In 1946, two 20-somethings met in a bookstore: he, an aspiring writer; she, the bookseller who sold him a copy of Best American Short Stories. “He carried a briefcase and wore a trenchcoat on a clear day, so I was immediately suspicious,” she recalled. Instead of stealing paperbacks, he invited her to lunch. But when Ray Bradbury married Maggie McClure a year later, he had only $8 in the bank. Suddenly, stealing books didn’t seem so implausible—and any future lunches would have to be done on the cheap.
Luckily, Bradbury’s tastes had always tended toward the economical. As a kid, he followed a strict (if not exactly spartan) diet of hamburgers, egg sandwiches and tomato soup. Eventually he expanded his dietary repertoire (“How many years I wasted not trying different foods, when they were so good,” he later told his family). But his love of tomato soup endured … not least because it fit his meager budget.
In their $30-a-month apartment in Venice, California, Bradbury cooked for Maggie in classic newlywed style—cracking open a can. “I did my writing at home, cleaned the house, and usually prepared dinner for us. It was usually Campbell’s soup,” he wrote. On special occasions, he would head to Clifton’s Cafeteria, a local haunt that attracted the starving-artist crowd by insisting that no one would be turned away hungry. Bradbury quickly became a fixture at the restaurant, holding regular meetings of the Science Fiction Society or just arriving alone, slurping his soup in the corner booth while drinking bottomless glasses of complimentary limeade.
Yet, even as Bradbury’s fame and bank account grew, he remained loyal to his favorite dish, ordering cans of soup by the case. “At one time, I had planned to have my ashes put into a Campbell’s tomato soup can and then have it planted on Mars,” he told Playboy in 1996, half a century after that first fateful date with Maggie. Through years of Campbell’s and cafeterias, she was the only woman he ever dated. In love, and in lunch, Bradbury’s taste never changed.
Always up for experimentation, Bradbury attempted several variations on his favorite meal. In the Los Angeles Times, his friend Jack Smith offered the writer’s recipe for “Liquid Pizza,” a gussied-up version of his beloved Campbell’s: 1 can tomato soup, 1 quart of milk, 1 pound of crackers. Heat soup, add milk, crunch crackers on top. Serve to a writer on a serious budget.
With all due respect, that sounds about as appetizing as adding a slice of thin-crust to a blender and setting it to “purée.” I’d rather my soup taste like tomatoes, not a Warhol painting. This one preserves their bright summer flavor, while still pleasing the pizza fan with parmesan, basil and bites of slightly charred bread. And it’s still a good choice for someone on a budget—or, on a cold night by a warm fire, someone in love.
(Adapted from Ina Garten)
1/2 cup olive oil, plus 2 tablespoons
2 yellow onions, chopped
3 large carrots, chopped
1 fennel bulb, trimmed, cored and medium-diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
6 cups (1 inch) diced ciabatta cubes, divided
2 (28 ounce) cans Italian plum tomatoes
4 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup dry red wine
1 cup chopped fresh basil leaves, plus more for garnish
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Parmesan cheese rind
1/2 cup grated parmesan, divided
1. Heat 1/2 cup oil in a large stockpot over medium heat. Add onions, carrots, fennel, and garlic and cook over medium-low heat 10 minutes, until tender. Add 3 cups of the ciabatta cubes and cook 5 more minutes.
2. Drain tomatoes and place in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse just until coarsely chopped. Add tomatoes to the pot along with broth, red wine, basil, 1 tablespoon salt, 1 1/2 teaspoons pepper, and the parmesan rind. Bring soup to a boil, turn heat to low and allow to simmer, partially covered, 45 minutes.
3. Preheat oven to 375°F. Place remaining 3 cups ciabatta cubes on a large sheet pan. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons oil, sprinkle with 1/4 cup Parmesan, and toss well. Bake, stirring occasionally, 20 to 25 minutes, until crisp.
4. Reheat soup, if necessary, and remove parmesan rind. Use a handheld blender or a wire whisk to break up remaining large pieces of bread or vegetables. Stir in remaining 1/4 cup parmesan and salt or pepper to taste. Serve hot, sprinkled with croutons and extra basil.