Cooking with the Stars: Audrey Hepburn’s Spaghetti al Pomodoro

Audrey Hepburn’s Spaghetti al Pomodoro

Audrey Hepburn

When I choose a star to write about each month for Cooking with the Stars, I usually try to have some sort of rhyme or reason behind the timing of my decision, such as a star’s birthday or a special holiday. However, I knew that this month was going to be different when my wonderful sister gifted me one of the Old Hollywood cookbooks that I’ve longed for ever since its release in 2015: Audrey at Home: Memories of My Mother’s Kitchen. Penned by Luca Dotti, it’s a loving memoir dedicated to his mother, Audrey Hepburn, that also includes a multitude of her delectable recipes. Receiving this book was more of a delight than I could put into words, and I knew that I had to make immediate use of this Holy Grail of a tome, even if Audrey’s birthday is still weeks away. While I could never be as dedicated of a fan of Audrey’s as many others are in the classic film community, I’ve adored her work ever since I became aware of vintage cinema. By this point I’ve seen the vast majority of her films, and after learning about the extent of her world travels during her childhood, her career as an actress, and beyond, I’ve always wondered about Audrey’s taste in different cuisines and her skills as a cook. Now that I had the opportunity, I knew that I couldn’t resist testing out one of her favorite dishes and honoring such a legendary star a little earlier than usual!

Audrey Hepburn as a baby in 1929, shown here with her, mother Ella Van Heemstra.

Audrey Hepburn was born under the name of Edda Kathleen Hepburn-Ruston on May 4, 1929 in Ixelles, a municipality of Brussels, Belgium. Her father, Joseph Ruston, added the surname Hepburn to his birth name due to his false belief that he was related to James Hepburn, the final husband of Mary, Queen of Scots. He was an honorary British consul in part of what is now Indonesia and worked for a variety of companies before marrying Audrey’s mother, Baroness Ella Van Heemstra, in 1926. After Audrey was born, her family spent a great deal of time traveling around Europe due to both her father’s job and her parents’ mutual cause: the British Union of Fascists, an emerging political party for which they recruited and collected donations. Audrey learned five languages as a result of their frequent journeys abroad. Meanwhile, her father became so involved in developing the Fascist party that he ended up abandoning his wife and daughter completely in 1935, which Audrey would later call “the most traumatic event of my life”. After Britain declared war on Germany in 1939, her mother relocated herself and her daughter back to her neutral hometown of Arnhem for their safety, but the move still didn’t spare Audrey from witnessing the horrors of the Second World War. In 1942, her uncle was unjustly executed by the Axis Powers as backlash towards his affluent Dutch family. Later, one of her half-brothers was sent to a German labor camp, and the actress even recalled seeing trainloads of Jewish citizens being transported to concentration camps.

Audrey Hepburn performing ballet for her role as Nora Brentano in Secret People (1952).

The situation became so dire for Audrey’s family during the German occupation that she was forced to rely on tulip bulbs as a source of food, and it was during these years that Audrey developed an array of health conditions brought on by malnutrition that would plague her for the rest of her life. In a period when all hope seemed lost for the teenager, Audrey found solace in ballet, using the skills that she developed to give performances and raise funds for the Resistance. Dancing was a passion that Audrey continued to pursue after the war ended, and in 1945 she began formal training with Sonia Gaskell, a premier teacher in Amsterdam, while her mother Ella worked as a cook and housekeeper for a wealthy family in order to make ends meet. Three years afterward, Audrey received a scholarship to attend Ballet Rambert in London while also appearing sporadically in roles as a film extra on the side, but her dreams of becoming a prima ballerina were shattered once she realized that her spindly frame and the ailments that she had lived with since the war would continue to stand in her way. Hence, Audrey made the decision to focus on acting, beginning in the theatre as a chorus girl and working her way up to minor parts in British comedies like The Lavender Hill Mob (1951). Her first significant part was as a ballerina in the drama Secret People (1952), for which Audrey performed all of her own dancing. From there, she was cast in Monte Carlo Baby (1952), a unique comedy filmed in both English and French.

