On Eating and Loving Food

Nana Bucci’s Spinach Pie Factory

Down a dark alley in Damariscotta
Posted:  Wednesday, January 17, 2018 - 7:00am
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There are some serious spinach pies being made in a little hole-in-the-wall down a back alley in Damariscotta.

It almost sounds illegal, and the fist-sized pies are so ridiculously delicious, they should be.

Bernie DeLisle is making them at his new restaurant, Osteria Bucci. The recipe came from his grandmother, Antoinetta Bucci, who grew up in a little town in Italy.

Before he opened the restaurant he thought about selling just the pies, and calling his joint Nana Bucci’s Spinach Pie Factory.

Bernie’s pies are a type of Mediterranean spinach pies, individually made, encased in their own Italian bread shell, small enough to hold in your hand while you walk down the street, or sit down with a glass of wine in your other hand (my preference), but substantial enough to keep you happy for at least a couple hours.

He uses a basic bread dough. “Do not use fancy bread dough,” he said. “It needs to be very basic in order to absorb the olive oil. If you use some fancy dough it won’t absorb it.”

Bernie’s not into fancy.

He said the real key to their outrageous deliciousness is a lot of good extra virgin olive oil. “There’s olive oil in the pan, I brush the pies with olive oil before putting them in the oven, and after they come out of the oven I brush them with olive oil again.”

I love olive oil. I go through a ton of it every year. Okay, not a ton, but a lot. I use it every night for dinner. I roast and stir-fry a lot of veggies, and they’re always slathered with olive oil. I use it on meats, poultry and fish too. I know. Ho hum. Who doesn’t. But seriously. It’s the most popular item in my pantry, next to the Jack Daniels. And the maraschino cherries. With stems. And the pink salt.

I don’t really have a pantry, per se, but I have a nifty floor-to-ceiling cabinet that I like to call “the pantry.” Speaking of kitchen floors, have I mentioned my newly painted glossy forest moss-green floor?

Anyway. Spinach pie.

Bernie makes three different ones: One with just spinach, one with Gorgonzola, and one with Italian sausage. He calls then humble Italian soul food :-). He’s being humble.

They’re not all the exact same size or shape that some chefs strive for. They’ll probably never be featured in a glossy magazine, and that’s fine with Bernie.

He’s far more interested in the taste. He doesn’t weigh or measure. When his grandmother made them they were all shapes and sizes. “There were little ones, there were big ones – you grabbed whatever was closest.”

Other than the olive oil there are only five ingredients in his basic spinach pie: dough, spinach, salt, garlic and black olives! Bernie breaks them up and throws them in with the spinach, just like Nana Bucci did.

Simple. It’s simple food. It’s sustenance. But it’s mouthwateringly luscious sustenance. You can eat them hot, you can eat them cold, you can eat them at room temperature. Sort of like the Three Bears and what’s-her-name. You know – the beds – soft, hard, and just right. Never mind. ADD.

But Bernie’s kind of a stickler for eating most of his food while it’s fresh and hot.

He’ll place it in front of you and politely, but firmly, suggest you start eating, “Okay eat,” he’ll say, in his quiet unassuming manner. But he’s not whistling Dixie. He means it. He can get away with it. He’s his own boss.

Next time I visit Bernie’s joint, I’ll need to remind myself to not ask for salt. Not that he has anything against it. But he cooks his food to be perfect when it is placed before you. If you’re a salt freak, like I, just wait until he’s out of sight before you start shaking it on. He told me his father was like me. He salted everything. “You could give him a bowl of salt and he’d salt it.”

Bernie told me how he makes his spinach pies, but I’m not going to give you the exact recipe. If I did you’d have no reason to go to Osteria Bucci, but for the $1 cup of (good) coffee, the cracked pepper and fennel biscuits, the soups that make people sigh after the first spoonful, all the other delectable savory Italian dishes he serves up, and the ever changing array of absolutely ridiculous pastries.

And you’d miss the virtual feeling of being in a small, intimate Italian osteria.

Plus you can take your own wine. Hello.

Anyway. I didn’t have the time to make bread, so I bought a roll of Pillsbury French bread (there was no Italian). I coated a baking pan with olive oil. I cut and pressed/pulled the dough into rectangles. I sauteed some crushed garlic in olive oil over medium heat, and threw a bagful of baby spinach in and stirred it for, like, a minute, till it was wilted. 

I pressed out most of the liquid (I couldn’t bring myself to dump it, so put it in some chicken broth for soup).

Then I threw a spoonful of the spinach and some crumbled Gorgonzola on the dough triangles, folded them over and pressed the edges closed (duh), brushed with olive oil and baked them for 20 minutes at 375.

They were delicious, but they weren’t Bernie’s. Plus it’s a lot more fun at Bernie’s joint, with friends and wine, than in my kitchen - forest moss-green floor or not.

Oh! Goldilocks! Never mind.

See ya next week!