ELEGANT dinner parties and shoestring budgets are not mutually exclusive. 'Eighties economics notwithstanding, it's possible to serve an entertaining meal for four for under $10--and that doesn't mean just beans and burgers in the back yard.

Three Washington cooks offer menus, recipes and tips. Their rules are simple:

* Buy the best ingredients at the peak of their season, when prices are least expensive.

* Cultivate recipes that stretch to feed large groups.

* Liven up an otherwise ordinary meal with one exotic ingredient.

With judicious menu-planning, a cook can create a company-quality meal that satisfies the most stringent budget. It's enough to give penny-pinching a good name. Dinner 1

Juliet Cimino is a Paris-trained cook, the daughter of Europeans. As a child she ate local cheeses beneath the silvery branches of olive trees in her cousins' groves near Salerno. "I was raised with the idea that food is an art form, and entertaining, a creative extension of yourself. It is hard for me to skimp on food because I like to think that there is 'nothing but the best' for my guests," says Cimino, an Arlington schoolteacher who lives on Capitol Hill. "Budget or no, eating well is a matter of using the finest ingredients in the peak of their season. That's when they're likely to be least expensive.

It takes careful shopping: A special on oranges and some bargain-hunting for the best deal on flounder contributed to the selection of the menu below. It is one Cimino prepared for four, and the bill was less than $10.

Cimino steams the fish in pouches: "It's a particularly nice way to serve guests because you can slit the foil at the table. The aroma seems to fill the room," she says. "It's a dramatic gesture that makes a meal memorable--and it doesn't cost a thing."

Should the oranges at your market be poor, or the flounder too expensive, Cimino suggests an alternate set of seasonal dishes, also costing less than $10. The entre'e here is Italian Sausage Contadini, or sausage peasant-style, and the recipe yields a rich melange of meat, spices, potatoes and creamy custard. MENU Flounder Fillets in a Pouch Broccoli Saute'ed Marinated Orange Slices GROCERY LIST Flounder ($5.99 a pound)$7.00 Potatoes.25 Onions.20 Butter.25 Lemons.32 Fresh broccoli.37 Olive oil.34 Red pepper.06 Oranges.50 Lemons.16 Sugar.12 Parsley.03 Total$9.60. FLOUNDER FILLETS IN A POUCH (4 servings) 4 18-by-20-inch rectangles aluminum foil 2 pounds flounder fillets Juice of 2 lemons Salt and black pepper to taste Fresh parsley, chopped 1/3 cup butter 4 potatoes, peeled, sliced thin 4 onions, peeled, sliced thin

On each rectangle of foil place 1/2 pound flounder fillet. Brush with lemon juice, sprinkle with salt, pepper and chopped parsley. Dot with butter. Arrange alternating layers of potato and onion on top of fish. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, parsley, and dot with butter.

Wrap carefully to seal in moisture: Bring long ends of the foil together over the food. Make 4 or 5 1/2-inch folds, rolling over to seal tightly. Repeat the folds to seal the short ends. Bake the pouches in a single layer on a shallow pan in a 325-degree oven for 35 or 40 minutes.

Place pouches on individual plates and serve. Slash the pouches at the table. SAUTEED BROCCOLI (4 servings) 1 bunch fresh broccoli, trimmed 1/4 cup olive oil 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper 1/4 teaspoon salt Slice through the main stalks lengthwise. Bring a quart of water to a full rolling boil in a medium saucepan, precook broccoli for 2 minutes and drain thoroughly. In a large skillet heat the olive oil, saute' broccoli for 3 or 4 minutes, turning several times. Sprinkle with red pepper and salt. MARINATED ORANGE SLICES (4 servings) 6 large navel oranges Grated peel of 1 lemon

