NEW YORK — Think of Audrey Hepburn, and your mind will likely conjure up an extraordinarily elegant woman in a boat-necked black dress, huge sunglasses, gloves to the elbow, and a chic updo.
It’s doubtful you’ll picture a woman in jeans and T-shirt settling down in front of the TV with a plate of penne and — gasp! — ketchup.
But that’s the image that her son, Luca Dotti, wants you to get to know. In “Audrey at Home,” an inviting cookbook filled with intimate family photos and memories, he paints a picture of a woman who was happier at home than on a movie set or, really, anywhere else — even though the press, he says, had a hard time believing that.
“Yes, she was an international star, but she was Mrs. Dotti to me,” says Dotti, a Rome-based graphic designer who is the son of Hepburn and her second husband, Andrea Dotti. “And she loved her home life the most. I wanted to bring these two worlds together, the public perception of her, and the woman that I knew.”
The inspiration for the book came, Dotti says, from a binder he found in his mother’s kitchen, filled with recipes and little notes. “It was from the ‘50s when she had just gotten married (to her first husband) and was starting out as a wife,” Dotti says. “They were mostly elaborate and fancy recipes. But in the end, she eventually came to what worked for her and what reflected her style and her life.” Those simpler recipes, he says, form the core of the book.
And so, for example, Dotti begins with hutspot, a nod to Holland, where Hepburn — born in Belgium to a Dutch mother and British father — spent her difficult youth, nearly starving during World War II. (Her final life partner, Robert Wolders, also was Dutch.)
“The Nazis had deprived Holland of all forms of sustainability. My mother had to eat turnips and boiled grass,” Dotti says. Hutspot is a purée of carrots, potatoes and onions, in this case with beef added.
Then there’s the recipe for chocolate cake. Upon liberation, a Dutch soldier gave her seven candy bars, Dotti recounts, and she became sick after devouring them, unused to having a full stomach. But chocolate made her happy for years, and she loved making her cakes for her children. “I always thought cakes were too dry, but this one was moist,” Dotti says.
The point of the cookbook, and of Hepburn’s own cooking, was not to display chef-quality talents. “This wasn’t about excelling in cooking,” Dotti says. “My mother wasn’t really interested in that. She simply liked food as a way to get her family together.”
And Hepburn’s friends — among them the famous designer Hubert de Givenchy — knew that if they wanted to see Audrey, they had to visit her at home, Dotti says. (Hepburn, who died in 1993, lived mostly in Rome and Switzerland, where she loved the countryside; she also spent much of her later years traveling for humanitarian work.)
If Dotti had to pick only one recipe to symbolize his mother’s life, he says it would be her beloved — and simple — spaghetti al pomodoro (with tomato sauce). “It was her holy grail for happiness,” Dotti says. “It was what she thought of when she was homesick.”
One of the book’s family photos shows Hepburn, in a bright yellow ‘70s-style shift and those oversized sunglasses, spooning out huge portions of the dish for guests in her garden.
An even simpler dish — and certainly less elegant — was what Italians call pasta al forno, but Americans know as lowly mac and cheese. Dotti and his childhood friends ate it all the time at birthday parties, and the son was surprised to learn as an adult — in a museum cafeteria, no less — that the American version is better, because it’s made with cheddar.
But what of that penne with ketchup?
Dotti suspects it’s the British part of Hepburn that created a fondness for this dish, the ketchup resembling a sauce of baked beans.
His mother loved organic vegetables and treasured her own garden, yet still liked to indulge in this “junk food,” as her son calls it.
“It sounds terrible, but actually it’s pretty good!” Dotti says. “We ate it when it was just the two of us, in front of the TV.” His recipe calls for penne, extra virgin olive oil, emmentaler cheese — and some Heinz ketchup.