Big Italian Salad

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This Italian salad pairs nicely with Italian comfort food. You’ll love the homemade dressing!

Spoons in a bowl of Italian salad.

This big Italian salad is my go-to for spaghetti and meatballs, bolognese, pasta e fagioli, baked ziti, focaccia, or anything else in that Italian comfort food realm. The homemade dressing 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 takes just a few minutes to make— and if you’re used to the beige bottled stuff, you’ll be surprised to see how fresh herbs make this vinaigrette a beautiful and vibrant green.

“We LOVE this salad!! The dressing is so fresh and herby. It’s our go-to salad for Italian dinners.”

Gail

What You’ll Need To Make A Big Italian Salad

ingredients for big Italian salad
  • Fresh Italian Parsley: Adds herby depth to the dressing. Italian parsley is also referred to as flat-leaf parsley and it has a more robust flavor than its curly counterpart.
  • Fresh Basil: Adds a refreshing aroma and taste to the vinaigrette.
  • Dried Oregano: Provides classic Italian seasoning and depth of flavor.
  • Garlic: Offers aromatic intensity to the dressing.
  • Red Wine Vinegar: Provides tanginess and acidity to the vinaigrette.
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil: Forms a smooth, rich base for the dressing.
  • Salt and Pepper: Enhance the overall flavor of the vinaigrette.
  • Honey: Balances the acidity of the vinegar with the slightest hint of sweetness.
  • Romaine Lettuce: Creates a crisp and refreshing base for the salad. I suggest buying pre-washed romaine hearts if possible so you don’t have to bother rinsing the leaves.
  • Red Bell Pepper: Adds vibrant color and a sweet crunch to the salad.
  • Hothouse Cucumbers: Contribute freshness and crunchiness to the salad. Also known as English cucumbers.
  • Carrots: Provide additional crunch and color to the salad.
  • Grape Tomatoes: Offer bursts of juicy sweetness and texture.
  • Pitted Olives: Add briny flavor and a salty kick to the salad.
  • Ricotta Salata or Feta Cheese: Provides creaminess and a savory element to the salad.
  • Jump to the printable recipe for precise measurements

Step-by-Step Instructions

Step 1: Make the Homemade Italian Dressing

Italian dressing ingredients in food processor

Combine the parsley, basil, oregano, garlic, red wine vinegar, olive oil, salt, pepper, and honey in the bowl of a food processor; blitz to blend.

blended Italian dressing

Step Two: Assemble and Toss the Salad

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 the leftover dressing for another use.

tossing Italian salad with Italian dressing

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I make the dressing for the big Italian salad ahead of time?

Yep, it will keep nicely in the fridge for up to 4 days. Just give it a good shake before using it to recombine any separated ingredients.

What’s the easiest way to clean a head of romaine?

In the interest of time, I like buying the pre-washed romaine hearts, but if you buy a full head of romaine, discard any damaged or wilted outer leaves from the lettuce head. Trim off the stem’s bottom and discard. Then, separate the lettuce leaves and immerse them in a bowl of water, gently swishing to remove any dirt or debris. (Be sure to dry the leaves completely after rinsing, otherwise, the romaine will turn the dressing watery.) I’m a big fan of a salad spinner for this task, but if you don’t have one, a clean kitchen towel or paper towels both work well.

Are there any variations I can try with the Italian salad?

Plenty! Feel free to improvise with whatever vegetables you have on hand, add some diced salami or prosciutto for extra protein, or swap the cheese with shaved Parmigiano-Regianno or even fresh mozzarella pearls for a different taste and texture.

Spoons in a bowl of Italian salad.

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Big Italian Salad

This Italian salad pairs nicely with Italian comfort food. You’ll love the homemade dressing!

