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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.”


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


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


  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.

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  • The dressing is spectacular. I’ll be making it a lot. Thank you.

    • — Yolanda on January 19, 2023
    • Reply
  • Delish! Delish!

    Jenn, Can I ask what software you use to compile the recipe and does it calculate the ingredients. I am putting together a family cookbook! Thanks!

    • — Pat on January 19, 2023
    • Reply
    • Hi Pat, glad you like it! I enter my recipes onto a WordPress platform. It does not calculate the ingredients – I enter them in manually. Hope that helps and that everyone enjoys your family cookbook!

      • — Jenn on January 19, 2023
      • Reply
  • This dressing is incredible! The beautiful color and fresh taste is incomparable to anything in a bottle!

    • — Sharon on January 12, 2023
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  • Could you use a hand blender to make the dressing.

    • — Karen on January 12, 2023
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    • Sure, Karen, that will work – enjoy!

      • — Jenn on January 12, 2023
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      • We LOVE this salad and dressing so much! The fresh basil is such a star. My daughter’s father-in-law, who will not eat veggies, including salad, also loved it, which is a small miracle. He calls it Big Paul Salad! lol

        • — Brenn on April 9, 2023
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  • I don’t have a food processor. Can I just chop ingredients fine and whisk it all together?

    • — Mary Beth on January 12, 2023
    • Reply
    • Hi Mary Beth, do you have a blender?

      • — Jenn on January 12, 2023
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  • Outstanding. I could have slurped it like it was chocolate syrup.

    • — Mary Ward on January 6, 2023
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    • Hilarious and true!

      • — Rita in cold Chicago on January 29, 2023
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  • Best Salad dressing! Fresh and Tangy. Very tasty and easy.

    • — Tammy on January 4, 2023
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  • Excellent vinaigrette! Great recipe. Easy and delicious. Will definitely serve this again.

    • — Karen A on December 3, 2022
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  • We loved the Vinaigrette! It has a nice tang while the honey & basil round the flavors out. It will be in my regular rotation. 🥗 Thank you for the share!

    • — Tammie Farley on November 6, 2022
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  • Amazing!! Had guests over and they loved it!! My husband wanted more of the salad instead of the other food because it was so tasty!!

    • — Nich on October 30, 2022
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  • Sorry but this was a huge miss for me. This dressing tasted super harsh and I don’t know why. I set up all the ingredients and measured carefully ahead of time before adding it all to my Cuisinart. I’m a devoted fan of your work but I would never ever make this again. So bummed.

    Off to try your zesty Italian dressing recipe next!

    • — Lori on October 19, 2022
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    • Sometimes processing good extra virgin olive oil makes it taste bitter…

      • — Jan on February 21, 2024
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  • Hi Jen. Such a delicious salad. I made mine with fried mozzarella balls and artichoke hearts. I served this with lasagna dip. WOW! It was a hit.

    • — Diane revels on October 5, 2022
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  • Have made this many times, very good!

    • — Hjs on October 1, 2022
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  • This is amazing! I made the dressing as written. I used fresh herbs from the garden and it tasted so good. I changed up the salad ingredients just a bit but really, this dressing is yummy on just about any salad combination.

    • — Sally on October 1, 2022
    • Reply
  • Made this and LOVED IT. I will make this on a regular basis now. Made the dressing ahead. Prepped veggies Ahead. Simple assembly great comments from our guests. Thanks Jenn. It’s a keeper ( and pretty flexible re: veggies too)

    • — Joe Hanlon on September 15, 2022
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  • I have made this so many times. The fresh herbs in this dressing make it so much better than any other Italian vinaigrette recipe I tried in the past. After finding this recipe, I stopped looking because this one can’t be beat. This and your Caesar dressing are staples in my house.

    • — Cheryl I on September 12, 2022
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  • Haven’t made this yet, but judging by the reviews, I need to! I usually only have myself to cook for recently, so wonder if I can freeze leftover dressing??

    • — Catherine MacCallum on September 8, 2022
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    • Hi Catherine, although I’ve never tried it, some readers have commented that they have successfully frozen the dressing if you want to give it a try. 🙂

      • — Jenn on September 8, 2022
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  • Love seeing this again!! I have been making this for years since you first posted!!! Fantastic recips

    • — Julie on September 8, 2022
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  • My husband added this to our “please make again soon” list. We loved it!!! The dressing just brought the salad to life!

