TIMBALE: Cucumber gelee shimmers atop yogurt-honey panna cotta with "noodles" and sorbet. (Eric Boyd, Los Angeles Times / May 24, 2007)

Who doesn't love a cucumber?

Picklers, slicers, green or yellow, smooth or bumpy, thin- or thick-skinned, chubby Kirbys, little cornichons, English, Japanese, Persian. Good thing then that with the impending heat comes cucumber season.

They peak with the tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and those other cucurbits, squashes and melons, but among all these, cucumbers are the most like Johnny Depp -- very, very cool. With their refreshing herbaceous flavor and their snappy crunch, cucumbers are exactly what we want to eat right now -- still (they've been cultivated for more than 3,000 years).

And they lend themselves to the way we want to cook right now too -- with a sort of easy abandon, pureed in soups, chopped into salsas, sliced into salads. A favorite two-sentence recipe for cucumber, mango and red onion salad from Alice Waters' "Chez Panisse Vegetables" goes like this: "Peel and thinly slice cucumbers, mango and sweet red onion -- about the same of each, but exact proportions do not matter at all. Season to taste with freshly squeezed lime juice and salt, and garnish generously with cilantro leaves."

Chopped into yogurt, you have raita for spicy Indian dishes. Or sliced, with a little white vinegar, sugar, salt and green onions, they're more Hapsburg Empire, served with cold poached salmon or chicken.

Cucumbers' flavor is often described as mild, yet it's distinct enough to hold its own, slightly sweet and slightly bitter. It's great featured in chilled soups such green gazpacho or Russian okroshka. Cool, creamy yogurt (or creme fraiche!) -- as with the raita -- is a no-brainer for cucumbers. (Dress sliced cucumbers with yogurt, stir in some dill, cilantro, basil, chervil or chives, and serve with cured salmon.) And for a chilled soup, cucumbers and yogurt couldn't be better matched, spiked with a little garlic and a touch of white wine vinegar and garnished with crunchy radishes and grains of sea salt.

Their light sweetness really comes out in a beautiful and elegant cucumber and crab salad. The tender crab is a little sweet too and is tossed with herbs and shallots and a little lemon juice.

The cucumbers are sliced lengthwise into ribbons on a mandoline, and the slices are arranged architecturally -- forming layers between the crab, sort of like a napoleon, but looser, more floppy, more ... summery.

And what makes a better palate cleanser than a cucumber granita? Icy cool with a hint of sugar and some cracked black pepper, it's perfect for a hot, hot day. The flavor of the cucumber shines through the sweet and the spice.

For dessert? If you were Providence pastry chef Adrian Vasquez, it would be a timbale of Greek yogurt and honey panna cotta with cucumber gelee and cucumber "noodles" with cantaloupe sherbet.


Chilled cucumber soup

Total time: About 20 minutes, plus chilling time

Servings: 4 to 6

Note: From test kitchen director Donna Deane.

2 European cucumbers (about 1 pound each), cut into 2-inch chunks

2 cups plain yogurt