Monday, March 14, 2011
Romeu e Julieta in its most basic form is one of the most traditional desserts and the simplest to prepare in the Brazilian culinary repertoire. It consists of a fairly thick slice of fresh white cheese (in Brazil, mostly often queijo minas from the state of Minas Gerais) and an equally thick slice of a fruit paste made from guava (goiaba) called goiabada. Gioabada is merely pulped fresh guava, water and sugar cooked down to a consistency halfway between a fruit butter, like apple butter, and fruit leather. It has a uniform but slightly gritty texture, due to the texture of the guava fruit itself and is quite sweet.
The dish plays off the sweetness of the fruit combined with the saltiness of the cheese. Most Brazilians will cut a small piece of cheese and a small piece of goiabada then combine them on the fork in a single bite.
Goiabada dates back to the early days of Portuguese colonization of Brazil as a way to preserve fresh fruit, and under refrigeration it has a very long shelf life. Cheese, of course, also keeps well. That's why when Brazilian cooks don't have the time or inclination to prepare a fancy or elaborate dessert they often fall back on Romeu e Julieta - the ingredients are likely to be in the fridge already, and all it takes to prepare the dessert is to slice the cheese and the goiabada then plate them. Its ease of preparation isn't Romeu e Julieta's only virtue though - it's delicious and satisfies that craving for something sweet to finish a meal without being heavy or too rich.
Goiabada can be found in Latin American markets in North America, and its name in Spanish is the same as it is in Portuguese. I've most often seen it under the Goya brand. Other fresh cheeses from Latin America or even Italian ricotta salata can be substituted for Brazilian queijo minas. If you come across goiabada when haunting ethnic markets, pick some up and pop it in the refrigerator. It may be a lifesaver sometime when you find yourself needing a quick dessert.