Big Italian Salad

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

This big Italian salad is my go-to for spaghetti and meatballs, fettucini 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.

The dressing 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. That’s how it should be!

What You’ll Need To Make My Big Italian Salad

ingredients for big Italian saladI suggest buying pre-washed romaine hearts so you don’t have to bother rinsing the leaves. If you buy a full head of romaine, be sure to dry the leaves completely after rinsing, otherwise the wet leaves will turn the dressing watery. I’m a big fan of salad spinners for this task, but if you don’t have one, a clean kitchen towel or paper towels both work well.

As for the veggies and cheese, I love a colorful mix of bell peppers, grape tomatoes, carrot ribbons, olives, cucumbers and a salty, tangy cheese such as ricotta salata or — if I’m in a Greek mood — feta. But feel free to improvise with whatever vegetables and cheese that you like.

How To Make A Big Italian Salad

Step 1: Make the Homemade Italian Dressing

Italian dressing ingredients in food processorCombine 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 dressingStep 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

Pair this salad with a good bread and some Italian comfort food. Or, for a main course, top it with grilled chicken, shrimp or steak. Enjoy!

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Big Italian Salad

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

Servings: 6


For the Vinaigrette

  • 1 cup loosely packed fresh Italian parsley leaves
  • 1 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar, best quality such as Pompeian Gourmet
  • 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, best quality such as Lucini or Colavita
  • Heaping 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1-1/2 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 (see note) or Feta, crumbled to taste


  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 1/2 cup of ricotta salata and all of the dressing was used.

Nutrition Information

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  • 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, 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.

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Reviews & Comments

  • Thank you for another great recipe. The dressing was refreshing and enhanced the flavors of the vegetables in the salad as well as the Italian pasta dish that I paired it with. For those of you that might be hesitant about trying it, all I can say is don’t waste another moment. It’s easy and a wonderful addition to anyone’s recipe box.

    • — Scott on July 8, 2021
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  • This was very good! I didn’t really know what to expect but the ratio of red wine vinegar to the herbs is just perfect. And I loved this salad so much I made it twice in a row!

    • — Ro on June 26, 2021
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  • I love his salad! The basil dressing tastes like summer. Unfussy and delicious!
    Thank you!

    • — SN on June 6, 2021
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  • Excellent! I would increase the vinegar to 1/3 cup and increase the herbs and garlic to bring out a more intense flavor. Family and friends really enjoyed it.

    • — Jean on May 6, 2021
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  • I made this recipe so many times and its the best!!!! My husband and daughter always looks forward to this.

    • — Culs on May 5, 2021
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  • This was really good. My husband and I like to add ingredients to make a salad a meal. For this we added some leftover italian herb roasted chicken and zucchini spaghetti. I did serve it with garlic bread and homemade cheese sticks.

    • — Cecile on May 2, 2021
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  • Hello,
    Want to try this for a big dinner party this weekend with lasagna, however I do not have a food processor. Can I make this dressing in a blender?

    • — Stephanie on March 31, 2021
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    • Sure – enjoy!

      • — Jenn on March 31, 2021
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  • OMG, that dressing!!!

    • — Letty on March 27, 2021
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  • Hi – this dressing is absolutely amazing – I’ve made it several times and its always a hit. Question – how long do you think I could keep any leftover dressing in the fridge? Thank you!

    • — Christine on March 19, 2021
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    • Glad you like this! The dressing should last nicely in the fridge for about 4 days.

      • — Jenn on March 19, 2021
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  • I wonder if dill might work in place of parsley in the vinaigrette since I have a bunch of it on hand? Thanks and love all the recipes of yours that I’ve tried!

    • — Marti on March 13, 2021
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    • Sure – it will give the dressing a different flavor profile, but it will work. Hope you enjoy!

      • — Jenn on March 14, 2021
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  • Wow, favorite salad ever! Seriously. The dressing and the salad combined perfectly. Thank you for being a chef who shares wonderful recipes.