    • — Nancy Gunn on September 1, 2022
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  • Hello Jen, first time making this dressing and absolutely love it! How long can I store leftover dressing in the refrigerator? Thank you!

    • — Alma on July 10, 2022
    • Reply
    • So glad you like it, Alma! The dressing should keep nicely in the fridge for up to 4 days.

      • — Jenn on July 11, 2022
      • Reply
  • So fresh and delicious! My family begs for this salad. Thank you for ALL of your amazing recipes. You are the best!

    • — JBF on July 7, 2022
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  • Could you use fresh mozzarella instead ( not close to a Whole Foods)

    • — Jackie on June 29, 2022
    • Reply
    • Sure!

      • — Jenn on June 29, 2022
      • Reply
  • I can’t believe I haven’t made this salad before! I’ve been following your blog for years and have your cookbooks. My end of the year book club meeting is a potluck dinner. This month’s book was Taste by Stanley Tucci. So, it seemed appropriate to have an Italian themed dinner. I signed up to bring the salad. Your Big Italian Salad was perfect. The dressing is divine. I made a few tweaks (used white balsamic vinegar, used a 50:50 mix of olive oil and avocado oil and skipped the honey). I added thinly sliced fennel and radishes as well as grilled artichoke hearts in EVOO (instead of olives). The salad was yummy. Thanks Jen! This recipe is definitely a keeper. I wish I had tried it sooner.

    • — Susan on June 3, 2022
    • Reply
  • This salad was one of the best I have ever had! The dressing is a flavor burst and was delicious. I made this to serve alongside your pasta bolognese. My family and I loved this dinner. Thank you Jen for your inspiration, your site is my go-to for weekly menu planning.

    • — Trina W on May 26, 2022
    • Reply
  • Just made it, haven’t tried it yet besides the dressing. The dressing is amazing! Just a question, it turned out chunky and a muddy green instead of bright green. Is that from where i used substitutions for my fresh herbs? (We had no available ones)

    • — H on May 15, 2022
    • Reply
    • Yes, If you used dry herbs, it could’ve impacted the color and texture a bit (but glad it still tastes good)!

      • — Jenn on May 16, 2022
      • Reply
  • My go to salad ever since I found ur recipe. The dressing is so delicious & I just appreciate that it’s using fresh herbs.

    • — Mila on May 7, 2022
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  • I have made this salad so many times and it is simply incredible. So easy and the vinaigrette is fantastic enough to drink.

    • — Arsalan Zuberi on April 23, 2022
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  • Looks amazing but am having trouble finding fresh basil in the winter. What would the dried basil substitution be?

    • Hi Laurin, I wouldn’t suggest using dried basil, but you could replace the basil with additional fresh parsley. Hope that helps!

  • Hi Jen, I’m hosting a heavy appetizers happy hour with an Italian theme. I’m serving this salad, your cocktail meatballs and your focaccia bread. Can you suggest any other appetizers? Thank you

    • — Barbara Riddle
    • Reply
  • This dressing is incredible. We make it all the time and freeze large portions. Buy large quantities of basil at Trader Joe’s.

  • Fantastic recipe as always! Based on past successful results with your recipes, I now do not hesitate in trying a new recipe when having company. Salad is fantastic and received wonderful compliments when I served it to company. Once again, thank you!

  • Fantastic flavor – we loved this & took your advice, pairing it with your lasagna. This is going onto REPEAT for us & am freestyling ingredients based on veggies available – I didn’t have quite enough romaine so added extra carrots, etc.

    Thanks for the recipe!

  • I always get warm compliments when I serve your recipes. Thank you!

    I’m looking to serve this with your BAKED ZITI WITH SAUSAGE (which is my go-to recipe for serving a large group…I ♥️ It!). I’m wondering if you think I could switch out the romaine lettuce with little gem lettuce.

    • Sure, Margie, that should be fine — enjoy!

  • Made it tonight to go with lasagna, A big hit. The comments were that the fresh herbs make all the difference. Will definitely make again! Very easy, very tasty.

  • This is the BEST salad dressing I have made. This will be my go to recipe from now on. The taste is so fresh on this salad. Highly recommend.

  • Awesome dressing! Will make this again and again!

  • How long does the dressing last of refrigerated?

    • Hi Rhonda, the dressing should keep nicely in the fridge for up to 4 days.