Servings: 6

Ingredients

For the Vinaigrette

  • 1 cup loosely packed fresh Italian parsley leaves
  • 1 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves
  • ¼ teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled
  • ⅓ cup red wine vinegar, best quality such as Pompeian Gourmet
  • ¾ cup extra virgin olive oil, best quality such as Lucini or Colavita
  • Heaping ¾ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons honey

For the Salad

  • 1 large head romaine lettuce (or 3 hearts), washed, dried and cut into large, bite-sized pieces
  • 1 large red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 cup seeded and chopped hothouse cucumbers
  • 1 to 2 carrots, peeled into ribbons
  • Handful grape tomatoes, halved
  • Handful pitted olives
  • Ricotta Salata or Feta, crumbled to taste

Instructions

  1. Make the dressing: Combine all dressing ingredients in a food processor and blitz to blend.
  2. Place all of the salad ingredients except for the cheese 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. Toss in the cheese, then taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper, if necessary.
  3. Note: 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.
  4. Note: Nutritional information was calculated assuming ½ cup of ricotta salata and all of the dressing was used.

Nutrition Information

Powered by Edamam

  • Per serving (6 servings)
  • Calories: 338
  • Fat: 31 g
  • Saturated fat: 6 g
  • Carbohydrates: 12 g
  • Sugar: 6 g
  • Fiber: 5 g
  • Protein: 5 g
  • Sodium: 393 mg
  • Cholesterol: 11 mg

This website is written and produced for informational purposes only. I am not a certified nutritionist and the nutritional data on this site has not been evaluated or approved by a nutritionist or the Food and Drug Administration. Nutritional information is offered as a courtesy and should not be construed as a guarantee. The data is calculated through an online nutritional calculator, Edamam.com. Although I do my best to provide accurate nutritional information, these figures should be considered estimates only. Varying factors such as product types or brands purchased, natural fluctuations in fresh produce, and the way ingredients are processed change the effective nutritional information in any given recipe. Furthermore, different online calculators provide different results depending on their own nutrition fact sources and algorithms. To obtain the most accurate nutritional information in a given recipe, you should calculate the nutritional information with the actual ingredients used in your recipe, using your preferred nutrition calculator.

Gluten-Free Adaptable Note

To the best of my knowledge, all of the ingredients used in this recipe are gluten-free or widely available in gluten-free versions. There is hidden gluten in many foods; if you're following a gluten-free diet or cooking for someone with gluten allergies, always read the labels of your ingredients to verify that they are gluten-free.

See more recipes:

Comments

  • Delicious! Perfect ratios as usual

    • — Sarah on June 5, 2024
    • Reply
  • This is my go-to salad, and it has been for literally years! The dressing is the amazing part…I find myself using leftover dressing drizzled on meats and even on eggs & over hummus!

    The one thing I add that people love is grilled cubes of halloumi cheese…. I cut the halloumi into about 1-inch squares and brown them on two sides….better than croutons in my opinion!

    Anyway, THANK YOU for this great recipe, everyone loves it!

    • — Jodie on April 3, 2024
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  • Love this salad! 🙂

    • — Ashlea on February 15, 2024
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  • OMG!!!! This salad! The dressing is EVERYTHING!!!! My new go to! The fresh basil and parsley! I made exactly as instructed and it’s perfection!!! TY!!!

    • — Gretchen on January 21, 2024
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  • This dressing sounds excellent. However, I am allergic to GARLIC. Therefore, in all my cooking, I leave garlic out. However, this dressing might be a bit bland. Any suggestions for a replacement”

    • — Joyce B. on January 11, 2024
    • Reply
    • Hi Joyce, Are you able to eat shallots? If so, that would be a good substitute. 😊

      • — Jenn on January 11, 2024
      • Reply
  • Jenn,
    The dressing for this salad is absolutely delicious with fresh, herbal notes and a good amount of garlic.

    I can’t say how much I love your blog, everything I have made from it has been delicious, I especially like the Late Summer Plum Spice Cake and your French Apple Cake. I will definitely be trying some of your dinner entrées to add to my repetoire.

    • — Andrea on January 9, 2024
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    • 💕

      • — Jenn on January 10, 2024
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  • Fabulous salad dressing! Will be making it again and again.

