Audrey Hepburn’s Recipe for Pasta Pomodoro

No, I am not related to Audrey Hepburn.

So why am I writing about a cookbook of celebrity recipes?

Well, Ancestors in Aprons is based on the fact that frequently when I think of ancestors, I think of them because of food–how they cooked it, what they ate, how they served it.  And from time to time I share with you a book that is a family memoir that emphasizes food. And I just read a food memoir that challenged me to apply some of the detective skills I’ve been using to find my ancestors stories. AND, I love pasta pomodoro

Audrey Hepburn’s son wrote such a book, Audrey at Home: Memories of My Mother’s Kitchen by Dotti, Luca (2015) by Luca Dotti with Luigi Spinola.  Why should I discriminate against Mr. Dotti just because his memoir is about one of our most beloved film stars?  It was, for him, about a Mum and a family and the food they ate.

This is a beautifully produced book, full of stories of the home life of a woman we think we know by a man who remembers her private side. Clearly Dotti adored his mother, and so we confront the problem we have in untangling our own family history–how much credence to you give to family memories? But the stories, after all, are what bring history to life, and he has some really interesting stories, seasoned with a little, but not too much name dropping about the famous friends like Yul Brynner and Julie Andrews and GIvenchy and former husband Mel Ferrar.

Food had a terrific influence on this actress’ life–something you might not suspect of such a tiny, waif of a figure.  But she nearly starved to death in her childhood, during World War II.  The deprivations intensified her appreciation of food–particularly chocolate. It also must have made her appreciate simpler dishes.  In there with all the wonderful dishes made for entertaining, you’ll find pasta with catsup, and a down-home macaroni and cheese. Personally, I wanted to try her pasta pomodoro.

A wealth of photographs illustrate the book, including some publicity shots, but mostly the kind of shots you have in your family album (minus the celebrities).  And there are plentiful samplings of Audrey Hepburn’s favorite recipes. Unfortunately, there is no recipe index, so if is a bit hard to use this as a cookbook.

The only thing I have to criticize about the book is a departure from Hepburn’s original recipes. How would I know? Sometimes they present a photograph of a recipe in Hepburn’s distinctive and difficult to read handwriting–made more challenging by the fact that she was multilingual and mixed  English, French and Italian in some of her notes. Then they present a clarified, type-set, probably kitchen-tested presentation of a recipe that bears little resemblance to the hand written note.

For instance, it seems a small thing, but in a dish that the book names Apple Crumble, the instructions call for cooking the apples before putting them in a dish and covering with the crumb topping.  Audrey put the uncooked apples in the dish.  The book mixes brown sugar with the apples and uses cane sugar for the crumble top, the reverse of what the hand-written recipe called for.  These seem like small things, but cook’s reputations are made on such small variations in common recipes.

Audrey Hepburn was born in Holland, studied in England, became famous in America, married an Italian and lived for a time in Italy, but her heart belonged to Switzerland, where she had a home in Gstaad in the Alps.  Influenced by her time in Italy, she loved pasta, particularly Spaghetti al Pomodoro. A decided improvement, in my opinion on pasta with catsup. The Swiss influence creeps in her her ample use of Gruyere and Emmenthaler cheeses.

A “shopping list” pictured in this chapter could very well be shorthand for a recipe instead, except I’m pretty sure that pros. stands for prosecco, which you would not pour into the pasta. Although, as you can put vodka in spaghetti sauce, you certainly could add some prosecco to the sauce. As in doing family history research, I start with the historic evidence–her list.

  • pasta
  • olivia veri (virgin olive oil)
  • pros.
  • gruyera
  • basilico (basil)

And a second column, separated from the first column by a vertical line and headed by an underlined bollito [an Italian stew]

  • pomodoro [tomato]
  • cedamo [celery]
  • bailico [basil]
  • campanello [Actually should be campanelle. Bell, or a bell shaped pasta]

Then I do a little research to see how people lived/or in this case cooked the recipe.

For this simple dish you cook pasta, mix with olive oil, then you make a sauce with tomatoes and celery and basil. A pinch of sugar, sprinkle of salt and pepper would be assumed. Onion and carrot could be added, as the book’s text does. And of course, the sauce might well be called bollito, by someone who used the language as loosely as Hepburn did. The printed recipe calls for garnishing with basil, which confirms why basil appears twice on the list above–I believe it is meant once as an ingredient of the sauce (which she calls bollito) and once for garnish of the pasta pomodoro.

And who says the pasta has to be spaghetti? Perhaps she preferred the pretty campanelle. Serve the pasta with a sprinkle of basil and with grated cheese on top. Parmigiano-Reggiano is usual, but in Switzerland, she might have substituted Gruyere.

Now do you see why I question whether that is a shopping list or a recipe?  No, I can’t explain the pros. But a) I’m not an Italian speaker, and b) a little prosecco for the cook couldn’t hurt.

The technique given in the book for making this pasta pomodoro sauce is a bit different that I am used to.  Rather than skinning the tomatoes before cooking, the sauce is put through a food mill after cooking to remove skins and seeds.

The stalk of celery (and a carrot and onion) are peeled, but left whole to cook in the sauce.

So if you’re a fan of Audrey Hepburn, you’ll enjoy this book with its wealth of pictures. If you are a cook, or interested in how people think about food, you’ll enjoy her recipes and her son’s memories of growing up around an Audrey Hepburn in an apron.

Audrey at Home by Luca Dotti was released in June 2015 and is available in hardback or on Kindle. The publisher provided the book to me for review.  My opinions–rather obviously–are my own.  I link the book title to Amazon because I am an Amazon affiliate. That means that if you buy something through my links, I make a few cents to help support Ancestors in Aprons. Thank you.

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2 thoughts on “Audrey Hepburn’s Recipe for Pasta Pomodoro

  1. Kerry Dexter

    I enjoyed your thoughtful review of this book, and the way you connected your thoughts on it to the process of thinking about family history. I’d never really considered Audrey Hepburn as a cook — I’ll have to check this book out, for the stories as well as the food ideas. Thanks, Vera!

  2. Pingback: Summer Read: Audrey Hepburn Cooks

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