Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. SautÈ the onions, bell peppers, celery, salt, cayenne, black pepper, and thyme for about 5 minutes. Add the bay leaves, ham, and sausage and sautÈ for 5 to 6 minutes. Add the beans, garlic, and enough water to cover the contents in the pot. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, for about 2 hours. Add more water if the mixture becomes dry and thick.
Use a wooden spoon to mash about half of the mixture against the side of the pot. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, for about 1 1/2 hours, or until the mixture is creamy and the beans are soft. Add more water if it becomes too thick. The mixture should be soupy, but not watery.
Remove the bay leaves and serve over steamed rice.
Yield: 8 servings