    • — Pam on January 7, 2024
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  • I love this salad and I am one of your followers. I made the dressing tonight following exactly your recipe cuz when I tried to jam in more of my home grown basil ‘cuz it tasted lively and more is better… it’s not. So now. Follow exactly. My dressing tastes oily. Should I add more basil? Parsley? Red wine vinegar?

    • — Laurie Welsh on December 23, 2023
    • Reply
    • Hi Laurie, I’d add more red wine vinegar. Hope that helps!

      • — Jenn on December 24, 2023
      • Reply
  • Paired perfectly with our Italian meal. Definitely a keeper!

    • — Diane P on December 23, 2023
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  • made this today to accompany my friends Pasta E fagioli. Perfect complement!

    • — Francine R on November 19, 2023
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    • Hi! What’s the best substitute for red wine vinegar in this recipe? Apple cider vinegar? Balsamic? Thanks!

      • — Kelly Carrion on December 9, 2023
      • Reply
      • Hi Kelly, either balsamic or champagne vinegar would work well.

        • — Jenn on December 10, 2023
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  • This salad is absolutely incredible. The dressing is perfection. I added bacon and garbanzo beans for extra protein. Super grateful for this and will be making again!

    • — Marina on October 6, 2023
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  • I made this to go with shells stuffed with lobster and shrimp, which were delicious. However, the star of the show was this salad dressing. I did add a bit of extra honey. My company went wild for it. We dipped bread into it-fabulous. We thought it would also be good over pasta instead of pesto, over meat, etc. A real keeper!

    • — Karen on September 9, 2023
    • Reply
  • Can the basil vinaigrette be frozen?

    • — Susan on September 3, 2023
    • Reply
    • Hi Susan, I’ve never frozen salad dressing, so I can’t say from experience, but it looks like you can and this doesn’t have any ingredients that make it freeze poorly. If you try it, please LMK how it turns out once thawed!

      • — Jenn on September 4, 2023
      • Reply
  • I’m sure dressing is tasty, but TOTALLY American with added honey. Italian dressing is always simple and vinaigrette. No sugar or honey. Americans add sugar in some form to just about everything. Masks the wonderful true flavors of the vegetables.

    • — TripleL on August 10, 2023
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    • I’ve made this dressing several times both with and without honey/sugar-and on various mixes of salad. A winner either way. Also used it on grilled swordfish, shrimp and chicken as a marinade. A good way to use fresh garden basil and parsley. Lots of positive comments from my guests. Thanks Chef!

      • — Susie on August 21, 2023
      • Reply
    • Hmmmm, TRIPEL are you in America? If not, just omit the sugar and the honey!

      • — LynnA on January 28, 2024
      • Reply
  • We LOVE this salad!! The dressing is so fresh and herby. It’s our go-to salad for Italian dinners (including Jenn’s delicious Spinach Manicotti). In the summer we add strips of salami, marinated artichoke hearts, garbanzo beans, grilled chicken chunks, etc., for a light but filling one-dish dinner.

    • — Gail on July 25, 2023
    • Reply
  • This is a simple and delicious salad that was enjoyed with wood fired pizza at a patio party. I used my garden herbs and comments were made about the incredible aroma of the dressing. Thanks for sharing Jen.

    • — Kathy M. on July 9, 2023
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  • This salad, especially the dressing, is absolutely divine alongside your Baked Ziti recipe! Since I didn’t use all of the dressing, I made a salad to take to work the next day, adding some radishes and avocado to the mix, as well as a little homemade crab salad. Oh, my goodness, was it delicious! Carrot ribbons make this such a fun salad, too. Thank you for all of your outstanding recipes!

    • — Kim on June 26, 2023
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  • Made this for my picky family of foodies. Very well received! Delicious dressing.

    • — Nah on June 12, 2023
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  • Can this be left out of fridge for a couple days?

    • — Sherry on May 30, 2023
    • Reply
    • Assuming you mean the dressing (and not the salad), that should be fine.