Juice of 1/2 lemon

2 1/2 tablespoons sugar

Peel 4 oranges, carefully removing all the white pulp. Cut across the segments into 3/8-inch slices. Arrange the slices in an attractive serving bowl. Squeeze juice from remaining oranges and combine with remaining ingredients. Pour over orange slices, turning several times. Refrigerate 3 hours before serving. MENU Sausage Contadini with French Bread Baked Tomatoes Hot French Bread Pineapple on a Skewer GROCERY LIST Eggs$.25 Cream1.51 Swiss cheese.75 Butter.49 Sausage1.50 Potatoes.49 Onions.12 Cherry tomatoes1.19 Olive oil.24 French bread.90 Fresh pineapple1.69 Brown sugar.12 Fresh parsley or basil.03 Total: $9.28. SAUSAGE CONTADINI (4 servings) 1 cup minced onions 4 tablespoons butter 1/2 pound Italian sausage, sliced 1 pound potatoes, boiled, peeled and thinly sliced Salt and pepper, to taste 3 eggs 1 1/2 cups heavy cream 1/4 cup grated swiss cheese

Saute' onions in 2 tablespoons butter. Arrange onions, sausage and potatoes in a flat, 2-quart baking dish. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Beat eggs and cream. Pour evenly over casserole. Dot with remaining 2 tablespoons butter, and top with grated cheese. Bake at 375 degrees for 40 minutes. BAKED TOMATOES (4 servings) 1 basket cherry tomatoes 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil Salt and black pepper Fresh parsley or basil, chopped

Roll tomatoes in oil to cover thoroughly. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake at 375 degrees for 10 minutes or until the skins split. Dust with parsley or basil. PINEAPPLE ON A SKEWER (4 servings) 1 fresh pineapple, peeled, cored and diced into 1 1/2-inch pieces 2 tablespoons butter, melted 1/4 cup brown sugar Rum (optional)

Arrange pineapple chunks on skewers. Combine melted butter and brown sugar. Brush the fruit with this mixture several times as you broil pineapple under low heat until hot and browned. If desired, finish with a splash of rum. Dinner 2

Donna Sheehan of Potomac is a schoolteacher and veteran air force wife. In her 20 years of military life she has experienced many transplants--and many parties.

The parties were held for new friends in new homes established every few years, first in Thailand, then Hawaii, Alabama, California and the District. Today the skills she learned feeding large groups of military people economically come in handy while trying to cope with inflation.

Advance preparation solves many potential problems, she advises. Among a large collection of budget-stretching recipes, curried chicken is a standby. It is an attractive buffet dish and reheats well. Curry, traditionally garnished with a variety of condiments, needs no other side dish. The bill for the menu, which includes a meringue and lemon custard dessert, was $9.95 for four servings. MENU Chicken Curry Condiments Rice Lemon Angel Pie GROCERY LIST Chicken (3 lbs., 69 /lb.)$2.07 Salt.01 Celery.05 Bay leaf.02 Butter.22 Onion.05 Apples.40 Curry powder.20 Pepper.01 Flour.06 Heavy cream.27 White rice.35 Coconut1.20 Peanuts.80 Eggs.48 Bacon.50 Pineapple1.69 Scallions.34 Sugar.29 Vanilla.10 Vinegar.02 Baking powder.02 Salt.01 Lemon.26 Cream.53 Total$9.95. CHICKEN CURRY (4 servings) 3-pound chicken 3 cups hot water 1 teaspoon salt 3 celery tops 1 bay leaf 1/2 cup butter 1/4 cup minced onion 2 apples, cored, peeled and diced 2 teaspoons curry powder 1 teaspoon salt 1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper 1/2 cup all-purpose flour 1/2 cup heavy cream 4 cups cooked white rice

Condiments: 10-ounce bag flaked coconut 7-ounces chopped unsalted peanuts 1 hard-cooked egg, chopped 4 slices cooked bacon, crumbled 1 fresh pineapple, peeled and diced 1 bunch scallions, chopped

Place first five ingredients in a large kettle. Simmer, covered, 1 hour or until chicken is tender. Cool. Skin and bone the chicken, leaving the meat in large pieces.

