Good to Go

Cornucopia in Bethesda

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Some customers come to this specialty food market for its shelves full of hard-to- find Italian import items, and some for the olives and cheeses sold by the pound. But most don't leave without also toting a sandwich and some cookies.

The smell of roasted peppers and the sound of opera greet you in this gracious, 4 1/2 -year-old shop. Everything is "beautiful," owner Ibrahim "Ibo" Selmy says in his lilting Italian accent.

And he's right. The prosciutto di Parma and provolone cheese sandwich ($9.99) is densely filled with paper-thin ham aged more than 500 days and mellowed by the sweetness of those house-roasted red peppers. The Italian roast beef and provolone sandwich ($7.99) is equally generous with perfectly cooked, lean top round seasoned with oregano, rosemary, garlic and paprika. It is thinly shaved on a slicer imported from Italy and served with mesclun on a baguette from Bread Line. Non-meat eaters can choose either the roasted vegetable sandwich with mozzarella or provolone ($7.99) or the fresh mozzarella and tomato sandwich with pesto ($7.99).

If you are curious about the varieties of frozen pasta Selmy has flown in from Italy ($8.99 per pound), he will lovingly describe them to you, along with how best to prepare them. Pumpkin or porcini mushroom gnocchi ($8.99 per pound) were among the rotating selections when we were there. If you don't want to boil water, take home one of the several precooked pasta dishes made exclusively for Cornucopia by Superior Pasta of Philadelphia. Lasagna comes in four varieties (vegetable, three-cheese, spinach and ground beef; $12.99 for two pounds). Eggplant Parmesan (1.8 pounds, $12.99) and manicotti (four six-inch tubes, $12.99) would make hearty, soul-warming dinners on cold evenings. All are preservative-free and come with heating directions.

For dessert, it is hard to resist the heaping plates of sweets at the counter ($12.99 per pound). The pignoli cookies have a moist, macaroon-like interior and a generous coating of toasted pine nuts. The vanilla almond fingers with a similar texture are golden brown and sprinkled with toasted nuts. On one visit, the sfogliatelle ($3.99 each), still warm from the oven, were particularly enticing with their crisp outer pastries dusted with confectioners' sugar and fillings of creamy, citron-infused ricotta cheese. And if you're looking for something to pair with the authentic Italian coffee menu, try the quaresimali ($14.99 per pound), which are biscotti filled with almonds and the taste of Christmas.

-- Leigh Lambert

Cornucopia, 8102 Norfolk Ave., Bethesda, 301-652-1625. Hours: Tuesdays through Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Sundays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

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