Vasso’s tsigarelli

Thirty five years ago the notion of having a home Somewhere Abroad was thought possibly bonkers and definitely risky. But my parents, homesick for sunshine and unused to suburban England, took the plunge and found a house perched high above the beaches in Corfu. It’s always great coming home. My father’s and my early Spring ritual used to be: get out the car and breathe deeply while admiring the view; walk round the garden checking what plants have died over the winter; investigate the curtain size cobwebs indoors – and then decide it all can wait and drive up the road to have lunch at O Foros in Ano Perithia, run by Tomas and Vasso Siriotis.

Rick Stein recently featured them in his Mediterranean Escapes, which is great for them, but means the rest of us who have known and loved them for years sometimes grumble a bit at peak tourist times. Vasso is the cook; her son Spiro and his girlfriend Francesca are front of house to help Tomas, who this year is into self-sufficiency and rearing their own meat and vegetables.

I love Vasso’s Tsigarelli, which is wild greens stewed with hot paprika. In spring and summer she uses swiss chard and – this is the killer ingredient which makes the dish quite different and special – plenty of fennel herb. It needs to have grown in hot sunshine to generate enough of a fiery anise kick; fluffy fennel tops grown in normal UK summer conditions won’t do, I’m afraid. I suspect you could try substituting fennel bulb and slug of something like ouzo to give similar results. Don’t use dill. Correction: do use dill if you like it but I am not much of a fan.

For approximately 6 people:

1 onion, chopped
4 spring onions (the large bosky kind) chopped
1 large garlic clove, chopped
100ml extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons tomato puree
2 teaspoons hot paprika
a generous handful of fennel herb – about 150g or so
1kg Swiss chard, chopped – or spinach

Simply stew the onions and garlic in the olive oil until soft. Stir in the paprika and tomato puree, cook it for a minute more before adding the fennel and Swiss chard. Season with salt, stir it in and cover the greens with a lid. Let everything cook for 5 minutes and then check to see if you need to add a little water. Stir it again and cook for another 5 minutes or so until the greens are properly collapsed and cooked. Serve hot or at room temperature with crusty bread.