      • — Jenn on May 31, 2023
      • Reply
  • This is one of the best salads I have ever eaten! The dressing is rich in flavor and well balanced with the salad ingredients! Thanks again !

    • — Elaine on May 15, 2023
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  • This dressing is scrumptious! Will make over and over. I am an olive oil and red vinegar fan…..this puts that to shame!

    • — Lucia on April 26, 2023
    • Reply
  • Could this dressing be used for a pasta salad?
    – Karen

    • — Karen on March 15, 2023
    • Reply
    • Sure!

      • — Jenn on March 15, 2023
      • Reply
  • Really amazing salad!! I got rave reviews when I served this last night – usually the salad is rather boring but this one, although easy to make, was delicious – of course that fresh dressing was a game-changer from the usual and guests asked for the recipe. You (Jenn) were the topic of discussion and my good friend uses your site almost as much as I do. Which is a LOT. I shared your cookbooks with them. I will be making this salad again. The Romaine makes it extra crispy and I had only ever used that lettuce for Cesars in the past. Thank you!!

    • — Judi on March 9, 2023
    • Reply
  • Outstanding dressing! I made this salad for a group last weekend and everyone loved the dressing, it was talked about for days. Another fantastic recipe, Jenn! Thank you 🙂

    • — Alina on February 23, 2023
    • Reply
  • I’m SO glad I found your site and this recipe. I had company for dinner last night and I served your big Italian salad as a first course, along with the dressing.

    This dressing is so good, I’m crazy about it! I can’t believe I ever bought bottled dressing. Each time I make a salad that skews Greek or Italian, I’m going to use this dressing. In fact, I feel like buying more salad ingredients just to have an excuse to have more dressing! Thank you so much for the recipe.

    • — Kimberly on February 18, 2023
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  • Hi Jenn
    How long will the dressing last in the fridge? Thx!!

    • — Linda on February 8, 2023
    • Reply
    • Hi Linda, It’s at it’s best for 2 to 3 days. 🙂

      • — Jenn on February 8, 2023
      • Reply
      • What ratio for ingredients to serve ten at lasagne dinner.

        • — Vonna Berkey on May 5, 2023
        • Reply
        • Hi Vonna, I think you can get away with making 1.5 times the recipe. Hope everyone enjoys!

          • — Jenn on May 7, 2023
          • Reply
  • My entire family is in love with this dressing! I am using it on salads and panini with cheddar, salami and tomatoes, yum!

    • — Giselle on February 7, 2023
    • Reply
  • Hey Jenn! I wanted to (after several years) let you know that I check in with you regularly whenever i’m looking for a recipe for something, before I reach out to the broader internet-iverse! Your recipes are beloved by me, and other members of my family, and we thank you for sharing! Thank you!! -Sue

    • — Sue on February 4, 2023
    • Reply
  • This dressing sounds and looks fabulous! My only question is…won’t the basil turn dark after just a day or so? I always have trouble when I make basil pesto of it soon turning brown/dark instead of that beautiful bright green.

    • — Alice on February 1, 2023
    • Reply
    • Hi Alice, the basil is processed with all the other ingredients in the dressing and doesn’t turn brown. Hope you enjoy if you make it!

      • — Jenn on February 1, 2023
      • Reply
  • Did not care for the dressing, dumped it and made your zesty Italian dressing instead. Since I was serving it with a baked pasta dish loaded with Havarti and Parmesan, I omitted the cheese and added homemade garlic croutons. Garnished each serving with oven roasted marinated artichoke hearts. Beautiful, but I could not make my carrot ribbons as nice as yours. How do you do that?

    • — Carol on January 29, 2023
    • Reply
    • Sorry to hear you didn’t like the dressing, but it sounds like it turned out to be a lovely meal! For the carrots, use a vegetable peeler to peel the carrots. Then, run the vegetable peeler away from you down the length of carrots, shaving off long ribbons, rotating a few times as you go.

      • — Jenn on February 2, 2023
      • Reply
  • Made it for book club with a baked ziti recipe. To die for!

    • — Denise H. on January 29, 2023
    • Reply

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