- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Summer calls us to eat outdoors on a screened porch, on a patio, with friends. Most often it is the friendship and the conversation that leads us outdoors. Oh, the food is important, but the food is just a backdrop for the conversation, really.

This outdoor meal sets such a stage. The pasta with fresh tomatoes is light and can be assembled ahead of time and left covered on the kitchen counter.

To keep the pasta from sticking, be sure you toss it with olive oil after it has cooked and drained.

Arrange slices of prosciutto (Italian ham) on a pretty platter along with slices of cantaloupe and honeydew. Add a green salad.

Place a bowl of good olives on the table. Add bread. Pour wine, if you desire.

For dessert? Coffee and your home-baked biscotti.

Granted, if you want this to follow a totally Italian theme you might use sliced almonds instead of the macadamias.

Either nut works well in this surprisingly easy recipe. No one will ever dream it began with a cake mix.

Five time-shaving summer nibbles from the deli:

• A platter of sliced salami, served with bread and nice mustard.

• Prosciutto slices and melon balls on toothpicks.

• Soft cheeses topped with fruit preserves.

• Good marinated olives.

• Tapenade with French bread rounds.

Chocolate macadamia biscotti

Biscotti are closer than you think when you’ve got a box of cake mix on hand. All you add to a devil’s food mix is butter, eggs, flour and macadamias, then mix and bake twice for that characteristic crunch of biscotti. Dip these slender cookies into a tall glass of milk and you have a snack suitable for weekend houseguests.

The preparation time is 15 minutes, the baking time is 30 to 35 minutes for first baking and 10 minutes for second baking. The resting time in oven is 30 to 40 minutes

1 181/4-ounce package plain devil’s food cake mix

8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, melted

2 large eggs

1 cup all-purpose flour

cup chopped macadamia nuts

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

Place cake mix, melted butter, eggs, flour and macadamia nuts in a large mixing bowl. Blend with an electric mixer on low speed until well blended, 3 to 4 minutes. Stop machine and scrape down sides of bowl with a rubber spatula.

The dough should come together in a ball. Transfer it to prepared baking sheet. With floured hands, shape dough to make a rectangle about 14 inches long by 4 inches wide by inch thick. Mound dough so it is slightly higher in the center.

Place baking sheet on center rack of preheated 350-degree oven.

Bake biscotti rectangle until it feels firm when lightly pressed with your finger and a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes. Remove baking sheet from oven and let biscotti cool 10 minutes. Leave oven on.

Cutting on the baking sheet, use a sharp serrated bread knife to slice the rectangle on the diagonal into 1-inch-thick slices. You should get 14 slices. Carefully turn slices onto their sides, using the slicing knife to arrange them on the same baking sheet. Return baking sheet to oven.

Bake biscotti 10 minutes. Turn oven off and let biscotti remain in oven until they are crisp, 30 to 40 minutes more. Remove baking sheet from oven, transfer biscotti to rack and allow them to cool completely, 2 hours. Store biscotti in an airtight container at room temperature for up to several weeks. Makes 14 biscotti.

TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES

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