My bean cooking has been stripped down over time. It used to be with a ham bone, then it was chicken stock, then mirepoix (celery, carrot, onion) to finally onion, garlic, olive oil and water. Georgeanne Brennan takes it one step further and adds only a bay leaf to her water. She’s not a vegetarian but she likes her flavors sharp and distinct. She once described making her Royal Coronas in one pot (with just a bay leaf) and a smoked ham hock in another and when it came time to serve them, she ladled the beans in a bowl and added the sliced meat after and saved the broth from the ham hock for something else. For me, this wasn’t intuitive but if you love beans, you really aren’t trying to mask the flavor.
Georgeanne’s company, La Vie Rustic, has bay laurel from a tree on Georgeanne’s property and now we’re carrying them as well as they are an essential part of bean cooking for many.