Italian Festival Preview

At the Houston Italian Festival, it takes a village to make 15,000 meatballs

At the Italian Festival, it takes a village to make 15,000 meatballs

12 Houston Italian Festival meatball making October 2013
Festival organizers lead the meatball making for the 35th annual Italian Festival. Photo by Eric Sandler
13 Houston Italian Festival meatball making October 2013
Entire families participate in the event. Photo by Eric Sandler
1 Houston Italian Festival meatball making October 2013
About 75 people participate in the meatball making, which took place early on a Sunday morning.  Photo by Eric Sandler
11 Houston Italian Festival meatball making October 2013
Once a tray has 70 meatballs, it gets loaded onto a rack for baking. Photo by Eric Sandler
9 Houston Italian Festival meatball making October 2013
That's a lot of meatballs! Photo by Eric Sandler
12 Houston Italian Festival meatball making October 2013
13 Houston Italian Festival meatball making October 2013
1 Houston Italian Festival meatball making October 2013
11 Houston Italian Festival meatball making October 2013
9 Houston Italian Festival meatball making October 2013

At 9 a.m. on a recent rainy Sunday morning, 75 people gathered at a Midtown bakery. Their mission: Turn over 920 pounds of beef into 15,000 meatballs to serve at the 35th annual Italian Festival that begins Thursday night on the campus of St. Thomas University. It was a culmination of a three-day process that includes preparing all the spices on day one and mixing it together with the meat on day two. 

Meatballs are one of the many food items available at the festival. Other options include spaghetti, eggplant parmesan, artichokes, Sicilian pizza, cannoli and more. The vast majority are made by volunteers, although some of the more complicated dishes, such as chicken marsala, are made by a local restaurant. 

It's that commitment to hand-crafted quality that has made the Italian Festival such a hit and organizers are determined to build on that success this year. The Taste of Italy pavilion will offer a variety of food-related activities. On Thursday and Friday, a tasting event called Bites of Italy features a variety of Italian products. On Saturday and Sunday cooking demonstrations, wine tastings and more will fill the plaza where the festival takes place. One highlight will be a demonstration by Rossella Rago of the Food Network show Cooking with Nona.

Of course, there are lots of other activities. Both adults and kids can stomp grapes. An adult bocce competition and an Italian movie festival are on the busy festival schedule. Other events on the main stage include musical and dance performances.

Go out, eat some food, drink some wine and support the Italian Cultural & Community Center this weekend. 

The 35th annual Italian Festival takes place October 10 - 13 at the University of St. Thomas. Hours are: Thursday, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Sunday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission is free on Thursday and until 4 p.m. on Friday, $8 for adults after that. Children 12 and under are free.