Pea Salad with Lemon Parmesan Dressing

Are the classic ingredients for a classic pea salad still included in this recipe? You know the ones: Mayonnaise, sour cream, cheddar cheese, ham, red onions, and bacon? Yes, absolutely! The basic ingredients are the perfect base to add more exciting flavors!

So what’s the difference? THE DRESSING!

To the base dressing I added: Parmesan. Lemon. Balsamic Vinegar. Garlic. Onion Salt. Dijon Mustard.

You can tell that there’s a nice Italian twist to this recipe. Some people are surprised to learn that Italians use mayonnaise in recipes (in fact, many Italians make their own mayonnaise).

Pea salad is a popular old-fashioned classic side dish known for its incredibly delicious flavor, but also because it’s super quick and simple to put together. I like to prepare all of the ingredients the day before so that all I have to do is mix everything together when it’s time to enjoy it. Ready in 10 minutes flat!

Pea Salad is one of the best “chilled” side dishes to serve year-round at any gathering, especially for more casual get-togethers such as potlucks, luncheons, cookouts, and holiday gatherings. There are endless versions of pea salad recipes, but traditionally it always includes sweet peas, crispy bacon, chunks of ham and cheese, and tangy red onions in a creamy dressing.

To take this recipe over the top, I add cherry tomatoes, green peppers, and slivered almonds and then toss everything in a tangy lemon Parmesan dressing! Even those who don’t like peas will enjoy this refreshing pea salad. It’s always a huge hit whenever I serve it.

Here are the yummy ingredients you’ll need to create the best Creamy Lemon Parmesan Pea Salad ever. You’ll find the exact measurements in the recipe card that I’ve provided for you below.

  • Peas: The main star of the show, obviously! Use only frozen (thawed) or fresh petite-sized spring peas. They are noticeably sweeter, smaller in size, and just look nicer. Do not cook, but rather use and serve raw. (It’s super safe to eat raw peas!) Frozen is your best bet for convenience and wonderful sweet taste! I could eat them straight out of the bag. In the summer, while still frozen, they are a nice healthy cold treat! DO NOT use canned peas which have a softer texture, even when first opened. They continue to get even softer in the creamy dressing. And you don’t want that!
  • Pancetta or Bacon: Go heavy on this . . . you’ll be so glad that you did! Bacon or Italian pancetta adds the perfect level of saltiness to balance the sweetness of the pea salad. What’s better than bacon? Italian pancetta, my friends. The flavor is over the top. Thick-sliced bacon is also good. Pancetta is not the easiest ingredient to find (I buy mine online –> Pancetta). Fry it and then cut it into chunks. We don’t prefer crumbles, but rather enjoy a good chunk of bacon/pancetta in every bite! Use your preference though.
  • Ham: Chopped up into chunks, ham just goes beautifully with peas! Use either left-over ham or purchase sweetened (aka: Honeybaked) ham for the best flavor. Smoked ham doesn’t taste well in this pea salad.
  • Red (Purple) Onion: I love the flavor and beautiful color of red/purple onions. Adds a sweeter onion flavor and a lot of visual appeal with the pop of color! If you find the flavor of red/purple onion to strong and overpowering and want to reduce the sharp flavor of red/purple onion, then simply soak the diced onion in cold water for about 5 minutes and drain to cut down the tanginess.
  • Cheddar Cheese: Use medium to sharp cheddar for better flavor. Experiment with other cheeses too, such as Parmesan. Buy the cheese in a block form and then cut it into small chunks.
  • Italian Parsley and Fresh Herbs: It tastes so much better than regular curly parsley. That explains why it sells out so fast in the store! Parsley is also very healthy for us and adds a shot of color. Also add minced chives.
  • Cherry Tomatoes – For added color and flavor.
  • Green Pepper: Optional, but I have it on hand in my kitchen, so I like to add it.
  • Slivered Almonds: Add the most incredible crunchy texture amidst the creaminess of the recipe. A nice yin and yang effect on the tastebuds!
  • Sour Cream and Mayonnaise: The perfect combination of creaminess for the tasty salad dressing. On sandwiches, we only use Miracle Whip, but for this pea salad, I recommend Dukes or Blue Plate Real Mayonnaise (from New Orleans).
  • Dijon Mustard: Thank the French for this amazing condiment! Just a tad adds new life to this and any recipe! Mmmm!
  • Balsamic Vinegar: This sweet, yet tangy Italian vinegar makes this pea salad unique by substituting it for the regular cider vinegar. Just a little bit goes a long way. Balsamico is divine in how it makes any recipe come alive!
  • Parmesan Cheese: The king of Italian cheeses. What it does to the dressing is indescribable! My husband raved about this dressing and that is really saying something! Parmesan, lemon and garlic are the “holy trinity” ingredients in the dressing that take your tastebuds to the moon and back!
  • Lemon Juice and Zest: The tanginess of lemon adds a touch of perfection to the dressing. A must!
  • Sugar – Use just a tad to help balance out the tangy lemon in the dressing.
  • Garlic – A must to jazz up the dressing. Garlic marries with lemon and parmesan perfectly too! If you don’t have any fresh garlic on hand, it’s OK to use garlic powder — about a half teaspoon per garlic clove.
  • Onion Salt: Mixes up the dressing a little bit more. A nice addition.
  • Optional – Ranch Dressing Dry Mix: This adds some extra flavor, but go EASY with this stuff. There’s already a tremendous amount of flavor going on with the Parmesan, Lemon, and Garlic in the dressing, so you don’t want a battle going on. Start with taking a small bowl of dressing and add a tiny bit of Ranch dressing dry mix, stir, and see what you think. Too much flavor or conflict of flavor for you? Don’t use it. However, if you like it, add some to the dressing a little bit at a time until you’re satisfied.

