It is your preference whether to soak or not to soak. MH likes to hydrate the beans before cooking; CH believes that with the gentlest cooking you can jump right in without a soak. Look for the “Best Used By” date when buying a package of dried beans. The fresher the beans, the more quickly they’ll cook. One pound dried beans will yield about 6 cups of cooked beans. Cooked beans freeze beautifully. —The Canal House
9 cups of beans
dried beans, unsoaked or soaked for 4 hours or overnight
Drain the beans and put them into a medium, heavy-bottomed pot. Cover them with cold water by 4 inches or so. Add the onion, garlic, thyme, if using, bay leaves, and a pinch of salt. Bring the beans just to a simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally.
Reduce the heat to low and very gently simmer them until they are swollen and tender, 30 to 90 minutes (or more), depending on the freshness of the dried beans. The beans should remain submerged while they cook, so add more water to the pot if you need to.
Remove the pot from the heat. Stir in a generous pinch of salt. Add a good glug of olive oil. Let the beans cool to just warm or to room temperature in the cooking liquid. (The beans will keep in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.)