Melt butter in a skillet, saute' onions and apples until tender. Stir in curry, salt, pepper and flour. Slowly stir in 3 or 4 cups chicken broth over low heat, stirring constantly until sauce is thick and smooth. Add chicken pieces and heavy cream. Serve over hot white rice with condiments. LEMON ANGEL PIE (4 to 6 servings)

Meringue crust: 1 teaspoon vanilla 1 teaspoon vinegar 1 teaspoon water 1 cup sifted sugar 3 egg whites, at room temperature 1/2 teaspoon baking powder 1/8 teaspoon salt

Filling: 4 egg yolks 1 egg 1/2 cup sugar 1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour 3/4 cup water Juice, grated rind 1 1/2 lemons 1 cup heavy cream, whipped 1 teaspoon vanilla

To make meringue crust: Combine vanilla, vinegar and water. Set aside. Sift sugar and set aside. Whip egg whites with baking powder and salt until stiff but not dry. Add sugar by teaspoonfuls, alternating with drops of combined liquids. Continue beating until the meringue will not slide out of the bowl when it is inverted. Heap meringue lightly in a greased 9-inch pie pan. Press into the shape of a pie shell with the back of a spoon. Bake for 1 hour at 275 degrees, cool thoroughly at room temperature.

To prepare filling: Beat yolks with whole egg, add sugar, flour, water, lemon juice and grated rind. Cook over low heat in a double boiler, stirring constantly, until thick. Cool thoroughly.

To assemble: Fold vanilla into whipped cream. Spread half the cream over the meringue, top with lemon filling. Decorate the top with remaining whipped cream. Keep refrigerated until serving time. Dinner 3

Two preschool children haven't cramped the style of Lynne Ketcham of Arlington. Teething rings and graham crackers share space in her refrigerator with Oriental mushrooms and fresh coriander.

After the kids' cereal has been bought, after fruit juice and sliced bread are safely in the supermarket cart, the lot is, inevitably, topped with one more thing--say, a bottle of sichuan peppercorns, because Ketcham and her husband, Robert, are in an Oriental phase now--that can be carefully added to their growing hoard of exotic spices.

The Ketchams usually cook together when they entertain. They recently prepared the menu below for four people. It cost $10.27, including food on hand.

"When you go to the Oriental grocery, don't buy everything at once," Lynne Ketcham advises. "Experiment with one unfamiliar product at a time. Discover the ones you like best. Stocking your larder may seem expensive, but only a teaspoon or less is all that is needed of many ingredients--some imported goods last for years. That's what makes Oriental cuisine so economical. The unusual combinations of herbs and spices make leftovers seem like a party." MENU Meatball and Cellophane Noodle Soup Rice Ma-Po's Bean Curd Shredded Chicken in the Style of Fish Stir-fried Chinese Cabbage with Carrots GROCERY LIST 4 chicken breasts (.69/lb.)$2.67 Onions.10 Celery.20 Ground pork ($1.99/lb.) 1.99 Bok choy (Chinese cabbage).39 2 carrots.10 Scallions.34 Tofu1.60 Cellophane noodles.70 Dried cloud ear mushrooms.31 2 eggs.20 4 garlic cloves.06 Ginger.05 Hot bean sauce.05 Brown sichuan peppercorns.02 Sesame oil.05 Soy sauce.08 Chili oil.03 Peanut oil.12 Rice vinegar.05 Rice wine.08 Cornstarch.05 Chinese parsley (coriander).99 White rice.35 Total $10.27. MA-PO'S BEAN CURD (4 servings) 1 teaspoon sichuan peppercorns 1/4 cup dried cloud ear mushrooms 3 tablespoons peanut oil 1 tablespoon minced garlic 1 teaspoon minced ginger 1/2 pound ground pork 1 tablespoon hot bean sauce 2 tablespoons light soy sauce 1 pound firm bean curd, cut in 1/2-inch cubes (tofu) 2 scallions, finely chopped 1 cup chicken stock (below) 1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch 2 tablespoons water 1 teaspoon sesame oil 1 teaspoon chili oil