  • Thanks so much for sharing this recipe. I loved it! I first tasted this salad at a party and dreamed of it. So I text my old supervisor and asked can you please send me the recipe and she did. My husband and I loved it ❤️ That dressing was EVERYTHANG! I wanted to share a picture but no option.
    Thanks again

  • Question: what quantity, ie approximate number of cups the head or hearts of romaine would provide? I love salad but not the prep of washing and ripping so purchase the pre-chopped variety. Just not sure how much to start with. Thanks for so many great recipes!

    • Hi Marni, I’d guesstimate it would be the equivalent of 6 cups. Hope that helps!

  • How far ahead can you make the dressing . I don’t want the fresh herbs to discolor the dressing.

    • Hi Annie, The dressing should keep nicely in the fridge for up to 4 days.

  • Can this dressing be made a day in advance before serving? Thank you!

    • Definitely!

  • I recently made this recipe and it turned out to be a hit in my house; it’s delicious, filling to your stomach but light which makes it healthy.

    • — Mrs. Rashmi Govindan
    • Reply
  • Hi!

    Sorry to say this, but, as Italian, I have to say that his salad is pretty far from being Italian. I guess the error is mistaking mixing ingredients commonly-used in Italian recipes, and think that it would be an Italian recipe. There are certain ingredients which don’t go together (most of the time), like parsley , basil and oregano. They are ‘strong’ aromatic herbs, which should be valorized by keeping them alone (or combined with less strong flavors).

    Secondly, we do not use ‘dressing’ in salads. The closest thing to dressing (for salads) that you can find in Italy is a vinaigrette.

    I was just looking for a pickle recipe, and bump on this. I’m sure there are plenty of stunning recipes which I hadn’t the chance to see 🙂


    • Hi Tommaso,

      felt compelled to offer a couple of comments..,

      After cooking professionally for many years & living abroad (that includes Italy), I think it’s safe to say this is a “vinaigrette.” In fact while living in Italy (that includes private Italian households), many a housewife served w/the meal a salad in a vinaigrette like the recipe Jenn provides here.

      The herbs used do enhance each other & make for a wonderful salad!
      Give it a try!

  • Hi Jenn,
    My dressing turned out a muddy color rather than bright green. I double checked quantities and they seemed to be accurate. I’m guessing it was something to do with the red wine.

    • Did you use red wine vinegar as per the recipe or red wine? Huge difference!

  • I am so happy a stumbled across this site when searching for a homemade italian dressing. So few of the recipes out there invole real fresh ingrediants and I was sold when I found one that did, and let me tell you l am so happy I gave it a try because I LOVE LOVE LOVE this dressing! This my go to salad dressing when bringing a salad to a party. The dressing taste great on a cold pasta tossed with olives and fresh veggies as well! I love how easy the prep is and better yet how great it taste! Thank you for you sharing Jenn!

  • Fantastic recipe, Jenn! Made it for our Italian-themed party and it was gone in minutes. Besides the yummy combination of the salad ingredients themselves, the fragrant, gorgeous green dressing was its crowning glory. A very talented home cook in attendance said to me, “That was the best salad I’ve ever had in my whole life.” I’m making it again this week for my husband, because it was cleared out before he made it through the buffet line. 🙂

    • Seriously, amazing! Like restaurant good! The dressing was so good. Every recipe of yours I make is a hit! Thank you!!

  • I just made this salad and it turned out great! Very fresh and flavourful. I subbed the suggested cheeses with boccincini, per personal preference. I highly recommend this recipe!

  • Hi Jen,
    My husband doesn’t like olives.
    Any idea for the replacement, please?
    Sorry, if this question already popped up in the earlier comments and I missed it. Thanks in advance!

    • Hi Natalie, It’s perfectly fine to just leave them out, or croutons would work nicely. Enjoy!

      • Thanks! Made it without olives, all gone 🙂

  • The dressing is so fresh and herby, absolutely loved this and think this would turn any basic salad ingredients into an impressive side dish – thanks Jenn, another great recipe!

  • This RECIPE IS THE MOST DELICIOUS Salad I’ve ever tasted in my life!!! My mom made it first and then when I made it I realized I didn’t have red wine vinegar so I used balsamic and forgot to add in the cheese but my goodness was it delicous, I can’t stop raving and eating it!! THANK YOU OMG😩😋😋😋😋😍😍😍

    • — Kymberley Soekha
    • Reply

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