Green figs poached in Sauternes and flavored with star anise and peppercorns are an ideal end to any dinner party.
Combine wine, sugar, lemon peel, peppercorns, cinnamon stick, bay leaves, thyme, ginger, star anise, and cardamom in a small, deep saucepan. Place pan over medium-high heat, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, and simmer 10 minutes. Cover, and simmer 20 minutes more.
Add whole figs to the syrup; return to a simmer, cover, and poach gently until the figs are soft but not mushy, 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer figs and syrup to a bowl, and let stand to cool, until no more steam rises. When cool, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight.
Combine mascarpone and confectioners' sugar in a medium mixing bowl. Slit vanilla bean lengthwise, and, using a small paring knife, scrape out the seeds into the bowl with the mascarpone mixture. Stir together with a spoon or rubber spatula until well combined.
Remove chilled figs from the refrigerator, and let stand until room temperature. Transfer figs to another bowl, and strain syrup, discarding the solids.
Place 2 figs, sliced in half, in the center of each plate. Spoon some of the poaching liquid to cover plate, and place a dollop of vanilla mascarpone next to figs.
Avoid using overly ripe figs because they may fall apart when poaching. The cooking time will vary with the ripeness and the size of figs.