) Heat two tablespoons oil in a stock pot over medium heat.
) Saute the onion, carrots, celery and garlic until softened about five minutes. Add half the salt and a few cranks of black pepper.
) Add the herbs, bay leaf.
) Add the beans.
) Add the stock, water and tomatoes. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and partially cover. Cook for about two to three hours or until the beans soften, adding additional water if needed if it gets too thick.
) Add the chicken, sausage, bacon or ham (optional). Cook for an additional 10 minutes
) If you want a smoother texture, you can puree some of the beans. Add the cayenne. Taste and add the additional salt if desired, along with more pepper, thyme or other seasoning.
) Garnish with chopped fresh parsley, if desired