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Stagioni Restaurant modifies Italian menu on a weekly basis

| Sunday, July 10, 2011

Seasonal ingredients influence the menu at Stagioni Restaurant in Bloomfield.

Cara DelSignore and Stephen Felder are proud of their ever-changing Italian menu, which is dependent upon what they find at local farmers markets and Penn's Corner Farm Alliance, and on what Mose Miller brings them from his Amish dairy farm near Farmerstown, Ohio.

"We change the menu three or four times a week, based on what's in season," says DelSignore, 27, who opened the casual 36-seat eatery with Felder 18 months ago. "We're doing a lot of summer vegetables and strawberries right now. We're best known for our homemade pasta that we make here."

Felder, 31, serves as the executive chef while DelSignore manages the restaurant. The couple met several years ago while working at DelSignore's family's Italian restaurant, Il Bellagio, in West Palm Beach, Fla. DelSignore had lived in Greentree until she was 8, and always wanted to return to her roots.

"We wanted to do something on our own and take more advantage of seasonal ingredients," she says. "We moved back four years ago, and we live four blocks away from the restaurant."

Il Bellagio has 350 seats, so it took a little adjusting for them to scale down to the 36 seats at Stagioni. But keeping it small was important.

"We are trying to create an intimate, comfortable experience for our customers at a fair price," DelSignore says. "We're BYOB, and people find a lot more value dining with us. I think people enjoy themselves more and are more relaxed."

Located in the former Cafe Roma space across from West Penn Hospital, the narrow restaurant is heavy on the charm, light on luxury. When they first rented the space, the ceiling was black and the walls were bright orange. Felder says it took five coats of buttercup-gold paint to cover the black ceiling. The orange walls now are a pleasing lemony yellow.

"We painted these ourselves," says Felder, a North Carolina native who has been a chef for 10 years. "Cara's cousin in Delaware made the granite tables for us. We have to do it all, but the best part is the independence of it. We don't have to go through the chain of command if we have an idea. We just talk about it, and try it out."

Felder got into the culinary field by watching cooking shows as a youngster, and by "always experimenting in the kitchen."

"I worked under some really good chefs who taught me a lot," he says. "My philosophy is to keep it really simple, and use quality ingredients."

Stagioni's menu is refreshingly small. Recent appetizers consisted of mozzarella with roasted red peppers, olives, prosciutto and a balsamic reduction; spring onion tart with prosciutto and pecorino Sardo; zucchini carpaccio with lemon and pea shoots; and ricotta fritti with basil-mint puree. A chilled carrot soup with pea shoots and creme fraiche also was offered.

The pasta -- made daily in the kitchen -- featured linguine with fresh vegetables; fettuccine with eggplant ragout and ricotta salata; and ricotta gnocchi with tomato cream and basil. Half or whole portions are offered.

Entrees included shrimp and grits with a tomato-fennel broth; crab cakes with Dijon roasted potatoes and arugula; duck breast with radicchio, sugar-loaf chicory, and duck-fat vinaigrette; seared scallops with crimini mushrooms, celery, and lemon olive oil; and pork-loin chop with rosemary-garlic marinade.

Desserts such as tiramisu and ricotta cheesecake are made on the premises.

"We get our fish from Euclid and our lamb from Jamison Farm," Felder says. "We get meats, duck and quail from Mose Miller, and our chicken is local, too. Everything is made to order."

The restaurant has become so popular, they regularly turn tables' two-and-a-half to three times every weekend night.

"Business has been good," DelSignore says. "We have a lot of regular clientele, and customers who come in on a weekly basis. We have a two-mile path of locals from Shadyside, Oakland and Friendship Park, so we still do OK in yucky weather."

DelSignore thinks they're been successful because they feel a "certain pride in their community," and they both love food. The fact that it's their restaurant makes them that much more invested in its' success, too.

"My parents inspire me. My dad opened his own bar at 20, and always told me to invest in myself," she says. "If we mess up, it's our own fault. We can't blame anyone else. We have long days, but we have fun.


Stagioni Restaurant executive chef Stephen Felder is sharing his delectable Italian vegetarian entree, Farrotto. This traditional dish incorporates the nutty faro with fresh summer vegetables, which he says easily can be substituted depending on readers' preferences, and a parmesan broth. He makes their own parmesan broth in the kitchen, but says vegetable stock can be substituted.

"Farro is an old grain, and not quite as finicky as rice," Felder says. "You can walk away from it. In the fall, we use squash in this dish. I would serve a good pinot grigio with this."

  • 2 cups farro (available at Pennsylvania Macaroni)
  • Olive oil (enough to coat farro)
  • 2 bunches green onions, finely chopped, greens and whites separated
  • Salt, to taste
  • 6-7 cups parmesan broth or vegetable stock
  • 2 zucchini, sliced
  • 1 cup snap peas, blanched and cut into thirds
  • 1 cup English peas, shelled and blanched
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/3 cup parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup goat cheese

Heat a heavy bottom pot over medium heat for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the farro and enough olive oil to coat the farro. Stir until the farro has a toasted smell, for about 3 to 4 minutes, and, then, add the whites of the green onions and season with salt.

Continue to cook over medium heat until the onions start to soften (for 2 to 3 minutes), and then, add 2 cups of broth or stock. Continue cooking over medium heat, stirring often. When most of the stock is absorbed, add another cup of stock. Continue to stir and add the stock, cup by cup, as the stock is absorbed.

After 20 minutes, taste the farro. It should be almost tender with some resilience. Add the zucchini, snap peas, English peas, and season with salt. When the vegetables are cooked (for 3 to 4 minutes), add the butter and parmesan cheese and stir to combine. Serve in a pasta bowl and crumble the goat cheese on top.

Makes 3-4 servings.

Additional Information:

Stagioni Restaurant

Cuisine: Italian

Hours: Lunch: 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays. Dinner: 5-10 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays, 5-10:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Sunday brunch: 10 a.m.-2 p.m.

Entree price range: $14-$22

Notes: Major credit cards accepted. Reservations required for the weekend, and recommended for weekdays. BYOB, with a one-time, $2 stem fee per person. Four or five-course wine dinners offered on the last Thursday of each month for $40-$50.

Address: 4770 Liberty Avenue, Bloomfield

Details: 412-687-5775

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