I just took this pot of beans out of the oven. I love the variations in colors. I'm using my friend Karen's method, which I reproduce below (I didn't have bacon grease, so I omitted that):
I found that the best method for cooking beans is as follows: put beans in a large ceramic pot, add plenty of water, a tablespoon of bacon grease, and a bay leaf. Bring to a boil on the stove top. Cover and place in a preheated 325 or 350 degree oven and set the timer for 1hour. Check beans in an hour, stir and add water if needed. Cover and cook according to tenderness of beans to finish, usually another hour or less. Now you have beautifully cooked beans ready to be made into soup or other dishes. It is foolproof and defeats the problems I have had in the past with our hard water. No soaking and it can be done while you are doing things in the morning.These beans were soft and meaty but not mushy after 1-1/2 hours. I am going to add this tomato and chili mixture below and cook them together for another 1/2 hour or so just to blend the flavors.
I tried her method the other day with garbanzo beans, which always seem to cook and cook for hours and without getting tender. I did soak the garbanzos overnight first, because I doubted that her method could conquer garbanzo beans. But after the soaking I followed her instructions exactly and they were soft and ready to eat after ONE HOUR in the oven. So now I am a believer and will go cold turkey with no soaking next time. My Spanish cazuela makes a good vessel for this and I like to think it adds a certain yo-no-se-que to my Spanish recipes. I made a garbanzo and vegetable soup with some of these garbanzos, and a pasta with garbanzos with the rest.
Speaking of garbanzos, on Monday I heard Spanish chef Jose Andres on NPR describing how to make his soup, Garbanzos con Espinacas (spinach). You can read this irresistible and economical recipe (part of a series of recession-busting recipes) here or, better yet, listen to his rich Spanish accent and dream of Spain. Over the years I've collected several Spanish garbanzo recipes but I always shrink from making them because of long cooking time. I'll be making Jose Andres' Garbanzos con Espinacas next, but using Karen's cooking method. Maybe a plate of good Serrano ham on the side...