    • — Lynn Barrett on March 7, 2021
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    • Love this salad, Jenn! As my herbs are starting to wane at the end of summer, could you make suggestions on how to make the dressing with dried herbs for the winter months? Last summer I was able to put some of my herbs in the freezer, but they didn’t do as well this year!

      • — Amanda Hubert on September 9, 2021
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      • Hi Amanda, So glad you enjoy the salad! Unfortunately, I don’t think this recipe lends itself to using dried herbs. Sorry!

        • — Jenn on September 11, 2021
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  • Dear Jenn, I made your Italian salad to go with lasagna last night and the dressing is fantastic! My husband said it was the best salad dressing he has ever had. It will become a regular at our house, thank you! Best, Mags

    • — Mags McFie on February 1, 2021
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  • This was my first try at an actual ‘salad recipe’ since I usually just ‘toss a salad together’. I’m officially shaming myself because wow, have I been missing out.
    SO good! I like a crunchy salad so I recommend the romaine hearts and definitely a salad spinner. On a whim I added peperoncini, because honestly, I had a jar in my pantry & I didn’t know what to do with it, and it’s a product of Italy and the salad is a product of Italy so I put 2 and 2 together and got Quattro. Yum.
    I also used feta and loved it, and definitely recommend a delicious olive oil.
    Thanks again for showing me there’s SO much more to ‘a Salad’.

    • — Penelope on January 30, 2021
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  • This is my all time favorite salad recipe. I love the dressing. I’ve used it for potato salad as well. The vibrant green color is as beautiful as it is flavorful. I love all the ingredients in the salad, it’s so well balanced. All the ingredients are in easily available year round and it is a salad that makes me happy. It deserves 10 stars

    • — Trish H on January 28, 2021
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  • How could a salad be so good? It’s just a salad, right? No! This is ‘just a salad’ with an incredibly delicious dressing- don’t pass it by!!

    • — Doogus on January 28, 2021
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  • My son invited us to his apartment for a dinner of homemade pasta. I wanted to bring a special side dish when he was going to the trouble to MAKE pasta. I found this salad and it was perfect. I substituted the best Parmesan I could find and red cabbage, a favorite of mine. The salad was so colorful and the dressing was fabulous. So fresh! His roommates raved about my salad as they served themselves seconds. They were thrilled that they’d have leftovers for later.

    • — Laurie Reilly on January 28, 2021
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  • This is the PERFECT italian salad! The dressing is to die for. I plan to keep this in the fridge for individual salads. It’s so light and fresh tasting with the perfect seasoning! I left out the bell peppers due to preference and used kalamata olives for the sliced black olives. Not a bite was left. This will be my go to italian dinner salad!

    • — Susan on January 28, 2021
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  • I have made this salad many times and it is always a hit!

    • — Cheryl on January 28, 2021
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  • DELICIOUS! period. Made many times

    • — Margaret on January 28, 2021
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  • If you’re even remotely on the fence about this dressing, make it immediately! I’m usually very timid of dressings (have an aversion to any dressings that have a strong taste of vinegar), but I could lick this dressing straight from the bowl. The herbs give it such a yummy taste and there’s tons of tang from the other ingredients. This has become a staple with all of my family and it’s on rotation for us.

    • — Kathryn on January 28, 2021
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    • I agree with all the other reviews. Absolutely delicious! The dressing was delicious. I made this to go with the spaghetti squash gratin and chicken meatballs with tomato-balsamic glaze. All 3 were winners. I’m trying to stop myself from having seconds. Thank you for all your delicious recipes.

      • — Kim Mayhew on February 25, 2021
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  • Easiest, no fail salad! Love to serve this with chili or soup.

    • — Shirley on January 28, 2021
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  • I live in a rural area and can’t get ricotta salata. I’m planning on making this tomorrow for a dinner party. What would you recommend in its place? Thank you!

    • — Kay McClinton on January 8, 2021
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    • Hi Kay, Feta also works nicely here. Hope you enjoy!

      • — Jenn on January 8, 2021
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      • Thank you!

        • — Kay McClinton on January 9, 2021
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  • You’ve standardized a staple and it works pretty well; a little low on salt and vinegar for my family.

