Before I ever spoke with Marcia Friedman, I read her cookbook, Meatballs and Matzah Balls: Recipes and Reflections from a Jewish and Italian Life, and felt like I knew her already.

In the book, Friedman, who lives in Ashburn, VA, shares reflections on her childhood, family and exploration of the Jewish and Italian cultures that made her the person and cook she is today. Her friendly personality and voice are evident in her stories.

Meatballs and Matzah Balls Book CoverI love reading the headers that accompany each tempting recipe, but even readers who don’t necessarily want to cook, but just enjoy good writing and want to learn about food, will enjoy them.

Before she began her journey as a cookbook author, Friedman was a writer, photographer and home cook. Raised Italian with a half-Sicilian father, Friedman was, of course, no stranger to the kitchen and the role of food in culture. In fact, that’s the launching point for Meatballs and Matzah Balls, Friedman’s endeavor to explore the union of Jewish and Italian life through food.

“This recipe collection is a labor of love that began soon after I converted to Judaism. Seeking a greater connection to my new Jewish culture, I turned to learning about Jewish foods. But my Italian side also seemed to be calling out to be better explored,” Friedman shared.

Her real introduction to Jewish food happened when one of her mother’s Jewish friends gave her a challah recipe, which became a staple in Friedman’s home. After her conversion, she began to explore, recreate and reinterpret the classic recipes of Jewish and Italian cooking. Building a culinary foundation on her roots, Friedman combines recipes from both cuisines, creating a fusion cuisine that bridges the two.

“So many of us are blending cultures and traditions in our own lives—such as different ethnic, religious or regional backgrounds—and I’ve found there’s great joy in celebrating food traditions side by side or blending them to create dishes that uniquely represent you and your family. Perhaps one of my favorite original recipes is the meatball matzah balls, where Italian meatballs are enclosed in matzah balls. Not only does the taste surprise and delight me, but I love what the recipe represents.”

Meatballs and Matzah Balls features more than 100 recipes in different categories including soups and stews, breads, pasta and grains and, of course, desserts, many of which are accompanied by Friedman’s own vibrant photos. Each recipe also is accompanied by a meat/dairy/pareve indication and any other notes or tips. It’s a great way to learn about Italian cooking, too.

Friedman’s exploration of the intersection of Jewish and Italian life continues on her website as well.