Audrey Hepburn at the 26th Academy Awards with her Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role for her performance in Roman Holiday (1953).

It was on the set of this production that Audrey caught the attention of novelist Collette, who made the decision to cast her in the title role of “Gigi” on Broadway. With Hepburn in the role, the musical became a tremendous success, running for over a year across the nation. Her career skyrocketed as her charm and beauty allowed her to beat out the likes of established movie star Elizabeth Taylor for her American film debut as Princess Ann in the iconic Roman Holiday (1953). Her performance in the picture was so enchanting that costar Gregory Peck demanded that she receive billing above the title, and the newcomer miraculously won the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role. Following the success of her first feature film, she was cast in the classic Billy Wilder comedy, Sabrina (1954), earning her second Oscar nomination and beginning a beautiful, yet tragic love affair with costar William Holden, ending the relationship after learning that he was unable to have any more children. Still, the actress’ success only continued as she earned the 1954 Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play for her turn as a water nymph in Ondine, making her the second of only three women to earn an Academy Award and a Tony in the same year. On top of that, the play introduced her to actor Mel Ferrer, who became her first of three husbands on September 25, 1954, as well as her leading man in Audrey’s next picture, War and Peace (1956).

Audrey Hepburn at a UNICEF event in Madrid, c. 1964.

One could argue that nearly all of the films that Audrey Hepburn starred in over the next decade would go on to become classics, like Funny Face (1957), Love in the Afternoon (1957), and The Nun’s Story (1959), which earned Audrey her third Oscar nomination. Yet none of these have become so synonymous with the glamorous Hollywood productions that we all continue to adore than the film adaptation of Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), in which Hepburn made her mark in cinema history as the scatterbrained and stylish Holly Golightly. She dazzled audiences everywhere, beating out Capote’s choice of Marilyn Monroe for the part and earning yet another nod from the Academy. The same year, Hepburn tested the limits of her talents by trading her flirtatious demeanor and little black dress for a somber and genuine performance in The Children’s Hour (1961) with Shirley MacLaine, playing a pair of schoolteachers who are accused of being lesbians. The remainder of the sixties were particularly kind to Audrey, and she gave excellent performances in hit after hit such as Charade (1963), Paris When It Sizzles (1964), My Fair Lady (1964), How to Steal a Million (1966), and Two for the Road (1967). She earned one more Academy Award nomination for her first venture into the thriller genre, Wait Until Dark (1967), before effectively retiring in order to focus on her family. She returned to the screen for one more leading performance opposite Sean Connery in Robin and Marian (1976) but focused the majority of her later years on her humanitarian work, becoming a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in 1989. She traveled to Ethiopia, Turkey, Sudan, and beyond delivering food to starving children, and earned the Presidential Medal of Freedom as well as The Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award for her efforts to end world hunger. Audrey developed a rare form of abdominal cancer and passed away peacefully at her home in Switzerland on January 24, 1993. She is interred at Tolochenaz Cemetery in Tolochenaz, Switzerland, just a short distance away from her home.

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Audrey Hepburn’s Spaghetti al Pomodoro

  • 1 pound spaghetti
  • 3 pounds vine-ripened tomatoes, cored and coarsely diced
  • 1 onion, peeled and left whole
  • 1 stalk celery, cleaned and left whole
  • 1 carrot, cleaned and left whole
  • 6 basil leaves, chopped, plus whole leaves for garnish
  • Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Pinch of sugar
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  1. Add the tomatoes to a large saucepan with a lid along with the onion, celery, and carrot, and cook on a high heat for about 10 minutes to soften the vegetables.
  2. Remove the lid and continue to boil for another 10 to 15 minutes, stirring with a wooden spoon.
  3. Turn the heat to medium-low and add basil and a drizzle of olive oil.
  4. Allow the sauce to thicken before removing the pan from the stove, also removing the largest chunks of vegetables.
  5. If desired, transfer your sauce to a food processor or blender, or use an immersion blender to create a smoother consistency.
  6. Add another drizzle of olive oil and adjust the bitterness with a pinch of sugar. Season with salt and pepper.
  7. Cook your spaghetti until al dente, or just a minute earlier than the package requires.
  8. When cooked, add the pasta to the sauce. Toss well, and finish with a sprinkle of Parmigiano-Reggiano and a few torn leaves of fresh basil.
My version of Audrey Hepburn’s recipe for Spaghetti al Pomodoro.