    • — Corrine on December 31, 2020
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  • I have an allergy to honey… I wonder if I can just throw in a pinch of sugar instead? Can not wait to try this wonderful recipe. Making homemade pizza for New Years Eve, this will be perfect to serve with!

    • — Sue on December 30, 2020
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    • Sure, Sue – that’s perfectly fine. Maple syrup would work well, too.

      • — Jenn on December 30, 2020
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  • Doubled the recipe for Christmas Day, my grandson, an (employed) chef, gave it 2 thumbs up, and everyone else raved about it. I didn’t change anything in the dressing, but added chopped avocado to the greens.

    • — Marilynne on December 28, 2020
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    • Good day!

      Can i use balsalmic vinegar instead of red wine vinegar? If yes, is it the same amount as red wine or would be less or more?
      Thank you.

      • — Jha on July 28, 2021
      • Reply
      • Sure (and it would be the same amount). Enjoy!

        • — Jenn on July 28, 2021
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  • I can’t wait to make this. I have all the ingredients. Thinking about throwing in some pistachios as well. Christmas treat!

    • — lisa on December 23, 2020
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  • Hi Jenn:
    Served this Big Italian Salad with Homemade Salad Dressing as a side with your Roast Beef Tenderloin with Red Wine Sauce…(see review)
    Nothing else, and no tweaks… Absolutely perfect as it is.
    Thanks again, Jenn.

    • — Elaine Radu on December 17, 2020
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  • Hi there, what are the nutrition facts for this? I’m doing a project which requires all the information about the recipe (I’m serving this to my class as well). Thank you so much!

    • — katie on December 14, 2020
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    • Hi Katie, I just added them to the recipe. 🙂

      • — Jenn on December 15, 2020
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  • I can make the VINAIGRETTE a day ahead ?

    • — Janet on November 23, 2020
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    • Sure. 🙂

      • — Jenn on November 23, 2020
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  • Do you refrigerate the leftover dressing or leave it out?

    • — Lawson on October 20, 2020
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    • I’d refrigerate it. 🙂

      • — Jenn on October 20, 2020
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  • Delicious!

    • — Kerri on October 18, 2020
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  • Hi, I’m excited to try this recipe. I was unable to get fresh basil, would stir-in basil paste work? The tube of paste says tablespoon of paste equals tablespoon of fresh. Thank you!

    • — Tracey on October 17, 2020
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    • Hi Tracey, I’ve never tried that so I can’t say for sure, but I think it would work. You can also replace the basil with additional parsley. Please LMK how it turns out if you try it!

      • — Jenn on October 18, 2020
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    • I know this is a little late, but fresh good quality basil is hard to find around here this time of year. I eliminated the basil, the garlic, and the salt (until final adjustment of seasoning) from the dressing and the cheese from the salad and replaced those items with 1/2 cup of Costco Pesto in the vinaigrette. I don’t know how close I got to the original recipe’s taste, but my husband definitely thought this one was a keeper. Thank you Jenn for the inspiration.

      • — Celia on December 22, 2020
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      • How long does the dressing keep for?

        • — Leanne on August 4, 2021
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        • Hi Leanne, I’d say 3 to 4 days. 🙂

          • — Jenn on August 5, 2021
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  • Hi!! Thanks so much for the recipe, was wondering if this was freezer friendly if I have left overs?

    • — Carlee on October 14, 2020
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    • Hi Carlee, I’m assuming you mean the dressing? If so, I’ve never frozen it, but a few readers have commented that they have successfully.

      • — Jenn on October 15, 2020
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  • Hi Jenn!
    I want to make this salad, but my fiancée is allergic to red wine vinegar. What would you recommend as a substitution? I was thinking maybe champagne vinegar. If I use that, would you add anything else?
    Also, I love your website and cookbook. Everything of yours that I’ve made is delicious. Thanks for sharing your recipes!

    • — SB on October 3, 2020
    • Reply
    • So glad you like the recipes! I think you could get away with champagne vinegar or balsamic vinegar. Hope you both enjoy! 🙂

      • — Jenn on October 5, 2020
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      • Thanks for weighing in! I made it with champagne vinegar and it was delicious. I bet balsamic would be great too.