Begin with frying the pancetta or bacon in a frying pan until it is crispy and has a lovely reddish-brown color! Then set it aside to use later in the pea salad.

Pea Salad with Lemon Parmesan Dressing

Prepare and measure all ingredients (I like to do this the day before, covering each with plastic wrap or lids and stored in the fridge to make the pea salad the next day)

  • Bacon/ Italian pancetta
  • Peas
  • Ham chunks
  • Cheese chunks
  • Red/purple onion
  • Green pepper chunks
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Slivered almonds
Pea Salad with Lemon Parmesan Dressing
  • Finely grated Parmesan cheese
  • Sour cream
  • Mayonnaise
  • Lemon juice
  • Lemon zest
  • Dijon mustard
  • Garlic
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Minced Italian parsley
  • Onion salt
  • Sugar
  • Salt and pepper

Once everything is measured out you want to start with the dressing!

Blend all ingredients for the dressing together FIRST! Cover and chill in the frig while preparing the pea salad, giving time for all of the ingredients to marry.

Pea Salad with Lemon Parmesan Dressing

Here’s where it gets easy!

Add the peas, cheddar cheese, green pepper, ham, and red onion together in a large mixing bowl.

Pea Salad with Lemon Parmesan Dressing

Mix together . . . Aren’t the colors just fabulous?!

Pea Salad with Lemon Parmesan Dressing

Pour ALL of the delicious Lemon Parmesan Herb Dressing into the pea mixture.

Pea Salad with Lemon Parmesan Dressing

Now gently mix in the cherry tomatoes, bacon/pancetta, and slivered almonds.

I add these at the end so that the tomatoes don’t break down to mush, and for the bacon and the almonds to be super crunchy!

And there you have it!

Pea Salad with Lemon Parmesan Dressing

There are a gazillion recipes for pea salad. Everyone has their own unique twist . . . I’m on that bus, that’s for sure! Always make a recipe that satisfies you and your loved ones, if you feel the recipe needs it. That said, here are some tried and true points for incredible pea salad results:

  • Use fresh or frozen peas — it’s all about the flavor and the texture!
  • If you don’t care for dairy, substitute plain Greek yogurt in place of the sour cream. The flavor difference isn’t noticeable and you still get the same desired level of creaminess.
  • Do use the best, thickest bacon (or Italian pancetta) so the bacon flavor is more powerful in the creamy salad that thin bacon can just get lost in.
  • For another flavor burst, add a ½ packet of Ranch dressing (dry) mix.
  • Don’t just limit your pea salad to the basic ingredients. Experiment and add other veggies (and even fruits) to the mix!

If you have any of this delicious Creamy Lemon Parmesan Pea Salad left over after your gathering, it’s a great keeper stored in the fridge for up to 4 days. The crunchy petite peas hold up their firm texture, as do the slivered almonds, thickly cut bacon/pancetta, ham, and cheese cubes.

Store your pea salad in a nice airtight container or in a bowl covered with cling wrap.

Do not freeze. The mixture doesn’t stand up well in the freezing temperature and everything turns out mushy when thawed out.

Kitchen equipment and tools I use for this recipe:

Good cutting boards in a variety of sizes — this Smirly set of 3 boards (and stand) has over 14,000 + reviews!

Set of cutting knives and block – this set has over 29,000 + reviews!

So how do you make pea salad? If you try this Creamy Lemon Parmesan Pea Salad, please let me know how it was! Leave a comment for everyone to read and I’ll get right back in touch with you!

I hope that you enjoy this recipe among many others shared with you on this blog! Please be sure to leave a review below. Also, I’d love it if you’d follow me on Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram, and youTube (just getting started on IG)!


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Creamy Lemon Parmesan Pea Salad

Pea Salad with Creamy Lemon Parmesan Dressing

5 Stars 4 Stars 3 Stars 2 Stars 1 Star 5 from 6 reviews
  • Author: Roz | La Bella Vita Cucina

Ingredients

Scale

Ingredients

  • 2 16-ounce packages of frozen petite peas, thawed
  • 11/2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 green bell pepper, cut into 1/3” pieces
  • 1 thick slice of ham, cut into 1/4” chunks
  • 12-ounces thickly cut pancetta (or bacon), cooked and then cut into 1/4″ chunks
  • 68 ounces mild to medium Cheddar cheese, cut into 1/4” chunks
  • 1/2 cup chopped red onion
  • 1/2 cup slivered almonds

Lemon Herb Parmesan Dressing

  • 3/4 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup plain mayonnaise (yes, Italians use mayonnaise!)
  • 1/2 cup freshly, finely grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 Tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 Tablespoon lemon zest
  • 1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
  • 2 Tablespoons Italian parsley, minced
  • 2 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 Tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon onion salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon each: sea salt, freshly grated, and freshly cracked black pepper

Instructions

  • Prepare Lemon Herb Parmesan dressing FIRST. 
  • Add and blend all ingredients together and set aside in the refrigerator for the flavors to marry.

For the Pea Salad

  1. On medium heat, cook the pancetta/bacon until crispy with a nice, ruby-brown color.  Set aside.
  2. Gently mix together the peas, and the chunks of ham, cheese, and green pepper.
  3. Pour in ALL of the dressing.
  4. Then add the chopped tomatoes, chopped bacon or pancetta, slivered almonds, gently mixing them in.
  5. This can be made ahead by about an hour; you don’t want the bacon/pancetta or the almonds to get soft and mushy.   
  6. Serve cold.
  7. Buon Appetito!!

xo (baci),

Roz