Insalata caprese, an Italian classic, becomes an instant halloween classic as well.
The traditional ingredients for this delicate salad are fresh mozzarella, basil, plum tomatoes and olive oil, seasoned with salt and pepper. Our version goes only slightly further, adding a thin slice of olive as the garnish. And, a clever trick produces perfectly round pupils every time.
Taking a step back, let us note that this isn’t a new sport. Gory, shocking, and other “gross-out” foods– body parts in particular– are already a standard of Halloween party fare. We have even seen mozzarella eyes in a few different forms, like this fine example by our friend Dot at Dabbled. If you like this sort of thing, you’ll probably also like one of our favorite cookbooks, The Secret Life of Food, by Clare Crespo.
Let’s get started by looking at a couple of the crucial ingredients:
For our irises we found these marvelous Castelvetrano olives at a local deli. These are an Italian specialty– delicate, mild, and buttery– and they happen to have incredibly bright green skin. You can of course use other types of green olives, but they probably won’t look quite as alive.
Also from the deli, we picked up these little balls of fresh mozzarella. The ones shown here are oblong but that’s not important– spherical will work just as well. (You need “real” mozzarella– ideally mozzarella di bufala. If all you can find is a correspondingly named low-moisture part-skim cheese product, that’s not actually a good substitute.)
Now, go find your paring knife.
Cut a thin, clean, round slice from the tip or side of one of the olives. This is a shallow cut, so it doesn’t matter if the olive has a pit or not, but do try to make a nearly-circular slice.
And now to cut a perfectly round pupil. Use the end of a plastic drinking straw to cut a hole through the center of your olive disk. To do this, push down on the straw with a slight twisting motion. It will slice out a neat cylindrical core, which you may need to remove with a toothpick or similar instrument.
For the pupil we use a small disk of black olive. (We used pitted black olives. Feel free to substitute higher-grade dark olives, but this is a small enough application that you can get away with it.)
Here is the “clever” part: Use the same straw to poke a hole in a black olive to get a little plug of material that will exactly fit in the pupil hole of your green olive disk. Depending on your relative olive thickness, you may need to trim the back of the black plug as necessary.
Stick your olive irises to your mozzarella balls. Assuming that the surfaces are wet, they should stay in place by themselves. If your cheese is particularly curvy, you might find it helpful to cut a small flat surface for them to attach to.
Serve your eyeballs– soon and neatly stacked– with tomatoes, basil, and olive oil.
This project is included in the food category in our Halloween Project Archive where you can find more ideas and recipes.