The return of fennel to market is a cause for celebration (I'm talking new season's bulbs here, not the stuff that's flown in from God knows where all year round). There are endless ways to enjoy its delicate anise flavour, and I love the contrast between punchy raw fennel and the sweet, rounded cooked bulbs. It's especially well suited to summer cooking, which is fortuitous because that's when it pops its head up. The smaller Italian fennel bulbs are slightly more intense in flavour than the larger bulbs grown closer to home, but either will work in this week's dishes.
Fennel salad with walnut vinaigrette
Raw fennel is the perfect summer accompaniment, and is great with char-grilled fish and meat; in fact, it works with just about anything that comes off the barbecue.
2 whole heads fennel
100g walnut halves
25ml white-wine vinegar
25g Dijon mustard
Extra-virgin olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
Trim the fennel of any green fronds (save these for garnish, if you like), then cut horizontally into paper-thin ribbons (a mandolin or food processor slicer attachment is by far the easiest way to do this) and discard the root end. If you need to work ahead of time, the fennel can now be stored in iced water, then drained and dressed, but some flavour will leach out into the water, so it's a bit of a compromise.
Toast the walnuts at 150C/300F/gas mark 2 for 10 minutes, then chop roughly (at the restaurant, we peel the skins afterwards, but you may decide life is too short to peel a toasted walnut). Whisk together vinegar, mustard and 5g of salt, then slowly add 200ml of oil, whisking or blitzing with a hand blender to emulsify, then add the nuts. These quantities will probably make more than you need, but it keeps well in the fridge for several weeks.
To serve, dress the fennel with generous amounts of olive oil, lemon juice and salt, and dribble over some walnut vinaigrette, but do this only at the last minute, so the fennel retains its crunch.
My favourite way with fennel bulbs. This really does go with absolutely everything, though it's particularly good with sausages, oily fish, roast duck or chicken, and cassoulet; it is also great eaten cold the next day, on salami or air-dried ham sarnies, or in a salad with slow-roast tomatoes and fresh goat's cheese.
2 fennel bulbs
100g unsalted butter
Juice of 2 oranges (or 100ml juice from a carton)
200ml stock or water (chicken stock works best)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Cut the fennel in half, trim off any green fronds and brown root, but leave enough root attached to hold the bulb together as it cooks. On a medium heat, melt the butter in a heavy-based frying pan, lay in the fennel halves cut side down and caramelise slowly, until a deep golden brown. Add the juice and stock, increase the heat to get the liquid bubbling, then simmer until it reduces to a sticky glaze. Turn the heat down low when it's nearly done and keep a close eye to prevent it catching. Turn the fennel over so it's coated in the glaze, season and serve.
Serve with cured meats, game terrines, pork pies, fresh goat's cheese and aged cheddar.
4 large fennel bulbs
400ml white-wine vinegar
250g caster sugar
5g star anise (or fennel seeds)
Wash and thinly slice the fennel, discarding the root. Put all the ingredients in a heavy-based pot and cook on a low heat, stirring often, until thick and sticky - this will take a couple of hours. If you have a jam thermometer, cook the chutney until it hits 104C; otherwise, place a small amount on a plate and put it in the fridge for a few minutes - if, when you prod it with a finger, it has started to set, it's ready. Store in sterilised jars in the fridge, where it will keep well for months and even improve with time.
Fermented pickles are a lovely way to preserve vegetables. Natural pickles have a complex flavour due to the lactic acid produced by the bacteria in the brine. It's vital that the jar is thoroughly sterilised and the veg are fully submerged at all times (contact with air can cause moulds to grow, which will spoil the pickle), so there is a bit of faff, but the result is well worth it. You can do this with any veg, and do experiment with different herbs and spices.
2 fennel bulbs
1 sprig dill
Put the water and salt in a pan, bring to a boil, cover and set aside to cool. Thinly slice the fennel, discarding the roots and fronds, put in a sterilised jar with the dill and pour in brine to cover. Screw up a piece of clingfilm into a ball the same size as the jar opening and wedge into the top of the jar, to act as a weight to keep the fennel submerged. Cover the top of the jar with another piece of clingfilm and punch in a couple of holes, to allow some air flow - this prevents undesirable anaerobic bacteria from multiplying. Leave in a cool, dark place for five days, then give it a taste: it should have a mature, sour flavour; if not, weight down, cover again and leave for another day or two. Once ready, it will keep for weeks in the fridge.
Excellent with tandoori and barbecued meats, but I also like it by the spoonful with a cold beer.
4g coriander seeds
4 ripe tomatoes
1 fennel bulb
1 green chilli, chopped very fine
10g fresh coriander, chopped
200g salted peanuts
80ml lemon, lime and orange juice - mix to your own taste, but I like lots of lime and a little lemon and orange
Heat the oven to 150C/300F/gas mark 2, then toast the coriander seeds for five minutes. Finely dice the tomatoes and fennel, and put in a bowl with the toasted coriander, chilli, coriander leaves and peanuts. Stir, add the juice and taste - the salt on the peanuts is usually sufficient, but add more if you think it needs it.
If you are a fan of crackling - and I can't think of many people who aren't - a sprinkling of fennel salt is without doubt the best way to finish it. It's also good on baked celeriac, celeriac chips, any roast pork, toasted almonds, homemade crisps, cheese pies - all sorts. You can buy citric acid from chemists and cheesemaking suppliers.
20g fennel seeds
1g citric acid
Heat the oven to 150C/300F/gas mark 2 and toast the fennel seeds for five minutes. Tip seeds, salt and citric acid into a blender, or use a pestle and mortar to grind to a fine powder (or just put everything in a freezer bag and whack the living daylights out of it with a rolling pin or the base of pan). Store in a clean, dry, airtight container in a cool place - it'll keep for up to three months, but I'm hooked on the stuff, so always use it up well before it has a chance to go stale.
• Mary-Ellen McTague is chef/owner of Aumbry in Prestwich, Manchester.
Mary-Ellen McTague's fennel salad with walnut vinaigrette: the perfect summer accompaniment. Photograph: Colin Campbell for the Guardian. Food styling: Katie Giovanni