        As a side note, I served this as a side with steak but I think next time I’ll top it with crab cakes for a light dinner. (Jenn, the crab cakes in your cookbook are my favorite!) It reminds me a bit of salads at Burton’s Grill in New England that are divine topped with crab cakes.

        Will make this many times again for sure.

        • — SB on October 16, 2020
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  • What a hit this salad was last night! Had it with Turkey lasagna. The dressing is so delicious! Will certainly make this again. Would be great as a main course with grilled chicken.

    • — Pia on September 25, 2020
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  • I bought all the ingredients to make the salad and dressing for dinner tonight and then realized I forgot to buy the parsley.

    Do you think it’ll make much of a difference if I don’t put the parsley in?

    • — Diana on September 17, 2020
    • Reply
    • Hi Diana, assuming you have enough, you can just use more basil in place of the parsley. Enjoy!

      • — Jenn on September 17, 2020
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  • This is absolutely fantastic! Wow. Keeper. I’m going to attempt do a reduced olive oil/fat version today. Has anyone tried freezing it?

    • — Laura on September 6, 2020
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  • Made this for our Italian friends and they agreed, it is delicious. I added an avocado which allowed the dressing to adhere to the lettuce. So flavorful! This will be a staple with large crowds. Thank you

    • — Nancy Hearty on September 2, 2020
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  • Making this salad today. Are the olives in this salad Kalamata?

    • — Pam Heule on August 28, 2020
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    • Yep 🙂

      • — Jenn on August 30, 2020
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  • Rave reviews! “I could eat this everyday!”, “best salad of my life!” were the comments around the table. Made with your turkey spinach meatballs and Parmesan potatoes which were also big hits. Love your recipes!

    • — Linda on August 27, 2020
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    • 🙂

      • — Jenn on August 27, 2020
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  • Dressing is delicious, salad was a BIG hit. Will be my new favorite.
    Rave reviews from dinner guests.

    • — Marguerite Nagle on August 9, 2020
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  • Delicious

    • — Marguerite Nagle on August 9, 2020
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  • This is my all- time favorite salad dressing! The fresh herbs are the key ingredient.

    • — Denise on July 27, 2020
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  • I have made this salad and the dressing several times, and it is always a hit! The dressing is delicious — Even those who do not like any type of salad dressing have loved this one!!!

    • — Tracy Allen on July 22, 2020
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  • Can you use parmesan cheese instead of feta to go with a Lasagne?

    • — Kelly stone on July 21, 2020
    • Reply
    • Sure!

      • — Jenn on July 22, 2020
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  • Every time I make this salad it gets rave reviews and requests for the recipe! It’s my favorite salad by far. The dressing is so good and versatile for other uses too!

    • — Heidi on July 12, 2020
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  • Wondering if you can make the dressing if you do not have a blender. Thanks.

    • — Joie on July 2, 2020
    • Reply
    • Hi Joie, Technically I think it’s possible, but it would require a LOT of chopping of the fresh herbs! Please LMK how it turns out if you try it. 🙂

      • — Jenn on July 6, 2020
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    • You can but be sure to finely chop the herbs.

      • — Denise on July 27, 2020
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  • Recently, my husband and I hosted friends on our deck. I made this salad to serve with a braided stromboli. The salad was the perfect accompaniment. I had prepped all the salad ingredients, as well as the dressing, earlier in the day. While the stromboli rested, I assembled the salad. It tasted like summer in a bowl. I completed our al fresco meal with your delicious strawberry cake. Thank you for these recipes which I know I will make repeatedly.

    • — Linda Heile on June 28, 2020
    • Reply
  • Best salad I ever made! And, the dressing is to die for – so delicious. Everyone truly enjoyed it. Will be making it on a regular basis.

    • — Kelly on June 15, 2020
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  • Mmmmmm!!! Delicious recipe. I made this salad to accompany baked ziti. Everyone loved it. A friend, who typically bypasses salad, went back for for more.

    • — Deana on June 7, 2020
    • Reply

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