Abundant harvest

This is the time of year when home gardens are at their best - overgrown and messy as mine is, perhaps, but full of wonderful aromas and the promise of colorful, delicious dishes for now and later.

Huge zucchini leaves spread like some tropical plant over carrots and yellow beets; sprawling tomato vines cover the narrow paths; and tall feathery fennel and dill flop over the bright red Swiss chard.

But there is a lot to eat among the tangled greenery.

Tomatoes - green, yellow, and red - hang in clusters. Tarragon, thyme, and basil are still plentiful for picking and drying. An eggplant or two, giant okra , leeks, and some bright red and green peppers can be found with a little exploring.

This is really the superseason for cooks and gardeners, the best time of year for anyone who likes fresh, ripe vegetables and fruits at their peak.

One remedy for this bountiful overflow is to freeze or preserve it. Another is to start cooking all the multiple vegetable dishes you can think of - stuffing the larger vegetables with smaller ones, seasoning with rice, bits of meats, onions or shallots, and fresh herbs.

Or you could try some different cooking methods for common vegetables.

Cook a cucumber or two, especially if your family has had its fill of small, sliced raw ones. Steam, braise, or saute cucumbers for the fine, rather subtle flavor that goes well with chicken, veal, and fish dishes.

And don't hesitate to mix fruits with vegetables. Pear, apricot, or apple stuffing is a welcome change for filling acorn squash, unless you prefer just adding maple syrup or brown sugar and butter.

Another pleasant stuffing for squash, cucumbers, or tomatoes is made with thin slices of celery, red onions, a little chopped cabbage, and scallions, bound together with sour cream and lemon juice.

Try baking small turnips or rutabaga, or cut up larger ones and bake with melted butter, chives, and parsley. Add dill or other herbs to turnips and carrots.

If you have plenty of red and green peppers, cut them in thin slices and add with onions to chicken and pork or sprinkle over fish with seasonings. Bake in a casserole.

Marian Morash, a restaurant chef and cookbook writer, says the French grow a squash similar to the Hubbard squash and often combine it with garlic. She also recommends adding a bit of rutabaga to one of her own winter squash recipes, if you have some in the garden.

''If you don't want to use the rutabaga, add 1/2 pound additional squash,'' she says. ''Winter squash cooks down considerably.''

Here is the squash recipe from her book ''The Victory Garden Cookbook'' (Knopf, paperback, $15.95). Gratin of Squash with Rutabaga 2 pounds trimmed winter squash 1/2 pound trimmed rutabaga 3 to 4 cloves garlic, or more to taste 1/3 cup chopped parsley 1/4 cup finely chopped bread crumbs 4 tablespoons flour 1 teaspoon salt Freshly ground pepper, to taste 1/4 cup olive oil

Chop squash and rutabaga into 1/2-inch cubes. Chop garlic and combine with parsley and crumbs. Toss squash and rutabaga cubes with flour and salt until lightly coated, then toss in crumb mixture. Add pepper.

Brush 1 1/2-quart ovenproof dish with oil. Add squash mixture and press down lightly. Drizzle remaining oil over mixture and bake in preheated oven 2 to 2 1/ 2 hours or until top has browned and crusted over. The top will be crunchy with a soft interior that retains cube shapes. Serves 4.

Variation: The last 30 minutes, sprinkle grated Parmesan cheese or a combination of Parmesan and Swiss over the top.

For a French way with vegetables, Pierre Franey has many delicious ideas for cooking them, especially with herbs, in his new cookbook ''Pierre Franey's Low-Calorie Gourmet'' (Times Books, $14.95). Here is the way he likes to cook cucumbers. Parsleyed Cucumbers 4 large firm cucumbers 1 tablespoon butter 4 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves 1 teaspoon salt Freshly ground black pepper (6 turns of the pepper mill) Juice of 1/2 lemon

Trim off cucumber ends and cut cucumbers into 2-inch lengths. Quarter each section lengthwise. With paring knife, carefully cut away green skin and remove seeds.

Bring 1 1/2 cups water to boil and add cucumbers. Cook 1 minute. Drain.

Return cucumbers to saucepan. Add butter, parsley, salt, pepper, and lemon juice. Toss until butter melts. Serves 8.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.