All Hail Cesare

The Piedmontese polenta dish we're obsessing over

Cesare Giaccone is the greatest Italian chef you've probably never heard of.

Thomas Keller called him "an extraordinary man." Jeffrey Steingarten can't shake the memory of his spit-roasted goat. Dedicated regulars and hardy gastro-tourists brave treacherous roads to reach Da Cesare, his tiny rustic restaurant in the remote hills of Piedmont.

We've never been, but that hasn't stopped us from obsessing over one of Cesare's legendary creations: chestnut polenta spooned over a raw egg yolk nestled in a snow drift of grated Parmesan (see the recipe).

The building blocks of Cesare's Egg

We first heard about the dish from Gaia Gaja, heir to her family's great Barbaresco- and Barolo-producing estate. She recalled in vivid detail stirring the runny egg yolk into the hot polenta, pronouncing the whole gooey mess covered in shavings of the region's famous white truffles "pure elegance."

Nancy Oakes of San Francisco's Boulevard tried the polenta years ago and sang its praises to Cathy Whims, chef-owner of Nostrana in Portland, who in turn also told us about it. Whims dubbed the dish "Cesare's Egg" and, in a game of culinary telephone, put her own interpretation of it on her menu.

If whole truffles aren't in your budget, try a few sautéed black trumpet mushrooms. Or Whims suggests a finishing sprinkle of truffle salt. We suggest having a second bowl of the stuff at the ready.

One taste of the golden, deeply memorable union of chestnuts, polenta, egg and cheese and it's clear why this is a dish people are still talking about.