Meatless Monday: Sweet Potato Risotto With Spicy Maple Glazed Walnuts *Award-Winning*

Amy writes:
There are moments, albeit few and far between, in every home cook's life when she is pretty impressed with herself. I had one such moment tonight with this week's Meatless Monday recipe "Sweet Potato Risotto with Spicy Maple Glazed Walnuts."
Let me give some important background details. To start with, "meatless" has never really been my thing. I love meat. Of all kinds. But I know that a healthy diet must be balanced, and I know I need to try new things, and I know that going meatless once a week isn't going to kill me (quite the opposite, actually, right?).
Then there's risotto. Regardless of the fact that I once took a cooking class in Rome and have always felt that Italian cooking was one of my "things," I had never made a risotto until I met Chris. Chris taught me the art of making risotto. Or maybe he taught me the skill of having the patience to make risotto. Or maybe he just always makes the risotto when we want to have it at home. Or maybe it's a mixture of all three of these. 
Finally, the sweet potato. It's only within the past couple of years that I've become a fan of this interesting tuber that to me seems so unlike its distant relative the "actual" potato. My mom never made it for me when I was a kid, and it became one of those things I was convinced I didn't like because, frankly, I had never really tried it. Chris loves the things, and kept nagging me to try them, and to cook them. Then last year, we made these amazing little Sweet Potato and Pancetta Gratins, and I was pretty much hooked.
Which brings me to the point that I've been thinking about risotto and Meatless Monday and sweet potatoes for about a week, and this recipe is the end result. It was ready to be served about five minutes after Chris walked in the door, home late from work. He took a bite and I waited. Then, the verdict: "This is one of the best risottos I have ever had." He asked what I did and we picked it apart as if we were our own judges on Top Chef. Sweetness? It has it - from roasted sweet potatoes and hints of maple syrup. Spiciness? Also there - a bit of cayenne in the walnuts puts some heat on the tongue that along with the cinnamon gives warmth and depth to the dish. Herbs? Can I ever make anything without them? I thought rosemary would go nicely with the other flavors, and I was right! And what about textures? Indeed - creamy risotto, crunchy walnuts, soft onions. It's one of the best risottos we've ever had.
Tonight, I guess, the student has become the teacher. And I remain pretty impressed with myself.
For the spicy maple glazed walnuts:
1 cup roughly chopped walnuts1/4 teaspoon kosher salt1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon1/8 teaspoon black pepper4 tablespoons real maple syrup
Place the walnuts in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the salt, cayenne, cinnamon and pepper and cook 1 minute or so until spices become fragrant and nuts begin to toast. Add the maple syrup and swirl the walnuts in the pan until they are well coated with the spices and syrup. Pour onto a cookie sheet and set aside to cool.
Start with chopped walnuts

Add spices
Add maple syrup

For the risotto:
4 cups (about 2 medium) peeled, diced sweet potatoes 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided6 cups vegetable broth1 tablespoon butter1 medium onion, chopped1 cup carnaroli rice1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemarysalt and white pepper to taste1/4 cup real maple syrup
Heat the oven to 400 degress. Spread the diced sweet potatoes in one layer in a glass baking pan and drizzle with one tablespoon of olive oil. Toss to coat and roast for 1/2 hour. Meanwhile, pour the vegetable broth into a saucepan and place over medium-low heat to become warm. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil and butter over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and a pinch of salt and cook until onions become translucent. Add the rice and continue to cook until rice starts to toast. Add the warm vegetable broth to the rice one ladle at a time, stirring constantly, and waiting until all the broth is absorbed by the rice before adding more. This could take up to one-half hour. When the broth is gone and the rice is done (not too firm, not too mushy), stir in the chopped rosemary and season with salt and white pepper to taste. Fold in the roasted sweet potato pieces and spiced walnuts, then turn off heat. Add the maple syrup, stir so that everything is well combined, serve and enjoy!
The star ingredient

Sweat chopped onions in olive oil and butter

Add the rice and cook to toast

Patiently add broth one ladle at a time until all liquid is absorbed