The next stop on our Italian journey:  breathtaking Cinque Terre, a cluster of five, small, oceanside, villages hugging the rugged cliffs along the Ligurian coast.

A steep and very narrow trail connects all five villages weaving in and out of small vineyards and farms, offering stunning views of the picture perfect turquoise ocean below.

From Florence, we took a day trip to this picturesque pocket of Italy.  Our day began in the northernmost village of Monterosso.  From there, we hiked along the precipitous slopes (and got very sweaty, tired, and hungry along the way) until the trail met Vernazza, comfortably tucked away against the cliffs and hugged by a peaceful cove.

The main square of Vernazza is right off the cove and is dotted with colorful umbrellas and bustling restaurants and we took no time in finding a cozy cafe to enjoy a well-deserved lunch.

This was one of the best meals of the trip.  A crisp beer cooled us down and we sufficiently filled our grumbly bellies with the local specialty pesto trenette (pasta, pesto, potato, and green beans), a simple spaghetti overflowing with fresh seafood (squid, shrimp, mussels, and clams) swimming in an explode-in-your-mouth white wine and tomato sauce, bread crumb and herb stuffed mussels, and panna cotta with strawberries.

Refreshed and on cloud nine from an exceptional meal, we spent the rest of the afternoon basking in the sun on the boulders jutting from the cove.  Perfect.

The seafood spaghetti is the dish that stands out in my mind.  I love how this pasta is simultaneously simple yet layered with different flavors.  To me, a bite of mussels tastes like the ocean and transports me to the beach every time I eat them.  Tonight, I was back in Vernazza.

Seafood Linguine

Serves 4-5

1 lb dried linguine pasta

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 small onion, diced

2 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

3/4 cup dry, white wine

1/2 cup clam juice

1 cup canned crushed tomatoes

2 lbs mussels, scrubbed and debearded (have your fishmonger debeard them for you)

1 lbs little neck clams

1/2 lb medium sized shrimp, peeled and deveined

2 tablespoons flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped

Cook linguine in a large pot of salted water per package instructions.  Reserve 1/2 cup of cooking water.

Meanwhile, heat butter and oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add onion and garlic and cook until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes.  Add red pepper flakes and cook for one minute more.  Add wine and let reduce for about 1 minute then add clam juice and continue to reduce, 1 minute more.  Add crushed tomatoes.  Once mixture is simmering, add clams and mussels, cover skillet and let cook until shellfish has opened, about 5 minutes.  Add shrimp and cook just until shrimp has turned pink, 1-2 minutes more.  Season with salt and pepper to taste (I did not find I needed any black pepper since I used red pepper flakes, but everyone is different).

Combine linguine and shellfish mixture in a large serving bowl and toss to combined.  Garnish with parsley and serve.