As a chef there's no ingredient I look at and think, "Hmm, don't want to use that" – I like them all. The only thing that doesn't inspire me is when you go to the supermarket and see things on the shelves that shouldn't be there – such as asparagus, today, for example. The best food is what is at its peak and has just come into season – two of those things right now are pears and partridge.
I love game's strong flavours, and grouse is probably my favourite if I had to pick – the flavour just blows your mind – but partridge has a lovely, delicate flavour and is a great middle-ground for those who are not that keen on heady game meat.
There are two species of partridge shot in Britain, the redleg (or French) and the English (or grey) partridge. The season runs from September to February and although available fresh to the end of the season, numbers may be limited from December on. English partridge is much less abundant and, consequently, more expensive than the redlegs.
Pears are just coming into season now, too; I think they're an under-used and understated fruit – they have such a unique, distinctive taste and are great to eat with cheese, on their own, as a chutney, in a pear cake or a gâteau.
Roasted pears to me epitomise comfort eating, especially with a large dollop of mascarpone and a good sprinkling of spice – but all my recipes this week make for good comfort food, perfect as it gets colder and all you want to do is stay indoors.
Marcus Wareing at The Berkeley, The Berkeley Hotel, Wilton Place, London SW1 (020 7235 1200, www.the-berkeley.co.uk)
Roasted and marinated partridge with juniper-scented sauce
This is something a bit different to give friends or family coming over for dinner – it's not difficult but is something they probably wouldn't cook for themselves. A great way, essentially, of showing off.
500ml/17fl oz chicken or vegetable stock
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 bulb garlic, halved lengthways
250ml/8fl oz olive oil
1/2 bunch thyme
For the sauce
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 carrot, cut into 4 chunks
1/2 stalk celery, cut into 4
1/2 onion, cut into 2
1 tbsp juniper berries
6 white peppercorns
50ml/2fl oz port or sherry
100ml/31/2fl oz red wine
250ml/8fl oz beef stock
1 tbsp Bombay Sapphire, or other aromatic gin
1/2 tsp table salt
First, poach the partridge by bringing the chicken/vegetable stock to a gentle simmer in a saucepan big enough to fit four of the birds. Poach them for three minutes then remove from the liquid, set aside and season all over.
Heat a medium-sized frying pan with the vegetable oil. When hot, place the partridge into the pan, breast-side first. Evenly roast the birds by turning frequently and basting with the hot oil. When nicely golden, remove and allow to rest for at least five minutes. Now remove the breasts from the partridge, as you would a chicken (reserving the carcasses), and place, skin-side up, in a shallow tray.
Meanwhile, place the olive oil and thyme into a saucepan and heat very gently until just above blood temperature – then pour the warmed oil over the birds in the tray and leave in a warm (but not too hot) place for 10-15 minutes.
Now make the sauce. Heat a medium-sized saucepan with the tablespoon of vegetable oil. Chop the partridge carcasses in half, season, then add to the hot pan with the carrot, celery, onion, juniper berries and peppercorns. Brown everything well then add the port and red wine. Reduce to a syrup then add the beef stock. Allow to simmer for five minutes then strain the liquid into a clean pan and bring to the boil, add the gin, then taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.
Serve the partridge with the juniper sauce and winter vegetables – for example, those in the pot-roast partridge recipe (see below).
Pot-roast partridge with lentils and winter vegetables
This is a lovely, hearty family dish that you can just bang in the oven and leave to cook.
100ml/31/2fl oz white wine
500ml/17fl oz chicken or vegetable stock
Table salt, to season the bird
100g/31/2oz puy lentils, soaked in water for two hours
For the mirepoix (a type of seasoning base)
4 tbsp vegetable oil
1/4 bunch thyme
2 bay leaves
4 cloves garlic, halved
1 onion, peeled and quartered
2 star anise
8 white peppercorns
1/2 tsp toasted cumin seeds
1 carrot, peeled and quartered
For the winter vegetables
2 parsnips, peeled and cut into wedges
1 small swede, peeled and cut into wedges
2 carrots, peeled and cut into wedges
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 tsp table salt
1/4 bunch parsley, chopped
Heat the vegetable oil (from the mirepoix ingredients) in a large casserole with a lid. Season the partridge all over then add to the hot oil and brown evenly. Remove and set aside. Add the mirepoix ingredients to the same pan and brown. Add the white wine and reduce to a syrup then add stock and simmer. Strain and reserve. Heat the pan with another tablespoon of oil and brown the parsnip, swede and carrot with the salt. Add the reserved stock, lentils and partridge and simmer for 15 minutes, lid on. Sprinkle with the parsley and serve.
