always nice to have left-overs that taste fresh and new the second time around. Also, added about 1/2 cup of garbanzo beans and used a sprinkling of kalamata olives which added a whole new complex taste. Oh ya, I chose fat free feta – yummy – and used 1/2 the container for night one and the other 1/2 for night two. Thank you – I will continue to make your fantastic recipes. Like… the potato leek soup.

  • Debbie

    I made this for an Italian progressive dinner last weekend and everyone loved it. This weekend I’m bringing it a family party. I couldn’t find the sheep ricotta so I used crumbled goat cheese instead. Very yummy!!! Thank you!

  • Erin

    Like Debbie, I also made it for a progressive dinner in my neighborhood and it was a big hit. Everyone loved the dressing. i made it again this past weekend for a mother’s day BBQ and my super foodie parents loved it as well. I used feta for the cheese sprinkles. The dressing has such a great spring, fresh flavor. Two thumbs up.

  • Jennifer

    This is by far the best homemade dressing I have ever made. I don’t think I can ever buy store bought again.

  • Julie

    I made the dressing and loved it. I am now keeping a jar of this in the ‘fridge. I highly recommend making this often, especially if you’ve got a little herb garden!

  • jujus dru

    I will be making this Sunday with lasagana. Looks like it can be made so many ways. It looks so good. Thanks. I needs this.

  • Liz

    This has become my go-to dressing. I usually double the recipe and make two bottles, to utilize more of the fresh spices (they make all the difference).
    Thanks, Jenn!

  • I’ve been making this Salad non-stop and everyone that has eaten it has asked me for the recipe.

    Thank you <3

  • Ann Grandin

    Jenn another great recipe. This is a wonderful salad. The dressing is delicious with the fresh herbs. I took it to a pizza party and it was enjoyed by all.

  • Terry Grosvenor

    Fabulous salad and home-made dressing!! I added artichokes to the salad, too!!

  • Spectacular salad. Worked perfectly with Marcella Hazan Lasagne Bolognese (with a few roasted artichokes thrown in).

  • Kelly

    Love this salad so much! I add cannellini or kidney beans, as well as thinly sliced grilled chicken. Salmon would also be a nice addition. The dressing is so amazing! I like to make a meal of just the salad with some French bread.

  • Max

    Why use dried Oregano? Is fresh better?
    Can’t wait to try this dressing!

    • Jenn

      Hi Max, Fresh oregano can actually be a little bitter, so dried is better here. Hope you enjoy it!

  • Crystal

    I made this tonight – it was tasty and super fresh! One of my favorite salads and I’ll be making this a lot in the future! Even my 4 year old loved it!

    I’m not much of an olive person though, so I don’t know much about them. When I went to my grocery store and was faced with the olive bar, I was totally confused! What kind of olives do you use?

    • Jenn

      Hi Crystal, So glad you enjoyed! As for the olives, yes, it can be confusing! I love the black kalamata olives or the large green Greek olives but it’s really a matter of personal preference…taste a few to see which ones you like. I also try to buy my olives pitted so we don’t have to deal with the pits.

  • Rhiannon

    I’m making a lasagna for some friends, and wanted to make something different than the basic dinner salad. I was able to follow everything step-by-step except for the cheese. I got feta, but it was moldy, so I opted to leave it out. The dressing turned out FANTASTIC, and will definitely be my go-to Italian from now on. Thanks for the recipe! Hope it’s a hit with these foodies.

  • Eva

    I was looking for a dressing for a dinner party Sunday night. I came across your recipe. Wow it received rave reviews and is fantastic.

    I loved it so much that I woke up yesterday and ate a salad for breakfast. I will keep on making this.


  • Cleo

    I made this today and it was delicious! One question, can I leave the honey out next time? Thanks for the great, easy recipes and the useful tips!

    • Jenn

      Hi Cleo, Yes it is fine to leave out the honey.

  • MG

    This was a great dressing. I did use less red wine vinegar. It’s so overwhelming that the 1/4 cup seemed like a lot so I added it in slowly. Also, I used Queso Fresco as the cheese. It’s a Mexican cheese, very crumbly, salty and fresh. It’s a light, airy cheese and with such a fresh dressing it worked great. Thanks for a great dressing!

  • Victoria

    Can this dressing be made ahead of time? How long?

    • Jenn

      Hi Victoria, Yes, it’s fine to make it a day or two ahead of time.

  • katharine

    Wow,what a hit this was with my bookclub group.
    Family finished leftovers next day and still tasted great.
    Went well with Lasagne.
    Will be saving this recipe.
    Thanks for sharing it.

  • Charles

    Can you clarify the ingredients for the dressing please as the pic appears to show a cheese but this not listed. Can you alo give cup measures in fluid ounces . Thanks

    • Jenn

      Hi Charles, The cheese is Ricotta Salata or Feta; it’s the last ingredient listed.

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