I mentioned carletti the other day: Their charm, their rareness, their brief life on earth, at least in their edible form.
I wondered for years what they really were, but just went on eating them anyway. If I were feeling very energetic, I would say to myself, “Sometime I must find out what these are.” My life being already sufficiently supplied with “I must”s, carletti came and went every year in tranquil anonymity.
Two nights ago, though, all was revealed. With the right question to Lino (which is often the key to new realms of knowledge), plus the right book — who knew it was sitting right there? — I can now tell you with complete confidence who are the carletti.
They are Silene vulgaris. In Italy they go by various aliases, such as stridoli, strigoli, bubbolino, or sciopetin (s-cho-pet-TEEN), for the little popping sound they make if you pinch the flower, it says here.
In English they are commonly known as bladder campion. As good a name as any, true, but hardly as charming as carletti. Everyone seems to agree that by any name their new leaves are delectable.
Here follows a moment of unsolicited candor: I love them because they are so fleeting, so wild, and so rare. But I have yet to identify an attribute I could call “flavor.” The books all say that their taste is delicate, and I can confirm that. In fact, I’d say would say “so delicate that you might as well imagine it.”
Delicate is not as helpful a description as one might wish. In my view, a delicate perfume means “disappears in two minutes, so why did I bother.” A delicate fabric means “I can wear it twice a year if I don’t mind spending the rest of the time giving it more care than you give the average premature polar bear.” Delicate health, in my opinion, often means “Great excuse to get out of doing anything strenuous or unpleasant while pretending to be distressed by this.”
Back to delicate flavors. I know they exist and I know they can be memorable. At least I think I know that. They’re so delicate sometimes I have trouble remembering. Ask me right now what carletti taste like and there will be long, long moments of radio silence. Interrupted by the muffled sound of eating.