Spiced pear and chestnut-crumble muffins
A bog-standard muffin is chocolate, blueberry, blackberry; this is a bit different. It's called a muffin but is more of a cake – something to have with a cup of tea in the afternoon. (You will need some muffin moulds.)
3 medium free-range eggs
125g/4oz natural yogurt
75g/3oz butter, melted
2 comice pears, peeled and finely chopped
50g/2oz cooked chestnuts, finely chopped
250g/8oz plain flour
2 heaped tsp baking powder
125g/4oz caster sugar
125ml/4fl oz milk
2 tsp mixed spice
For the crumble
75g/3oz rolled oats
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tbsp demerara sugar
50g/2oz unsalted butter, melted
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas4. Mix the eggs, yoghurt, milk and melted butter together with the chopped pear. Mix the chestnuts, flour, mixed spice, baking powder and sugar together. Fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Grease some muffin moulds and fill with mix. For the crumble, combine all of the ingredients and mix well. Sprinkle the crumble on top of each muffin using your hands. Bake for 15-20 minutes until pale-golden.
Roasted pears, ginger crumble and mascarpone with warm caramel sauce
This recipe is real comfort food: sink into the sofa eating this with the TV and the fire on while it's cold outside, and it's just going to warm you up inside.
For the ginger crumble
70ml/3fl oz double cream
25g/1oz caster sugar
25g/1oz golden syrup
30g/11/3oz plain flour
1/2 tsp ground ginger
For the caramel sauce
70g/3oz caster sugar
120g/4oz double or single cream
25ml/1fl oz water
A pinch of table salt
20g/3/4oz unsalted butter
For the pears
3 large comice pears
25g/1oz unsalted butter
1 tsp mixed spice
Begin by making the ginger crumble; preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas4 then place the cream, butter, sugar and syrup into a small saucepan and place on the hob over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved and the mix begins to bubble. Combine the flour and ginger then add to the saucepan and stir well. Spread the mixture on to a baking tray lined with baking paper about five millimetres thick, and place in the oven for 6-8 minutes until it is bubbly and golden. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
Make the caramel sauce next; place the sugar into a medium-sized pan and heat gently until it begins to caramelise. Swirl the pan around to evenly colour the sugar. When it is deep-golden, add the cream carefully (it will bubble and spit). Keep on a moderate heat and whisk well until the cream and sugar combine. Add the salt and butter, mix well then add the water; whisk well then set aside.
Now peel the pears, then cut in half and remove the core. Heat a frying pan or saucepan (to fit the six halves of the pears) with the butter. Dust the pear halves all over with the spice mix then place carefully into the foaming butter. Keep moving the pears to ensure they colour evenly. Insert a knife after five minutes and check if they are soft; continue cooking if not, until done. Remove and allow to cool.
Slice the roasted pear halves into two then arrange three slices in each of four bowls. Add a spoon-shaped dollop of mascarpone to each bowl and crumble the ginger biscuit over the pears. Garnish with a pinch of mixed spice on the plate and serve with the warm caramel sauce.
Straight from the source: Marcus's produce tips
Marcus Wareing on where to find and how to prepare the best ingredients
Partridge We buy ours whole but it's much easier to get them ready to roast from your local butcher, or farmers' market. Allens Butchers of Mayfair (Tel: 020 7499 5831) has a great selection of quality meats and game.
The key thing when cooking partridge is to keep it moist and juicy: when roasted, it can easily become tough and dry - which is why poaching or braising, as done here, works so well.
Pears Comice are juicy yet subtlely tangy at this time of year and, along with Conference pears, are great for cooking. If you're eating them raw, Williams and the aromatic Beurre Bosc are better, as they have firmer flesh. Look for pears sourced from Kent, which is orchard country.
Chestnuts For these recipes, you can use ready-cooked, packet chestnuts from the supermarket (try Merchant Gourmet). If you're eating them on their own it's worth roasting and shelling them yourself - but be warned, they explode very easily!