4 small pumpkins, washed well, "lids" cut from tops and seeds removed and reserved
Za'atar spice blend, as needed
Sea salt and black pepper, to taste
Olive oil, as needed
1 cup Chinese black rice, also called "forbidden rice" (may substitute wild rice)
3 cups vegetable stock (or vegetable demiglace for better flavor), divided
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 large shallots, peeled and finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1/2 pound chanterelle mushrooms (may substitute shiitakes), sliced thick
1/2 cup sherry or Marsala wine
1 cup heavy whipping cream
Freshly grated nutmeg, to taste

Place the pumpkins in a baking pan with a small amount of water and cover pan with foil. Bake at 350 F until pumpkins are soft but not squishy. Remove from water bath and set aside.

Toss pumpkin seeds with the za'atar spice, pepper to taste and a small amount of olive oil. Bake on a cookie sheet at 350 F for about 10 minutes or until golden-brown; set aside. (Watch seeds closely, so they don't burn)

While pumpkins cook, combine the rice and 2 cups of the vegetable stock in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil and immediately turn down heat until just barely simmering. Cook until done. If using wild rice, add 1 cup water to stock.

While rice is cooking, prepare filling. Melt the butter with a small amount of olive oil in a large frying pan. Add the shallots and garlic and cook for approximately 3 to 5 minutes until soft, but not brown. Add the mushrooms and increase heat to medium-high. Cook until mushrooms have released all their water and are brown. Add the sherry or Marsala wine to deglaze pan. Scrape up all browned bits in pan and continue cooking mushrooms. When wine is almost evaporated, add 1 cup vegetable stock and cook for 5 minutes, then add the cream and continue to cook for 10 to 20 minutes more or until cream has thickened. Add salt, pepper and the nutmeg to taste.

Fill cavity of each pumpkin three-quarters full of rice, then fill to just above rim of pumpkin body with mushroom-cream mixture (it can spill out a little), place lids on top at an angle. Heat in a 350-degree oven until warm (approximately 5 to 7 minutes). Serve hot garnished with pumpkin seeds.

Makes 4 servings.

— Recipe courtesy of Constance Jesser, co-owner of Jacksonville Mercantile.