In a hot wok or skillet, roast peppercorns for 2 minutes. Remove, and grind into a powder. Reserve for garnish. Soak the mushrooms for 5 minutes in boiling water, drain and coarsely chop. Heat peanut oil in wok or skillet, add garlic, ginger and mushrooms. Stir-fry for 30 seconds, add pork, bean sauce and soy sauce. Stir-fry until meat loses its pink color, add bean curd and scallions. Mix gently. Add chicken stock, simmer over low heat for 3 minutes. Dissolve cornstarch in water, gently stir into bean curd and continue to cook just until sauce is thick and clear. Pour into serving bowl, sprinkle with ground sichuan pepper, sesame oil and chili oil. CHICKEN STOCK (Makes 6 cups) Bones from 4 chicken breasts (use meat for shredded chicken recipe that follows) 3 onions, peeled and sliced 4 stalks celery, chopped 1 carrot, chopped 6 cups water 1 teaspoon salt Dash black pepper

Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan. Simmer, covered, for 1 1/2 hours. Drain off stock and discard other ingredients. Cool overnight in the refrigerator. Skim off the top. SHREDDED CHICKEN IN THE STYLE OF FISH (4 servings) 1/4 teaspoon sichuan peppercorns 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar 1 tablespoon dark rice vinegar 1/2 teaspoon chili oil 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce 4 whole chicken breasts 1 egg white 1 tablespoon cornstarch 4 tablespoons peanut oil, divided 1 quart water 1 tablespoon minced ginger 1 tablespoon minced garlic 1 scallion, finely chopped 1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch 2 tablespoons water

Heat a wok or skillet; roast peppercorns for 2 minutes. Remove, cool and grind to a powder. Combine with sugar, vinegar, chili oil and soy sauce. Reserve.

Bone and skin chicken, shred finely into strips about 1/4-inch-by- 1/4-inch thick and 1 inch long. Combine egg white, 1 tablespoon cornstarch and 1 tablespoon peanut oil. Marinate chicken in this mixture for about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, bring a quart of water and 1 tablespoon peanut oil to a full rolling boil. Pre-cook the chicken in boiling water for 1 minute, drain thoroughly.

Heat remaining 2 tablespoons peanut oil in wok or skillet. Stir-fry ginger, garlic and scallion for 30 seconds, add chicken and stir-fry until warm. Add sauce, mix. Combine 1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch and water. Stir into chicken, continue to cook just until sauce is thick and clear. MEATBALL AND CELLOPHANE NOODLE SOUP (4 servings) 5 cups chicken stock (above) 2 1/2 tablespoons light soy sauce 4 ounces cellophane noodles 1/2 pound ground pork 1 teaspoon sugar 1/2 teaspoon salt 1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch 1/4 cup fresh Chinese parsley (coriander), finely chopped

Bring chicken stock to a slow simmer in a medium saucepan. Add 1 tablespoon soy sauce. Break noodles in half and soak in hot water for 5 minutes. Drain and reserve. Combine ground pork with 1 1/2 tablespoons light soy sauce, sugar and salt. Dissolve cornstarch in 2 tablespoons water. Add meat to mixture. Shape into 1-inch meatballs. Drop, one at a time, in simmering stock. Continue cooking for 4 minutes. Add noodles and cook 1 more minute. Garnish with chopped parsley. STIR-FRIED CHINESE CABBAGE WITH CARROTS (4 servings) 1 head bok choy (Chinese cabbage) 1 teaspoon salt 1 tablespoon peanut oil 1 quarter-size slice peeled ginger 1 carrot, shredded

Trim the end from the cabbage and separate the stalks. Wash well. Cut off tough ends, slice each stalk in half lengthwise, and chop in 2-inch pieces.

Bring a quart of salted water to a full rolling boil. Parboil cabbage for 15 seconds, drain well. Heat oil in a wok or skillet. Add ginger and press the pieces on the bottom of the pan to extract the juices and flavor the oil. Remove the ginger. Stir-fry cabbage in flavored oil until heated through. Add carrot and continue to cook another 15 seconds. Serve immediately.