The final result of this dish truly astonished me. I’m a pasta fanatic, and whenever I want to prepare some spaghetti along with a homemade sauce, my go-to recipe has always been Sophia Loren’s Spaghetti con Salsa al Pomodoro Semplice, or “Spaghetti with Basic Tomato Sauce”. As soon as I tasted Audrey’s delicious sauce, however, I made up my mind that it isn’t just one of the finest classic film star pasta recipes that I’ve tried, but one of the finest I’ve tried, period! I’ve had a good bit of experience making what I believed was the correct recipe for Audrey Hepburn’s Spaghetti al Pomodoro on weeknights, following Town & Country Magazine’s version of the dish until I knew it like the back of my hand. It wasn’t until I actually opened up my new copy of Audrey at Home: Memories of My Mother’s Kitchen that I realized that the magazine’s version contained almost all of the same ingredients but included canned tomatoes and simplified the preparation of the sauce immensely. For the average cook like me, I much prefer dicing everything up and cooking it all at once, without the hassle of coring and dicing three pounds of fresh tomatoes. They even have a delightful video that features fun facts about Audrey that I thoroughly enjoy! Still, it was nice to follow along to these authentic instructions straight from Audrey’s son himself. This is the epitome of healthy and appetizing comfort food, and what I admire most about this Spaghetti al Pomodoro is that I’m aware of every single ingredient that goes into it, and I can control the amount and the freshness of each vegetable myself. Sophia might still have my heart when it comes to pasta sauces (she does have the advantage of being Italian, after all), and I may just continue to follow the simplified style of Audrey’s sauce in the future, but if you care deeply about authenticity and enjoy putting in the necessary effort for a delicious and satisfying result, this is absolutely the way to go, and Audrey Hepburn’s Spaghetti al Pomodoro still earns a hearty five out of five Vincents from me!

Cooking with the Stars Recipe Rating – 5 out of 5 Vincents:

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–Samantha Ellis for Classic Movie Hub

Samantha resides in West Chester, Pennsylvania and is the author of Musings of a Classic Film Addict, a blog that sheds light on Hollywood films and filmmakers from the 1930s through the 1960s. Her favorite column that she pens for her blog is Cooking with the Stars, for which she tests and reviews the personal recipes of stars from Hollywood’s golden age. When she isn’t in the kitchen, Samantha also lends her voice and classic film knowledge as cohost of the Ticklish Business podcast alongside Kristen Lopez and Drea Clark, and proudly serves as President of TCM Backlot’s Philadelphia Chapter. You can catch up with her work by following her @classicfilmgeek on Twitter.

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4 Responses to Cooking with the Stars: Audrey Hepburn’s Spaghetti al Pomodoro

  1. Great photos of Audrey!!!

  2. Amos Wanderley says:

    Let me understand this.

    Three diced tomatoes provides enough moisture in a sealed pan to infuse flavors from a whole onion, whole carrot and whole celery stick when left on high heat for a full ten minutes ??

    I can’t possibly see how that would work without charring the whole business. Have you actually tried this exactly as written?

    • Hi!

      I did try it exactly as written, with larger tomatoes, and included the insides for some extra liquid. As I mention in the article, I do prefer Town & Country’s version more than the one specifically written in the book because it uses canned tomatoes, and I would recommend that more because it offers more liquid!

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