Put the beans in a large pot or mixing bowl, add enough cold water to cover by 2 inches, and soak the beans at room temperature, uncovered, for at least 8 hours. Or, for the quick-soak method, bring the pot of beans to a boil over high heat and boil for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat, cover tightly, and let stand for 1 hour.
Drain the beans. Place them in a medium saucepan with the bay leaves and enough cold water to cover by 1 inch. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Simmer, uncovered, until the beans are tender, about 50 minutes, skimming occasionally to remove the foam that forms on the surface.
Drain in a colander and rinse under cold running water to cool. Discard the bay leaves and season with the salt and pepper. Put the beans in a bowl, cover, and refrigerate until ready to use. (The beans can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to three days or frozen for up to two months.)
Yield: 3 1/2 cups