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Cooking for Hugo: Roasted Apricots

Roasted apricots

We recently had Hugo's one-year check-up (a few weeks short of one year - his birthday isn't until next week, which is, of course, blowing my mind in every clichéd way possible. One year? Already? Wasn't he just born?) and as we were leaving, the doctor handed me a little brochure on nutrition after the first year. I stuck it in my bag and forgot about it until a few days later, when I pulled it out and realized it was actually pretty useful - full of guidelines on things like how much water babies should be drinking each day, how much meat to aim for in a given week, how many dairy products kids should have per day and other relatively specific, yet still vague enough to not feel up against a wall, pieces of information on nourishing your child.

(I was happy to have some specifics, because our pediatrician is absolutely useless with advice - he refuses to give any, on anything, which means the internet, our mothers and my girlfriends is where I come up with new things to feed Hugo and as you can imagine, there is a lot of conflicting opinion. I used to think our doctor's insistence that we should just follow our gut and ignore all advice was sweet and refreshing, but now - after he dismissed a persistent and nasty rash on Hugo as nothing but dry skin (and in the process made me feel like a crazy person), when it actually turned out to be infected (!) eczema (!), we're switching doctors. Do not tell a mother to follow her gut and then when she does so, call her crazy, Mister Doctor Man! Ahem.)

The piece of advice in the brochure that jumped out at me the most was the exhortation to feed a child hand-sized portions of a wide variety of fruits every day. Up until a few weeks ago, the markets were still pretty bare, which meant that Hugo mostly got apples and pears (and some storebought puréed fruits) to snack on. It was hardly a wide variety. But then the first apricots from Greece and Spain and local strawberries (which Hugo gobbled happily for three days and then started throwing emphatically on the floor) started arriving. The first time I saw the apricots, I couldn't resist buying a whole sackful. I never can - apricots are my Kryptonite.

Sadly, when we got home, the apricots turned out to be mealy and flavorless. But the wonderful thing about apricots is that no matter how sad and cottony they are when raw, cooking them transforms them completely. All that tart, wonderful, apricoty taste that was pretty much nonexistent before is coaxed into being in the heat of the oven. The apricots soften and slump in their skin and the edges caramelize beautifully, giving the apricots the faintest hint of the complex bitterness of burnt sugar. When they're done, they're so soft that you can break their skins with a plastic baby spoon.

Roasted apricots for baby

It's a good trick to know, because most fresh apricots for sale just aren't that great. They're one of those fruits that really best eaten tree-ripened and freshly picked. A friend of mine always thought she just didn't like apricots, until she came to visit us in Italy and ate them fresh off the tree in our garden - you should have seen her eyes light up, apricot juice running down her chin! It was one for the ages.

Before putting the apricots in the oven to roast, I like to dust them with a small amount of cinnamon (really small - just the faintest dusting) and I sweeten them a little. A few spoonfuls of granulated sugar will do, but if you'd prefer not to give your baby sugar, you can use a couple spoonfuls of agave syrup (that's what I use). This will not turn your apricots into candy-sweet sugarbombs, but it helps tame their slightly sour bite. Then I like to add a little squeeze of lemon for the faintest citrus tang. This is optional, especially if your baby is sensitive to sour flavors. And that's it, really.

The best thing about roasted apricots is how they do double duty - you can slip a few into your baby's breakfast oatmeal or afternoon yogurt snack, or you can pile them into your own morning yogurt bowl or eat a few after dinner, when the baby's long gone to bed, savoring the wonderful taste of summer in your mouth.

Roasted Apricots
For 1 pound of fruit

1 pound fresh apricots, preferably organic
Ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons sugar or agave syrup
1/2 lemon, optional

1. Heat the oven to 350 F. Wash and halve the apricots, discarding the pits.

2. Arrange the apricot halves in a baking dish in one layer. Sprinkle one or two small pinches of cinnamon on top and then either top with sugar or agave syrup, distributing it evenly across the fruit. If using, squeeze the lemon evenly over the fruit.

3. Put the baking dish in the oven for 30 minutes, or until the apricots are starting to caramelize. Remove and let cool slightly before serving. The apricots keep in a container in the fridge for at least 3 or 4 days.