I love risotto. Problem is, it takes so much effort to stand over the pot stirring it. What does all of that stirring do, and is it necessary?-- Jeanne
When Shakespeare wrote "Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and cauldron bubble", you might think that he was writing the instructions for risotto. All of that extra stuff about "Eye of newt and toe of frog" was just misdirection to keep people from stealing the recipe.
The nearly constant stirring serves two purposes. First, as the risotto thickens, it is more likely to stick to the bottom of the pot. Stirring prevents having a layer of rice at the bottom get overly hot and possibly burn. The other practical thing that stirring does is abrade starch from the surface of the rice. The starch is then dissolved into the surrounding liquid, making for a creamier result.
The good news is that you really don't need to stir constantly, just frequently. When cooking risotto, I usually follow the traditional recipe, stirring almost constantly, until the first quarter of the total liquid is incorporated. After that, I reduce the heat as low as I can, stir in the next ladle full of liquid, and then leave it cook, uncovered while I do something else, like make a salad, or sear the meat. Every once in a while, when I am in the vicinity, I'll give it a quick stir, and then carry on with what I was doing. Towards the end, when it gets fairly thick, I return to nearly constant stirring until it finishes.
Some recipes suggest that if you use Carnaroli or Vialone Nano rice in place of Arborio, the traditional rice used in risotto, you don't need to stir it as much. There are also recipes where all of the hot liquid is added and then the pot is placed in a 350°F (175°C) oven for about 15 to 25 minutes until the rice is done. I have never tried baking risotto in the oven, and I use whatever superfino-grade Italian rice I can find at the market.
If you are interested, restaurants sometimes make risotto ahead of time, stopping just short of being done and then refrigerate it until needed. In doing so, the starches crystallize, as in the posting on Leftover Rice in Fried Rice, making it easier to reheat without going mushy. When an order comes up, some of the pre-made risotto is reheated and any last minute ingredients are added.