Each year on Feb. 22, I return in my mind’s eye to St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and recall, with great affection, the morning when scores of pilgrims from the Trenton Diocese celebrating the Great Jubilee of 2000 took time to pause and pray before the Chair of St. Peter.
On that morning, perhaps more than any other time on the pilgrimage, it seemed we had a direct connection to the Prince of the Apostles. As the sunlight streamed in a single ribbon, illuminating the area, the chair came slowly into focus. All but immersed in the splendid, baroque Bernini niche, pilgrims have to really study the alterpiece to bring the chair into view.
It’s been a long standing goal of mine to actually return to St. Peter’s on the Feast of the “Cathedra” or Chair of St. Peter, an observance which dates to the fourth century and honors and celebrates the primacy and authority of St. Peter.
Every year on this feast, the altar housing the Chair is illuminated by scores of candles throughout the entire day and numerous Masses are celebrated there from early morning to evening, concluding with the Mass of the Canons of St. Peter.
As someone who grew up at the shore, surrounded by fisherfolk who worked the waters for their livelihood, it’s only natural to focus on Peter as a fisherman on this day. I traditionally make a fish dinner, usually settling on tilapia, native to the Sea of Galilee where Peter fished.
Over the years, we’ve developed a real fondness for Middle Eastern foods so I’ve worked up a menu here that includes dishes with a long lineage. I can’t guarantee that Peter’s wife would have cooked them for him but research indicates she would have set something very like them before the Apostle.
Hummus bi Tahina
Ingredients – 2 cups canned chickpeas, drained; 1/2 cup tahini (sesame paste); 1/4 cup lemon juice; 2-4 cloves of crushed garlic; 1/2 spoon kosher salt; water as needed; 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil; 2 tablespoons chopped, curley parsley.
Directions – place the chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice, garlic and salt into a food processor or blender and blend until very smooth. Add water as needed for a spreadable consistency. Adjust the seasonings to taste. Mound the hummus in a serving bowl, drizzle the top with olive oil and sprinkle with parsley. Serve with grilled or toasted pita bread cut into wedges.
Ingredients – 4 or 5 plum tomatoes seeded and diced – this time of year, plum tomatoes seem to have the best taste; 1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded and cubed; 1 medium red onion, thinly sliced; 3/4 cup good black olives from a supermarket or deli salad bar; 1/2 cup feta cheese; 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil; 1/4 cup red wine vinegar or the juice of 1 large, fresh lemon; 1 or 2 crushed garlic cloves; 1 teaspoon oregano; salt and pepper to taste; chopped head of Romaine lettuce. Mix all of the ingredients together except the lettuce and let marinate for 30 minutes to an hour. Toss with the lettuce in a large salad bowl before serving.
St. Peter’s Fish
Ingredients: 1 red bell pepper, cut into thin strips; 3 sliced plum tomatoes; 6 (6 ounce) tilapia fillets; 2 tablespoons paprika; 1/2 cup chicken stock; 1/2 cup spring water; 1/4 cup chopped parsley; kosher salt, pepper and cayenne pepper to taste.
Directions: Preheat the oven to 300 degrees; layer the tomatoes and peppers in the bottom of a baking dish; arrange the tilapia fillets on top; combine the parika, chicken stock, peppers and salt, olive oil and mix well; pour the seasoning over the fish and sprinkle with parsley. Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil and bake until the fish flakes easily with a fork and the vegetables are tender (approximatley 45 minutes)