In season: eggplant

The eggplant may be summer’s most versatile vegetable. Eggplant can be baked, broiled, scalloped or grilled. Large eggplants and small can be stuffed, and eggplant is terrific in stir fries. Swain Hunt’s customers buy them happily and tell him just what they’re going to do with them.

“They bake them, boil them and fry them. They grill them. They slice them thin and batter them, and some do what my wife does, saute them in olive oil with onion,” Hunt said. “And that’s not to mention eggplant Parmesan.”

Swain and Mildred Hunt of Hunt’s Family Garden plant a little less than an acre in their Fayetteville garden and take their produce to the Our Community Farmers markets on Saturday mornings in Peachtree City and Wednesday mornings in Newnan.

The Hunts are growing three varieties of eggplant this year — ‘Black Beauty,’ a standard pear-shaped eggplant with deep purple glossy skin; ‘Ichiban,’ a long, narrow, purple Japanese variety; and a round purple-and-white Indian variety.

“There are so many colors and shapes of eggplant available now. They look good in the garden, and they look good on the table at the market,” Swain Hunt said. “In January and February when the seed catalogs arrive with their glossy pictures, you go shopping and these varieties really stood out to us this year.”

This year he started his eggplant in his sunroom in early February and March. By early April, the transplants were big enough to set out, and he’s had eggplant for sale since the last part of June. He expects the harvest will go on for quite some time.

“The smaller eggplants in particular are prolific. The Ichiban comes on in long purple clusters of four or five fruits and they’re all over the place,” Hunt said. “And as quick as I can harvest the little round ones, a week later, they’re producing again. They should keep doing that right up until the weather turns cool.”

Our cool, wet summer hasn’t affected the harvest. Hunt’s 24 plants are in his sunniest location in sandy soil that drains well. He’s learned that the plants do best when they’re staked. “The stalk is thin and the fruit is heavy. The fruit can pull the plant right over,” he said. “I support my eggplants the same way I do my bell peppers and tomatoes.”

Eggplant is a vegetable that really should be eaten not long after harvest. To keep best, they need to be kept cool and dry, but not necessarily in the refrigerator since the optimum temperature for storage is about 50 degrees.

If you won’t be using them the day you bring them home, store them at room temperature for the day or two before you use them. They can be refrigerated, but after a few days the eggplants will start to pit and the seeds and pulp will begin to turn brown. Soon decay sets in and the eggplant gets thrown away. A sad end for a beautiful vegetable your farmer worked hard to grow.

At local farmers markets

Cooking demos:

4-8 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 15. Chef Seth Freedman of Forage and Flame offers demos throughout the market. East Atlanta Village Farmers Market, Atlanta.

9 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 17. Chef Doug Turbush of Seed, working with eggplant. Morningside Farmers Market, Atlanta.

10 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 17. Chef Aaron Russell of Restaurant Eugene. Peachtree Road Farmers Market, Atlanta.

11 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 17. Chef Robert Elliot of Sprig. Green Market at Piedmont Park.

For sale

Vegetables, fruit and nuts: acorn squash, arugula, Asian greens, Asian pears, beets, blackberries, blueberries, carrots, celery, chard, collards, corn, cucumbers, dandelion, eggplant, fennel, field peas, figs, garlic, green beans, herbs, kale, leeks, lettuce, Malabar spinach, melons, muscadines, mushrooms, Okinawa spinach, okra, onions, pecans, pea tendrils, peaches, pears, peppers, potatoes, radishes, sorrel, spaghetti squash, spinach, spring onions, squash blossoms, summer squash, sweet potato greens, tomatoes, turnips, winter squash

From local reports

Deconstructed Eggplant Parmesan

Hands on: 15 minutes

Total time: 35 minutes

Serves: 4

If using mozzarella bocconcini, cut them in half. Any size eggplant will work with this dish, although the globe eggplant is the most traditional.

1 cup panko

1/4 cup grated Parmesan

Salt and pepper

2 egg whites

1 medium globe eggplant, stem trimmed (about 1 1/2 pounds)

8 ounces mozzarella bocconcini or ciliegine

2 large ripe tomatoes, cut into small chunks

1/4 cup chopped sweet onion

1 clove garlic, minced

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

5 leaves fresh basil, cut into fine strips

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly oil a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.

In a pie plate, combine panko and Parmesan. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

In another pie plate, beat egg whites. Set aside.

With vegetable peeler, peel eggplant skin in alternating strips, then cut eggplant into 1/2-inch thick slices. Dip each slice into egg whites, then into crumb mixture, patting to secure coating. Arrange slices in prepared baking dish in a single layer. Do not crowd baking dish. You may need a second baking dish.

Bake eggplant until tender and browned, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven and let rest. Eggplant will continue to soften.

While eggplant is baking, make tomato salad by combining mozzarella, tomatoes, onions, garlic and olive oil. Season to taste. Add basil and toss.

When eggplant is ready, arrange on platter or serving plates and put tomato salad on the side. Serve immediately.

Per serving: 380 calories (percent of calories from fat, 54), 20 grams protein, 25 grams carbohydrates, 5 grams fiber, 23 grams fat (11 grams saturated), 55 milligrams cholesterol, 408 milligrams sodium.

Adapted from a recipe in “Fresh Food Nation” by Martha Holmberg (The Taunton Press, $22.95).