The beans get cooked twice: they are soaked overnight and then cooked with some aromatics and herbs. Meanwhile, you make a rich tomato sauce, and then you simmer the mostly-cooked beans in that sauce. It's a little labor-intensive in that sense, but it's still mostly hands-off, and it makes a great big batch.
We did make a couple of changes.
• We didn't have bacon, so we used some leftover duck fat. This wasn't as smoky as the bacon, though, so at the very end of cooking we felt that the beans still needed something. We added a heaping tablespoons of smoked paprika, and this was the perfect finishing note. If you are making this vegetarian, using a non-animal fat for the tomato sauce, we really recommend that paprika or even chipotle powder to give the sauce some smoky depth.
• Also, we didn't have navy beans; we used Great Northern beans, which are quite similar. They are white beans and thin skinned, so they cooked fast.
• Get the recipe: Slow-Cooked Tomato and Herb White Beans at Gourmet
Have you made beans yet this fall?
Related: How to Cook Beans
(Images: Faith Durand)