Tsigari

Our poor dead oak tree

Such a sad arrival at our house on Corfu. Our beloved oak tree in the courtyard was stone dead – black and leafless and gaunt against the blue sky and the vine-covered klimateria. It was a tree of great significance to us for almost 30 years, providing shade and beauty. Its great lateral bough was perfect for a swing when our children were tiny. Owls used it as an observation post when hunting at dusk. A friend with a chainsaw came and took it down over the weekend. Now there is nothing but sky overhead when we step out of our front door.

 

Driving up into the mountains to Ano Peritheia, we pulled over to watch the wildfire surge along the other side of the valley. We could hear the crackle as it reached a wild olive tree, hear the shouts of the firefighters. In the end, the fire burned all week. Planes and helicopters dropped hundreds of tons of seawater onto it but it kept springing up somewhere else, scorching down to the coast road and burning the roof of the high school outside Imerolia and the astroturf soccer pitch. It was the talk of dinner up at Foros, our favourite restaurant in Ano Peritheia’s ancient piazza – until the tsigari arrived. It’s one of the starters that Vasso, the chef, always has on the menu, a way of stewing greens in oil. Sometimes the greens are wild dandelions or Swiss chard, sometimes spinach – whatever is around. It’s rich and peppery with a hint of vegetal bitterness and goes beautifully with her other star dishes – onion pie, feta baked in the oven with garlic and tomato, fritters of grated zucchini, hugr firm gigantes beans in a loose tomato sauce…

 

A dish of nutritious tsigari at Foros restaurant

Here’s how Vasso makes her tsigari. Like so many of the world’s great recipes this one begins by sautéeing a chopped onion in a lot of olive oil. When it’s golden, she adds some chopped fresh dill and cooks it until it wilts. Next comes a spoonful of tomato paste, stirred until it almost starts to burn. Then the greens go in, together with a spoonful of paprika (this is Corfu and paprika is used all the time – a relic of the Venetian spice trade) and some salt. No water! (Vasso is firm about that). Cover the pot and let it all simmer down on a low heat. The whole process has taken about 20 minutes. Turn up the heat just before you serve it. Plenty of warm crusty bread will be required to mop up the delectable oil from your plate.

 

  1. Just had Vasso’s tzigari and onion pie. So Greek and so tasty. It makes the drive up to perithia worth every bend in the mountain road.

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