The poaching liquid also can be served without the pears as a sauce for chocolate ice cream.
1 1/2 tablespoons black peppercorns, preferably Tellicherry
2 teaspoons whole allspice
3 cups good-quality Port
1/3 cup sugar
4 large, firm but ripe pears (preferably Anjou)
1. Combine the peppercorns
and allspice in a mortar and coarsely crush with pestle. Place the spices in a large saucepan or pot (wide enough to hold the pears, halved, in a single layer). Add the Port and sugar and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer 15 minutes.
2. While the Port mixture steeps,
peel, halve and core the pears.
3. Strain the Port mixture
through a fine sieve to remove the spices. Return it to the pan on low heat. Lay the pears into the pan, cut side down. Cover and cook over low heat for 5 minutes. Uncover and turn the pears over. Cover and cook 3 minutes longer, until the pears are soft but not mushy. Transfer to a platter with a slotted spoon and arrange cut side up.
4. Raise the heat
under the saucepan and cook the liquid until it is reduced almost to a glaze, to about half a cup, about 15 minutes. Pour over the pears, filling each cavity, and serve at once or after cooling.