Read an Excerpt
This book is dedicated to my aunt Raffy, who always inspires me to be adventurous in cooking and in life!
Questo libro è dedicato a mia zia Raffy, che ispira sempre che io sia avventurosa in cucina e nella vita!
All Alfie could see was the goal. With each step he guided the ball toward the net, where a frightened-looking Jackson stood guard.
Quick as a cheetah, Alfie dodged the other players. From the corner of his eye he saw people shouting and waving their hands, but he tuned it all out and kept his focus steady. He aimed. He kicked. The ball sailed past Jackson, who reacted so slowly that he didn’t even raise his hands to block the ball until it was already bouncing in the corner of the net. Victory was Alfie’s.
“Yes! In your face, Jackson!”
Alfie ran screaming across the soccer field while the other team—which was really part of his own team, since this was a practice game—looked away, probably ashamed of their own performance.
“Bertolizzi!” Coach Schrader called from the sidelines. “Get over here!”
Alfie ran toward Coach feeling as if he’d found his place in life. This was the first year he’d played a sport in the after-school program, and it was turning out to be the best decision of his ten-year-old life. In fact, Coach was probably about to make him team captain!
However, Coach Schrader’s face looked a little red, like he’d been the one racing across the field toward total domination.
“What was that?” Coach asked, gesturing toward the field.
“A goal, sir. A point for my team.”
“Well, the jerseys.” He tugged on the yellow jersey his side wore for the practice game.
“Alfredo,” said Coach. He rarely called the kids by their first names, and he had never called Alfie by his proper name. “You had shirts all over you. Didn’t you see?”
“Yes, sir,” he said, because of course he’d seen. He’d seen and he’d conquered!
“If you saw, then why didn’t you pass?”
“The ball, Bertolizzi. Why didn’t you pass the ball? You had two teammates in the clear.”
“Coach . . . ,” Alfie said. Clearly the guy was confused. “I got the goal. My team won. Isn’t that the whole point?”
“Is that what you think?” his coach asked.
Alfie was positive this was a trick question. Of course he knew that winning was the point—they weren’t out here to just kick the ball back and forth—but he got the feeling he couldn’t say that out loud. So he said, “No, sir,” even though he really wanted to say, “Well, yeah. Duh!”
Alfie was 100 percent positive you couldn’t say duh to your coach.
“We have our first game on Saturday,” Coach said, as if Alfie needed reminding. He couldn’t wait! “I need players on the field who are a part of a team. Not some one-man show.”
“I’m ready to play, Coach.”
“I know you can play, but can you play on a team?” he said. “‘In your face’? Really?”
Alfie suddenly became very aware of his surroundings. The other players were standing on the field not too far from them. Coach wasn’t yelling at Alfie, but Alfie was sure those kids could hear every word. Even worse, some kids—including a few girls from his class—were sitting in the bleachers doing homework and watching practice.
“There’s nothing worse than an obnoxious winner,” Coach said. “Until you can be a respectful team player, I’m going to have to bench you for Saturday’s game.”
“I’m sorry, Alfie. I’ve made my decision.”
“How am I supposed to learn to be a team player when I’m sitting on the bench?” Alfie asked desperately. It didn’t even make sense!
“Hopefully you’ll figure that out,” Coach said. “I expect you to be here suited up at every practice, on time with the rest of your team.”
“Suit up to do nothing? No thanks,” he said.
“I’ll tell you this once,” Coach Schrader said, lowering his voice. “If you’re not at the game on Saturday, supporting your team, then you’re off the team. Is that clear?”
“Yes, sir,” Alfie muttered.
The last thing he wanted was to get kicked off the team. But sitting on the bench the whole game? That was just about the worst thing that could happen.
“Should I order pizza from Presto Pesto for dinner?” Zia Donatella asked that night.
“Zia!” said Emilia, Alfie’s sister. She was older than him by one year, but sometimes she acted like a thirty-year-old. “You hate Presto Pesto.”
“I don’t hate anything, and neither should you,” Zia said. Her long salt-and-pepper hair was pulled back in a braid, and the faded, fitted jeans she wore looked straight out of a Western movie. A spaghetti Western, thought Alfie.
“Well, I don’t want it,” Emilia said. “I’d rather you make a pizza from scratch.”
“Oh, really!” Zia laughed, touching her stone necklace as she did. Zia had all sorts of trinkets from her travels around the world. Those stones just might be from ancient Egypt. “You think I can just whip up a homemade pizza like that?”
“Leave her alone, Emilia,” Alfie said. “We can order in if you want, Zia.”
Alfie only said this because Emilia was getting on his nerves. Everyone was getting on his nerves, except for Zia. As soon as he’d gotten home from school, his mom demanded he clean up the study, where he was sleeping while Zia stayed in his room. Then when his dad got home, he told Alfie he needed to take out the trash. Everyone was on his case today.
“Oh, kids, I’m teasing,” Zia said. “No pizza tonight. I’m cooking you something new.”
“When you say new,” Alfie said, “what exactly do you mean?”
The first time Zia had cooked for them, something utterly impossible had happened. As she made them an Italian treat called zeppole, she told Alfie and Emilia about growing up in Naples, Italy, and how she would always buy a warm, freshly made zeppole any time she had a little pocket money. When Alfie and Emilia bit into the fluffy fried treat, they were transported—literally!—to Naples. They spent an entire day there with a boy named Marco, whose family made the best pizza in all of Naples. They even won the top prize at the city’s annual pizza festival.
So now that Zia had that look in her eyes and said she was going to cook “something new,” Alfie and Emilia became suspicious.
“Let me go pack a bag,” Alfie said. Maybe if they went to Naples again—and he hoped they would—he could be better prepared.
“No. State qui ed aiutami!” Zia said. “Stay and help. The food is always better when you cook together.”
Mom ruffled Alfie’s hair as she walked by him, and he pulled away. “Wow! Someone’s grumpy.”
“I’m not grumpy,” Alfie said, even though he totally was. How could he not be after the way he was treated today?
Mom washed her hands. As she dried them on a towel, she went to the refrigerator. Meanwhile, Zia drizzled olive oil in a pan and turned on the burner.
“Bad day at school?” Mom asked.
“Is there ever a good day at school?” Alfie said.
“Watch the attitude,” Mom said, her arms loaded with fresh vegetables.
The last thing Alfie needed was to get in trouble, so instead of being mad, he decided to tell everyone what was wrong.
“School was okay,” Alfie said. “Soccer practice was a beating.”
“I thought you said you were going to be the big star on the team, captain and everything,” Emilia said with a smirk.
“I am, and I will be,” he said defiantly. “It’s just that Coach wants to give some of the other players a chance to play, so he’s thinking of sitting me out for Saturday’s game.”