The Flavors in the Layers - The Bend Magazine

The Flavors in the Layers

Delicious recipes for Venison Lasagna and Cinnamon Swirl Apple Cake

By: Kayla & Justin Butts  Photos by: Rachel Benavides

The secret to great lasagna is the layers – not just the beautiful layers of meat, cheese, and pasta, but the layers of flavor from local farms. Good lasagna tastes like the place where it was made. True flavor comes from the surrounding landscape. 

We started our lasagna with ground venison from a recent hunt. If there is no venison on hand, try ground pork from Turkey Hollow Farm in Cuero, or grass-fed ground beef from Edelen Farm in Alice. 

These deer, porkers, and cows walked in our soil, ate our local grass and brush, huddled beneath the same lightning storms we felt, and drank from the rain puddles that followed. These are not generic, tasteless, bland products in a grocery store aisle. This wholesome food is connected to us. 

Try freshly picked spinach and carrots from the garden or a local farm for more layers of robust flavor, not to mention vitamin-dense nutrition. Use the first of April’s cherry tomatoes or – if you can find any – Roma grape tomatoes for the sauce, and add fresh pinches of basil and oregano for another level of goodness. 

You can find all of these ingredients (plus the pork and beef, and even local chevre!) at the Downtown Farmers Market in Corpus Christi each Wednesday, sold by some very nice people. 

The best lasagna tastes of the wind, rain, lightning, and soil of home. To build a beautiful lasagna, simply fold the flavors of local farms into the layers of pasta, then bake. With ingredients this good, you can’t go wrong. 

We love this lasagna for potlucks because we can make it a day or two in advance and reheat when ready to serve. It is even better after a day in the fridge. 

We also love this dish for meal trains. Meal trains are organized, scheduled deliveries of meals to someone in need, usually a person who is too sick to cook or get out for food. Lasagna is easy to transport, keeps well for days, and is irresistibly delicious. And most of all, this dish is good for the soul. It is healing.

This cinnamon swirl apple cake was made from organic Kiku apples. These are the sweetest apples you can find, which means less sugar in the recipe, making a cake that’s much healthier than you might think! Substitute fresh peaches or berries, depending on the season. 

On your next potluck or meal train, try this lasagna of local flavors with a sweet touch for dessert. This should be just enough to nudge your meal train recipient back to health, so they come visit for another helping! Let’s call that a win for the local team, all the way around.

Venison Lasagna
Serves 8
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 45 minutes
1 lb dry lasagna
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 sweet onion, diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb venison
1 (13.76 oz) can crushed tomatoes
1 (6 oz) can tomato paste
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
1 bunch fresh basil, chopped
1 cup ricotta
1/2 cup mascarpone
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup fresh mint, chopped
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
6 cups fresh spinach 
1 cup shredded mozzarella
1/2 cup parmigiano reggiano


Preheat oven to 375°F. Put a large pot of salted water on high heat to boil. In a large saucepan, sauté onion, carrots, garlic, and venison in olive oil over medium heat until meat is brown and vegetables are tender. Add crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, vinegar, salt, and red pepper. Add water to thin out meat sauce as desired. Let simmer on low heat while you make the remaining elements. 

Cook pasta in boiling water for 7-11 minutes, until al dente. Strain pasta and lay noodles on an oiled baking sheet. In a medium-sized bowl, combine ricotta, mascarpone, egg, basil, mint, salt, and pepper. 

Steam fresh spinach in a double boiler for 3 minutes over simmering water. Add bunch of fresh basil to prepared meat sauce. 

To assemble, ladle meat sauce in the bottom of a 9×13” casserole dish. Arrange a single layer of noodles, followed by the ricotta mixture and another ladle of meat sauce. Add a second layer of noodles and cover with an even layer of spinach, sprinkled with 1/4 cup parmigiano. Top with another single layer of noodles. Repeat the first two steps of the sequence once more and top the lasagna with remaining parmigiano and mozzarella cheese. 

Cover lasagna with aluminum foil and bake for 20 minutes. Remove foil and bake another 25 minutes. Let set 15 minutes before serving.

Cinnamon Swirl Apple Cake
Serves 8
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 1 hour
1 1/2 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 cup Greek yogurt
1 egg
1 tbsp dark rum
1 tsp vanilla
2 chopped apples
1 grated apple
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
Cinnamon Swirl:
3 tbsp melted butter
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp cinnamon


Preheat oven to 325°F. In a large bowl or standing mixer, mix all ingredients (with the exception of those for the cinnamon swirl) until just combined. Transfer to a greased 9×13 pan. 

In a separate small bowl, combine cinnamon swirl ingredients. Spoon cinnamon swirl on top of batter and use a knife or spatula to make big swirls across the pan. Repeat this technique going in the opposite direction to finish dispersing the mixture. 

Bake for 50-60 minutes, until cake is set and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.